Might Miss Another Party….

In the scheme of things, this isn’t an overly important point, but it did bring an interesting memory to mind. I’ll start with the main thing.As I mentioned in a previous post, last year was granddaughter’s fifth birthday and the first one she was to have as a “major event”. Our present to her was to be the venue, a popular place with a specific children’s birthday party package. She was inviting people months ahead and then, as timing has it, her March 13th day hit right before the official shutdown. At that stage, however, parents were becoming concerned and most basically told the kids they weren’t going to be comfortable with attending. The venue acknowledged they’d had many cancellations and so the decision was made. The grandparents from Maine did come down and they had a special day which helped take the sting out of no big party. Granddaughter hasn’t forgotten though and apparently the decision again this year is “not yet”. They are looking for something extra special so we’ll see what that turns out to be.

Anyway, reaching way back to when her dad was a baby, as I have explained, his dad was killed when he was only four months old. Single parenting with an infant and being on active duty in the Army came with more challenges than I want to get into. And as often happens when the “needs of the Army” and the “desires of the individual” conflict, it’s not hard to guess who wins. This is how I found myself on the way to a specialized school at Fort Ord, CA in Monterey for almost four months when the child was only ten months old. Most at the school did not have their families with them and since I didn’t really have anyone to care for him for that length of time (as was suggested), they made an exception for me to have him with me. However, being the only single parent, especially with an infant, came with yet another set of challenges. We were divided into work groups and since several of the individuals in our group were also parents, they rallied around to help at least some and those who weren’t parents got into the swing of it. As the child’s first birthday approached, they were startled I said I wasn’t having a party for him. The fact is birthday parties for a one-year-old is for parents and grandparents to have cute photos. Unknown to me, the group decided that wouldn’t do and our “dinner out” that night segued into a surprise party complete with messy chocolate cake and a ride on an indoor merry-go-round. They also gave me a touching framed multi-photo piece of photos one of the guys had taken over the series of weekends as I brought the baby along for times we when went out to lunch. And yes, I do still have that hanging on the wall.

Lesser Known Etouffe……

Way back when, Justin Wilson and Paul Prudhomme were the only two “known” Creole/Cajun TV chefs. Emeril Lagasse of course is the one who attained true celebrity status and opened the way for lots of interest in Creole/Cajun cuisine. In the shortest explanation Cajun is viewed as the more “country” fare. Restaurants throughout South Louisiana and any place that bills itself in that fashion are likely to have a mix of the dishes with no distinction. A popular dish almost always included is crawfish or shrimp etouffee. Unlike jamabalaya or shrimp creole, which are tomato based, etouffee is roux-based and generally served as a thickened dish atop rice. It will be flavorful rather than hot although cayenne can be added for those who like extra kick and hot sauce is always an option.

A little known dish rarely found on a menu is tuna etouffee. It may sound a bit strange, but it is high protein, low fat, inexpensive and the calories and carbohydrates come in with how much rice is used and of course if dunking crusty French bread in it. Also roux-based, it can be thinned to resemble gumbo. So, if you’re in the mood to try something different and delicious, here it is.

Two 12-ounce cans tuna in water; 1 packet brown gravy mix (yes, that’s the quickie way instead of making roux from scratch); 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/2 cup diced sweet pepper (your favorite); 1 stalk celery diced, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper (optional). In the tradition of most Cajun dishes, saute the “trinity” of onion, celery, and peppers in olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add tuna, then fill each can with water and add. Stir thoroughly, then sprinkle in gravy mix and stir briskly until blended. Add salt, pepper, stir thoroughly and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Check every 10 minutes for thickness and stir to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. Prepare 1 cup of white or brown rice in either another pan or use one of the quick microwave packets. If you want a thicker etouffee, increase the heat to medium and stir frequently as you reduce the liquid. Serve over rice in a bowl.

 

About Those Luxury Cars……

Yes, I have owned two Mercedes, a Saab, and a Jaguar. Now in all fairness, they were all “previously owned”, three of the four purchased through Carmax. The first Mercedes was when we were in Germany and it was a “European Spec” which meant certain things would have to be modified to bring it back to the U.S. Rather than bother with that was when we bought the Saab convertible. Not only bought it, but did the deal where we went to Guttenberg Sweden to pick it up. We had transferred to Italy at that point. So here was the deal. The price of the car included delivery from Sweden or the other option. Train from Italy to port of Hamburg (I think it was). overnight ferry to Guttenberg, pick up the car, overnight stay, then drive back. Daytime ferry for return trip. Since we went on a Saturday and the factory wasn’t open, a lady from the factory delivered the car to the hotel. This was all very civilized. It was also the first time we’d done a high-speed train which was a nice experience, too. It was winter though so a bit on the chilly side. Clear, however, which meant we did walk around and Guttenberg is a charming place. Our son enjoyed it because the TV shows were in English with Swedish subtitles. Yes, he did walk around with us, too. The drive from the port back to Italy allowed Hubby to get a good feel for the car and we spent the night in some hotel in Switzerland close to the highway.

As much as I loved the Saab, unfortunately, it was not designed for hot climates and I had serious mechanical issues with it when we left Virginia for Hubby’s last assignment in Puerto Rico. I went with the second Mercedes when we came back from there and then had a most unfortunate accident on the Turnpike. No injury thanks to great Mercedes engineering, but car was totaled. That led to the Jaguar. Again, loved the car, but I erroneously thought we had a dealership closer than we did. Getting service and repairs became truly annoying. There was also the matter of running premium gas. At that stage, I said, “enough”, and returned to my Ford roots. What brought all this to mind was the two-day Porsche events this weekend. Yesterday (Friday) was at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and today is car show at Schnebly Winery. We aren’t going due to some other things scheduled, but if it’s successful and they return next year, it might work out for us.

A Special Scuba Treat…..

Circumstances have once again interfered with my goal of diving once a month. In reality, January is almost always a loss due to post-holiday things, plus weather. This year though I “lost” November and December and so it wasn’t until Sunday – which was coincidentally Valentine’s Day – that I was able to go out. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the winter water temperatures here go down to 70-74 depending on the site and day. While the wet suit helps, the maximum I have is a 3 mil and that’s right on the edge of comfort. I can’t see getting the next thickness up as it’s too warm for most of the time I dive. Also, if the air temperature is around 80 and especially if the sun is out and wind down, then it doesn’t take long to warm up after a dive.

With that said, there was a bit more wind than predicted to bring us 3-4 foot waves; nothing too difficult. Visibility was decent on the first dive at about fifty feet and while there was nothing “big”, I did see several of my favorite fish and multiple lobsters. We moved to the second site and visibility dropped to only about thirty feet. That again is a matter of perspective. People who come from the Northeast often consider thirty feet as “excellent”, not being as spoiled as we are. However, I had just seen one of my favorite fish and knew I couldn’t get the attention of Hubby and his student in time to show them, but as I turned, Hubby gave the sign for “shark” and pointed beyond me. I didn’t see anything and then it happened. Three – count them – three dolphins came zipping past us within like fifteen feet. Hubby hadn’t actually seen a shark and knew I missed the dolphins on their first pass. He just wanted to get me pointed in the right direction hoping they would come back as they did.

Once we were on the boat, the Captain and Mate explained they’d seen the pod approach and realized several of them were close to where they could see our bubbles. Like Hubby, they couldn’t be certain as to which divers would have a chance to see them. Fortunately, only a few of the divers missed out and they did see a shark. It had been like 20 years since I had seen a dolphin underwater.

Valentine’s Day Shifts……

Musing alert. I think I have posted previously about having to work most of the time while I was in college. One summer I actually worked my regular part time job then another part time job and then had a third, temporary one for a little while that same summer. That was when my regular part time job was behind the soda fountain of the Rexall Drug Store although we didn’t actually sell much in the way of ice cream creations. It was more coffee/drinks, sandwiches, and cones. There were a few men who routinely came in for morning coffee and one day one of them stopped in for an afternoon cup. He had a nice box of candy he was obviously planning to check out so I naturally inquired as to if it was his wife’s birthday or other special occasion. He replied that no, no reason; he just liked to surprise her now and then. It was a habit he recommended. That leads me to the subject of Valentine’s Day. (Yes, I know it can be difficult when one has no Valentine and I have posted about that before.) There was a time when I was in all for the appropriate gestures of dinner out, flowers, and so forth. I can’t even say for certain when we decided that going out in the crowds could give way instead to a nice dinner and champagne at home. We do usually add in a dessert as well. No gifts or extra flower arrangements are needed even though I do always get Hubby some kind of Valentine themed candy, but like Snickers in heart-decorated wrapping.

What it comes down to, is it’s a bit like the gentleman I was talking about. We haven’t lost the romance; we simply don’t focus on Valentine’s Day as a time to show it.

Holding Onto a Record…..

I will admit conflicted feelings about the NFL. I’m still angry they allowed the game/organization to be politicized when they had other options. On the other hand, setting aside the adverse economic impact of COVID-19 closures and restrictions, in normal circumstances, it is not only the highly paid players, owners, etc., who make a living from football. There is the associated revenue for many, many small businesses in and around stadiums and then there is the intangible love of the sport. With that said, I’ll segue into the point of the post.

All athletes, no matter how good, come to an end to their career. The body will simply no longer hold up to the physical demand, particularly when there are additional injuries as well as the normal “wear and tear”. It is, however, also true that for the highest paid “star athletes” whether it’s the money or the continued fame, they may hold on longer than they should. It is also true when one attains that level, hundreds of thousands of people (if not more) will express their opinions about when “it’s time to quit”. This was on full display in this year’s Superbowl where both Tom Brady as quarterback for Tampa Bay and Head Coach Bruce Arians were the oldest to ever win a Superbowl in their respective positions. Brady of course set another record having now won his 7th as a QB. For every record set, however, there will be those who aspire to break it. Some will hold for decades, such as the 1972 Miami Dolphins continue to be the only team that has had a perfect season of no losses to include the Superbowl. One can imagine that thought is already circulating in Tampa Bay for next season.

There was a superb and much too short-lived TV series, “Sports Night”, in the 1990s. It was wonderfully cast with excellent writing and although a comedy, there were often dramatic and poignant themes and scenes. In one episode, they staff was cheering for an older Olympic contender in some sort of track event; a man who had been on the cusp of setting a world record, but was sidelined due to an injury. He fought his way back and did set the record. As the one sportscaster said, “Then, fifteen minutes later, a young (whatever country he was from), came along and broke that record by a fraction of a second.” He felt a pang of desolation for what the other man had endured to hold the world record for barely fifteen minutes. Another individual quietly observed, “Which is fifteen minutes longer than most athletes will ever hold it.”

Joys of Reading…..

I think I’ve previously posted about my love of reading which of course led me to the desire to write. We didn’t have a lot of extra money, but the library was easily accessible and my maternal grandfather (the judge) had a wonderful library. While there were lots of legal/law books, he had plenty of others. Everyone in the family read to at least some degree. My favorite aunt was a librarian and specialized in children’s literature. She sent a copy of “Pat the Bunny” to me when son was born and that was the first book I ever read to him. In her card, she said it made no difference he wouldn’t be able to understand for a long time; reading to him was important.

Jump ahead a few years as he was learning to read on his own, yet he went through a time when he didn’t seem interested. I turned to my same aunt either during a phone call or a visit and said this puzzled me. She said that children will sometimes hold back from reading on their own because they think it will mean no more “parent-child story time”. I took that to heart and kept up the shared reading until one summer not long after when son became an avid reader and basically said he was too old for story time.

Jumping ahead many more years, a few weeks ago, my daughter-in-law sent a video of her with granddaughter as she was making her way through a little book. She was doing pretty well and only needed help with a couple of words. The other day, daughter-in-law posted this to Facebook, “I’m pretty proud of my kid’s reading skills. We’ve read to her every day since birth and now she’s a master.” They don’t have a very large condo and as much as I would love to shower her with books, I’ll see what they want to do about some sort of e-reader to supplement “real” books.

 

 

Uplifting Story…..

When I write stories for the community paper, I have a target word count of 450-800 depending on the story. The paper is a weekly and if something isn’t time sensitive, it may get slipped to the following week due to lack of space. There are times when we know the story will “go long” and we make allowances for that. In a few cases, we set up a 2-part story to adequately portray the person/group/subject.

My intent when I went to write about the new Krab Kingz was a regular story of a touch of irony along with the extra difficulty in opening a restaurant under current economic conditions. I’d spoken briefly with the husband half of the couple, but when I was able to sit down with them both, I knew I would need to “go longer”. The finished article is here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/eedition/page-a03/page_c2d14d6c-1224-540e-bb7e-60744a393581.html

I wasn’t able to include as much as I wanted about how each on their own has been a shining example of achieving the American Dream. They’ve both worked hard all their lives, committed to community and church and always on the lookout for opportunities. An element that adds to this is their personal story of having known each other in their youth and then gone separate ways. Whether one believes in destiny or coincidence, they met again as adults, both single parents and still working hard. (I did not inquire as to what circumstances caused the single parenting – it wasn’t relevant to this piece). They took their time though and allowed a few years before entering into dating and ultimately marrying.

I feel confident they will succeed in this endeavor and can attest to the quality of the food. It’s interesting that they have a “fried” and “boiled menu” and they do recommend if you want fried as carry-out, you come in to order so you can then carry out as soon as it’s taken from the fryer.

 

No Scuba Yet…..

I try to dive once a month, but it’s been tough since I was out in October. It’s a combination of available time and conditions. While weather conditions are the driving factor, there is also the matter of how crowded the boat is. Even though it might seem as if people wouldn’t be here diving, there are a couple of reasons the demand has been steady. First, it is an outdoor activity and the dive shop is taking all required and recommended safety measures. Next is people who would ordinarily go to other places in the Caribbean are restricted in travel to many of those places. While we have more “winter” than somewhere like the Bahamas, it’s still better than in our northern states. So, on those days when I can get away, the weather, boat situation, or both have kept me out of the water. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for February. That traditionally is a month I can’t get out and I’ll have to make an extra effort.

Speaking of scuba though, I just sent the manuscript for Idyllic Islands to the company I use for interior and cover design. Once they do their thing, and I make whatever corrections are needed, it will go to Amazon for self-publishing. The release date should be late February or early March. This is in the Chris Green mystery series. The book opens with her in Fort Lauderdale where she completed a “slam dunk” investigation. She and “Captain M”, a friend who owns the dive shop she uses there, are having drinks together before she leaves the next day to return to  the Bahamas. A guy comes up to say hello. He’s Conrad Langston, someone she worked with in Australia, and they haven’t seen each other for more than five years. He’s on his way to a meeting and they don’t have much time to catch up. He’s now with the company, Idyllic Islands, and is the Director for a private island that features a large resort, some private residences, a village, and offers all sorts of water-based activities. He invites her  for a visit to see what all they do.

She doesn’t think much more about it, goes back to the Bahamas to be with Jeff, and continue their work. Some cool things happen, then Jeff gets a telephone call from someone from his past with some shocking news. It’s nothing bad, but Chris decides he needs a couple of weeks without her and going to visit her friend is a good excuse. Everything is terrific the first few days on the island and it is impressive. I created some great characters and situations. An unfortunate fatal accident her fourth day there, is of course, not as it appears. It turns out a great many things are not as they appear. No spoilers here, but I will say unlike most of my books, the clues as to what might be going on are not as straightforward as usual. The second POV is also from her friend Conrad, who like Chris, isn’t aware of what secrets are being kept from him. Okay, that’s enough for now.

 

Adapting a Flounder Dish….

We have seafood once a week, sometimes more often depending on multiple factors. We mostly grill although there are some stove top and oven dishes we do occasionally. I’ve posted before about the ham wrapped fillets and last night I did a variation of Flounder Imperial. An issue with any fish is of course the tricky part of not overlooking while still having it done. (I am not getting into the whole searing versus cooking here).

Flounder is not one of our local fish, but Hubby picks up the frozen type and to the best of my knowledge, there is no way to grill flounder as thin as it is. This leave stove and oven and again, timing is tricky. With our schedules, I did the grocery shopping last week and picked up an 8-ounce can of jumbo lump crab and one container of Publix lobster bisque. My intent was sort of a “deconstructed” Flounder Imperial. The “Imperial” part means a thin layer of mayonnaise is spread over the crab before baking. Since the point of paying extra for jumbo lump crab is to have the large chunks, that means they will take a little longer to cook than the thin fillets. To prevent the flounder from overcooking I used a two-part approach, although that does require messing up an extra dish.

Crab Imperial: 8 ounces crab meat; 1 Tbs Lea & Perrine’s; 1 Tbs any type mustard; 2 Tsp capers. Gently mix to coat the crab. Place 1 Tbs of butter in small baking dish to melt while preheating oven to 375 (can spray dish with butter spray instead). Put crab mixture in dish and gently spread a thin coat of mayonnaise over the crab (approximately 3 Tbs). Lightly sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crab is hot and top is browned.

I lightly sprinkled the fillets on both sides with a chicken/fish seasoning mix (whatever brand you like or use Old Bay). Poured the lobster bisque into a 12-inch skillet, added some white wine to the container to get the rest of the bisque out and stirred that in. Heated the bisque over medium low to barely a boil. Reduced heat to medium low. Placed the fillets in and spooned bisque over them. Cooked for three minutes, gently turned, spooned more bisque over and cooked another two minutes.

The crab took 15 minutes. Try to time it so both dishes are done at the same time (I was off a little so moved the skillet to the back burner (no heat) while the crab finished. I spooned sauce on the plate, placed the fillets on the sauce and topped with the crab. There was some sauce left in the skillet and I poured that over the fish.

And no, this is not the kind of dish Hubby attempts.