Let’s Have A Little Heartwarming…..

Of things Hollywood believes in, attempting to duplicate success is high on the list. The  huge popularity of Joanna and Chip Gaines in “Fixer Upper” led to a search for other “engaging couples who remodel houses”. While there are multiple remodeling shows with various combinations, “Home Time”, has Erin and Ben Napier in Laurel, MS. She is perky and petite and he is hefty with a beard. They are committed to helping revitalize their town and especially focus on older homes. Most are of course done for families and individuals and include a range of sizes and budgets.

Last year, HGTV made the decision to launch a major effort with Erin and Ben taking the lead role for a four-month program of “Home Town Takeover”. (hgtv home town takeover.com) They invited small towns (under 40,000) all across the country to apply to be selected to have 12 properties, a mix of residences and businesses, renovated to try and spur revival of a struggling area. Although the Napiers have the lead, numerous well-known other HGTV remodel personalities will come in to do some of the projects. There were 5,000 applicants and Wetumpka, Alabama, population: 8,278, was chosen. In the way that often happens, larger stores and services offered about twenty miles away continued to drain business from them. They worked out a plan for revitalization and were making progress when a tornado tore through destroying much of what they had accomplished.

The first episode aired last night of a historic house selected as was a young couple who has opened their home to foster boys alongside their two sons. A woman trying to make a go of her clothing story was the business chosen and until Erin and Ben appeared, none of them knew they were going to be helped. On a different project, a long expanse of wall at an entry point to the town is having a welcoming mural painted with the local high school art teacher in charge of some students. I’m not certain of how many episodes there will be, but it is a wonderful series if you enjoy this kind of show.

Making Those Ingredient Substitutions…..

I’ve posted before about how we use leftovers to create different dishes than the original. With leftover pork we generally do either carnitas or pork with pasta, but last night we had a little bit of carne asada left and that’s so close to carnitas, I decided instead to have a bit of a sampler plate with simply reheating the carne asada and planning to slice the pork to have it in a green mole sauce. I’m always torn between red and green mole, and lean slightly more to the green. Mole is another of those dishes each restaurant tends to do slightly differently with the recipe handed down by families. Although I’m sure we have and can certainly get a recipe on-line I had no intention of making it from scratch. So, I went by the store to pick up a jar, thinking I had seen some there before. Apparently I was mistaken, or it could be I’d seen it at one of the local stores with a more extensive inventory. Since the week has been a bit jammed and I wasn’t in the mood to make an extra stop, I grabbed a can of green enchilada sauce instead. The only had mild, but we do have a jar of pickled jalapenos to solve that problem.

I also still had some lime-infused olive oil and used that to get a bit of a crust on the sliced pork before I added the sauce and jalapenos and set it to simmer for about thirty minutes. Even though the end result was not quite as good as with mole, it was still good and allowed us to use up the rest of the rice and re-fried beans in the fridge as well. Oh, and almost all the leftover grilled yellow squash as the other side.

Good T.H.U.G.S…….

As I have mentioned on multiple occasions, writing for the community newspaper allows me to learn about people and organizations I would not necessarily come in contact with otherwise. In actuality, this is another case where I didn’t “meet” this group; Hubby did. I will branch off for a quick explanation. I’m a terrible photographer. There were times when photographs were especially important to a piece and the paper would pay Hugh to take them. On other occasions, it would be a photo-heavy piece such as Fourth of July celebration and they would have Hubby and a couple of the others do an array. A few years ago, I was out of town and there was an event where Hubby went alone and did up a short article. Then as they realized how much he enjoyed and understood racing, and the primary sports writer left, he stepped into the racing piece. Yesterday was what one might call a hybrid situation. I’ve been working the story of “National Rebuilding Day”, but things got really jammed for me. Hubby was always going to do the photos and he kindly agreed to capture the quotes as well. (We also had an event to cover last night, although that’s a different topic). Okay, having set the stage, here’s the thing.

Rebuilding Together, Miami Dade (RTMD), is the area chapter for the national organization. It’s similar to Habitat for Humanity except they repair and renovate other than build entire houses. The last Saturday of April is a nation-wide “blitz” day when as many chapters as can focus on multiple houses to complete projects. Professional contractors are used as required to do major work before and volunteers do finishing painting, landscaping, etc., Five houses were the focus yesterday and as the mayor and the lead people from RTMD went to each house Hubby took photos and talked to homeowners and volunteers. One group was from T.H.U.G.S. – True Heroes Under God’s Sovereignty. This is an organization that works with inner city youth in Miami with the express purpose to mentor boys and prepare them for a life without drugs, violence, and crime. The guy explained they work most closely with 8th and 11th graders to help them get onto the right path as they are entering and becoming seniors in high school. They stress vocational careers as well as college. They are a faith-based organization even though they don’t require the boys to be of the same – or any faith. They’re outside the area we cover for the paper, yet I always appreciate learning about these programs.

Taking A Step Back….

Not political, but… Okay, I make it a point to try and not be political in my posts although there are times when social aspects come close to or straddle the line. I also try to acknowledge when I hold a particular view and then discover something that impacts that view one way or the other. In this case, it’s a pleasant impact.

I’ve never been a big fan of Starbucks coffee in the sense of their coffee or their prices. Back when they first became popular, our son was of the age that I did appreciate the fact they provided a gathering place for the 18-20 year olds who couldn’t go to bars, yet wanted that kind of social feeling. As they significantly expanded (and thus opened the way for similar places I like better), I genuinely felt they took the whole “inclusion” thing too far. Not so much in I didn’t agree with being more inclusive; it was the sense of them seeming to project being superior about it I didn’t care for. I only patronized them when someone specifically asked to meet there or they happened to be the only convenient coffee place.

My taking a step back came last week and yesterday as I was sent an email to cover a story for the paper about the latest store opening. It is designated as the first Starbucks Military Family Store in Homestead, only the sixth in all of Florida, but brings the national total to seventy-six. I had never heard of such. As it turns out, these stores are part of an initiative launched in 2013 of “Starbucks Military Hiring Commitment, which included the goal of hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses which was raised to 25,000 and now aims to add 5,000 more such employees each year. Military Family Stores are located near bases and posts and are, ‘designed to reflect the local military community, creating a welcoming space for veterans, active-duty military and their families’.” (Full article will probably be in this week’s paper)

In speaking with the store manager yesterday, she’s been with the company for 23 years and in South Florida for 16. Her father-in-law, a Vietnam veteran spent 28 years in the Army. She is very excited about the program and 85% of the employees (they refer to them as partners) have a family connection to the military.

I will later send a letter or email to the company expressing my appreciation.


Another Memory Stirred….

There was a discussion about hunting and guns and I was trying to remember when I first learned to shoot. We did have cap guns and BB guns, but of course those don’t count. Daddy had a .22 rifle and a shotgun. He only hunted small game; birds, rabbits, and squirrels. Well, he did accidentally shoot a racoon one time and I don’t recall if we liked the stew or not. Anyway, I went fishing with him sometimes, but not hunting and that was probably because he was pretty intermittent with when he went.

It seems reasonable he would have taught us to shoot although the most distinct time I recall was going to a range with my uncle and cousins. I was on the ROTC rifle team for like one semester and did attend a match. I was never more than an average shot. As I’ve mentioned before, I was an “inadvertent” pioneer in the Army based on coming in as the Women’s Army Corps was being transitioned out. My first two years it was optional for women to qualify with the M-16 and .45 pistol. I didn’t hesitate even though a couple of my classmates chose to not fire a weapon. In light of the fact I went into the Ordnance Corps and weapons repair from small arms to artillery was part of our mission, we did of course have to fire as well as learn to repair them. Now when I say, “repair”, what that actually meant for an officer was to get a fundamental lesson in breaking down the weapon to see the parts and learn the most ordinary kind of failures. That was for pistols through machine guns and yes, firing an M60 and a .50 cal was an interesting experience. I had some difficulty with the Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW) because my hands are small and the hand strength required to hold and fire was designed for the average-size male.

Intriguing Art…….

As I have mentioned, I’m heavily involved in the nonprofit Homestead Center for the Arts. We have up to 30 artists and they are in a range of amateur to professional and work in different mediums. A couple are former art teachers and one artist took up painting because her mother was adamant she quit smoking and she was looking for something to substitute. Anyway, a little over a year ago, a couple moved here for the husband half to take a job with the Florida City government. (Florida City adjoins Homestead and is the last municipality before reaching the Keys). Terre Rybovich was an established artist in West Palm Beach and they had quite a bit to relocate not to mention her losing her studio. She’s shown all over Florida, in NY, and overseas. She hoped there would be available space to rent, but we lost that capability several years ago when we lost the last art gallery. With their decision to buy and remodel a home in Redland, they only recently became fairly settled.

One of the aspects of restoring the Seminole Theatre was to dedicate its considerable wall space to the Artist in the Spotlight program. Although the program is run by the City, HCA artists are frequently featured and the exhibits change about every two months. Terre was scheduled for last March when everything was shut down. So, she’s the first artist to re-start the program. She and her husband described her unique art and the fact it’s really big, but I didn’t honestly understand until I helped them hang the exhibit last week. In essence, she takes a huge canvas, covers it with charcoal, and applies part or all of her body. She then decides what part to leave or add and often also adds a bird to inject some color. Here’s a link to her website to get a better understanding. (https://www.terrerybovich.com)

Oops, Lost A Week…..

I knew it had been extra hectic lately and didn’t realize I was days behind on posting. Yes, it’s the “usual suspects” as the popular line goes. Today will be only marginally better as I head out to cover a local event for the paper, but another thing I had lined up occurred yesterday instead. That, of course, wound up taking a few hours longer than expected even though it was a good deed. Anyway, among my tasks was getting the word out about the release of Idyllic Islands, now available on Amazon and B&N as well as posted to my website. I’ll get my copies in about another week; those I have earmarked for the ones who always receive signed copies plus a few extra to keep on hand for direct sales.

This is the fourth of the Chris Green books; the character I created in Shades of Truth and liked her so much I decided to spin her off into a separate series. That was why I featured her as the dual protagonist in Shades of Gold. I included a subplot to make it reasonable for her to leave Verde Key and go off on her own. I had already developed her character to be more of a “wandering type” and while not free-spirited, definitely more open to certain things than the character of Detective Bev Henderson. In fact,  when I wrote False Front (second Chris Green book after Deadly Doubloons) I did check with a friend and fan about Chris consistently entering into short flings. Not having been single for quite some time I wasn’t sure how that would play in my target audience. I was assured that didn’t mar her as a character. While a new interest isn’t quite the case in Idyllic Islands, there is a bit of a reflection about it as it applies to her relationship with Jeff. (No, I’m not going to say any more about that). This one is somewhat like False Front in that the clues to potential sinister events are not completely clear. Oh, and this is also a case where I actually made a major change toward the end based on my editor’s view. After you read the book, I’ll let you in on it.

Revisiting TV’s Northern Exposure…..

As I think I’ve mentioned, Hubby and I do most  of our workouts on the stationary recumbent bike. He uses his tablet to watch webinars, podcasts, etc., and I watch DVDs. Since I generally work out 6 days a week, that’s lots of CDs. I ran across the complete set of the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure and ordered it. We didn’t see the first season, and it ran back in the days before recording was available. We watched most of the episodes though although it took me longer to become comfortable with the quirkiness than it did Hubby. For those too young to remember, Cicely, Alaska has around 800 people, a mix of whites and natives. Basic amenities are available and the setting is beautiful. It is, however, in the proverbial middle of nowhere. Dr. Joel Fleischman, a graduate of Columbia Medical and a thorough New Yorker, did not come from a family who could afford medical school. In accepting funding from the state of Alaska, he arrives to learn his four-year commitment to the state will not be in Anchorage as he’d been promised, but in Cicely. The culture shock is the basic premise of the series which ran for six seasons. There is a range of characters and frequent mingling of native beliefs and practices to add to what are humorous, poignant, or philosophical/metaphysical aspects depending on the episode.

Not surprisingly, while Joel is the one most often taken aback by things he encounters and usually comes to view “ridiculousness and oddities” from a different perspective, at other times he is the one who helps steer people into a better decision or resolution of an issue. There were two episodes (haven’t gotten to them yet) that have stayed with me all these years. They dealt with different approaches to one’s view of death, and the powerful pull of external validation.  Like many series though,  you either have to watch it from the beginning or have some kind of primer to give you enough understanding to enjoy it to the fullest.

Variability of Visibility In Scuba…..

I was able to make my March dive although I did cut it close being the 29th. Hubby has been working multi-day stretches as it’s the time of year with “rolling spring breaks” where different parts of the country take off at different times. It’s always popular to dive here then, and of course some overseas destinations not yet open. That means divers who might go to the Caribbean are opting for Key Largo. Since Easter is early this year, that also means there will be divers and snorkelers who specifically want to go to the Christ of the Abyss site. I’ve posted before that it’s one of several statues placed underwater by the Cressi family in honor of I think it was a son who died. (They’re a big name in scuba equipment). I’ve forgotten how many statues there are, but it is a concrete robed figure on a rectangular pedestal with his arms outstretched upward set at about 20 feet deep. It’s used on many underwater ads for the area and is something to be seen. The drawback is because of being shallow and such a popular site, it’s usually crowded and often low visibility, as well as surge (which rocks you back and forth and can cause sediment to be kicked up reducing the visibility even more). Additionally, the actual reefs around it aren’t very good from a marine life perspective. Anyway, several people on the boat yesterday were hoping for the statue, but reports were poor visibility so Captain D broke the news and took us to one of the outer reefs.

Although the water is still cool, the visibility was excellent on both dives.  Since I didn’t see the small goldentail eel tucked into the rocks, there was nothing extra special for me. However, there were plenty of fish to include some of my favorites and a couple of older conch shells that had lost their colors. Even so, they still have the distinctive shape.

Juvenile Spotted Drum

Non-Grilled Fish…….

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I don’t grill as that’s Hubby’s domain.  He’s a propane guy by the way. We do also have a smoker which uses charcoal although that’s such an involved and lengthy process he rarely bothers with it. I take over when it comes to cooking fish stove top or in the oven.

We do a version of pan fried fish sometimes and I have been using almond flour because of lower carbs. My basic problem there is the tendency for sticking to the pan as I can’t ever seem to get the heat right on the first try. I’m about 50-50 on managing without making a total mess. Next up are dishes that I start stove top, then finish in the oven. I seem to have more success there as it doesn’t usually require turning the fish. My issue with that is a having to be really careful not to overcook as I constantly forget how quickly fish cooks. I rarely try to broil fish which doesn’t really make sense as the TV Chef Alton Brown says, “The broiler is an upside down grill inside your house” (or something like that). Perhaps the word “grill” throws me off.

One of the stove top preparations is Everglades style. Two firm fish fillets (mahi, snapper, haddock, hogfish, etc.) 1 shallot minced; 2 Tbs olive oil (lime flavored if have it); 2-3 Tbs butter; 2 Tbs capers, 2 Tbs Key Lime juice (can use regular lime juice); 2 Tbs rum, 1/4 cup chicken, vegetable, or seafood broth.Season fillets with salt and cracked black pepper or favorite seafood seasoning. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute minced shallots in olive oil until soft (3-4 minutes). Stir in capers, juice, rum, and broth. Melt butter in mixture and stir thoroughly. Add fillets, spooning shallots and capers on top. Cover and cook for four minutes. Remove cover and check to see if fish is flaking. If not, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook for another three-to-four minutes. (You may need to add a little more broth if sauce is thickened to the point of sticking to the pan.)

If we do this only as a sauce to top grilled fish, there is no need for broth and it cooks over medium heat in five to six minutes. That’s 1 shallot minced; 2-3 Tbs butter; 2 Tbs capers, 2 Tbs Key Lime juice; 2 Tbs rum, 2-3 grinds cracked black pepper.