About That Alligator….

Every area has local color of some type or the other and you often don’t think about it until you have a visitor or someone new in town. Alligators are a good example here. We’re not far from the Everglades National Park in one direction and the Biscayne National Park in the other direction. There are also numerous canals, although they don’t lead to open water. In other words, there are plenty of places for alligators to roam around in. They mostly remain in the parks, but mostly means, “not always.” A new resident was startled when she heard that they might have an alligator in one of the ponds in her neighborhood. That’s when I explained that yes, it could be, and it was not all that unusual.

In fact, the first time we had one close by, I, too, thought I should alert someone, but when I pointed the creature out to one of the security personnel, he merely shrugged. It seems as though the rule here is that unless the reptile is five feet or longer, or actively causing a problem, it’s considered as any other local wildlife – no more to be concerned about than say, a turtle. If it’s in your yard, or attacking a pet, sure, that’s worth coming around to check on, but just being in the area is not a big deal. It’s an interesting rule and I must admit, not one that you immediately think of if you don’t live in a place with a lot of alligators.


Fish Cheeks….

Whole mangrove snapper prepped for the grill.

The discussion came up last night about cooking whole fish and eating fish cheeks. I don’t eat the cheeks, and my husband gladly takes mine when I’m done with the rest of the fish. For those who are relucant to tackle a whole fish in cooking, it’s actually easier than it may seem. One of the most critical parts is to allow a professional to clean the fish for you. Getting all the scales off and making sure the inside cavity doesn’t have lingering “innards” gives you the right starting point.

What do you do next? Deciding whether to bake, grill, or fry comes next. Since most whole fish is fairly large, frying can be tricky. You’ll need at least a 12-inch skillet or a big deep fat fryer for it to work correctly. That’s why we usually go with grilling or baking.

How to prepare for cooking is again a personal preference and we tend to go with salt and pepper, lemon or lime slices, fresh herbs of basil and rosemary, and sometimes thinly sliced onions, athough you can use anything you like. If you  grill it, then everything needs to stay inside the fish, but if you choose to bake it, you can put other vegetables (or thin sliced potatoes) around the fish in a foil lined dish. The point is that the fish cooks fairly quickly, so whatever you pair it with needs to be either thinly sliced or parboiled so that the cooking times are matched. My husband has gotten the grilling technique down quite well, having learned that making cuts to score the skin of the fish, liberally spraying (or oiling) the grill, and having a very wide spatula to turn the fish are important points. You can find recipes on-line or in several cookbooks for whichever method you prefer.

Serving and eating a whole fish is the other part. I’ve found that a 1 to 2 pound fish usually fits on a regular size plate, but not much else will go on there. Normally, we’ll have a rice dish and put the fish on top, then just have a salad. Picking the fish from the bones isn’t that difficult if you go slowly and pay attention. As for eating the fish cheeks – well, you’ll just have to try them for yourself.

Mini Season Mania…..

Spiny Lobsters caught during 2012 Mini-Season

I had no idea about “Mini Season” in South Florida until we moved here. For those, like me, who aren’t familiar with the term, there is a two-day period each July that preceeds the regular lobster season that runs from early August to March. Mini Season is a tradition that is a good example of something that can be lots of fun, but also demonstrates human folly. People who do not get into the water at any other time of the year rush down to be a part of Mini Season. That’s fine and I do believe in the “any excuse for a party”. The problem comes in when those same people maybe haven’t serviced their scuba equipment since the last Mini Season, aren’t as adept at free diving as they think, or haven’t really checked out their boat properly, etc. This year though is the first year since 2003 with no fatalities, so perhaps people were better prepared.

Anyway, this is also the first year that my husband has gotten his license and gone out. Not like a friend of ours who chose to go at 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, but went out last evening with other crew from Horizon Divers in Key Largo. Apparently the boat overall had quite a haul, although certainly within the limits. In Monroe County that includes all of the Keys, the limit is six per person, while in Miami-Dade it is 12 per person. Most people abide by the rules and the Florida Wildlife Conservation (FWC) patrols are diligent about checking for not only catch limits, but also allowable size. These are the rules that protect the sustainability of the lobster population.

For those who may not be familiar with Florida lobster, they are the Spiny type with no claws. One friend from Maine is convinced that the cold water Maine lobster is better, others match them side-by-side. I can’t honestly say that if I did a blind taste test of the tail meat that I could tell the difference. Both are delicious and it does make me sympathize with anyone who is allergic to shellfish.


Sally Ride as a Role Model…..

I was sadden to see the news that Sally Ride died of cancer at only at 61. Although she was the first American female astronaut, a number of women in aviation should have had that honor before her. That, however, was a matter of timing, and from what I understand, she knew that. The love and exploration of space and sharing that excitement was far more important to her than an entry in the history books. I don’t know how many girls and young women she inspired (or boys and young men), but I hope it was hundreds and perhaps thousands.

I’ve written in this blog before about the empowerment of teaching children about science and math and the wonder of space is one of those vehicles we can use. Notwithstanding children who are born with learning challenges, a child’s science and math ability is not determined by family background or their parents’ lack of science and math skills. One of the greatest boosts to give a child is not to make math and science scary. Encourage these skills through whatever means you can and don’t be reluctant to admit that you may not understand it, but that doesn’t mean he or she can’t. And no, not all children have an aptitude, but far more do than pursue math and science because when they first have difficulty with either subject, people have a tendency to say. “Oh, don’t worry about it.” That may be the correct answer, but before giving up on math or science, see if you can find someone to help. Technology has done wonderful things for our standard of living and allowed us to do incredible things like space exploration. Allow kids as often as possible to look at science and math as fun and excitement rather than something to worry about.

Food as a Career….

Cook at a popular local BBQ restaurant.

In the last post I wrote about lawn care and landscaping as a good example of how someone could start with virtually nothing and move up through a series of steps to build a substantial business. Another example is a career in food preparation and the culinary world. It too, is a hard business with a lot of competition, yet again, a field where the entry level can lead to great things or you can find a comfortable spot in between.

I’ve done a number of restaurant stories for the local weekly paper, with a view to the story of how the restaurant started rather than simply as a review of the food and atmosphere. In addition, I recently became aware of a local adult education program that is really quite comprehensive. It is made even more so because the woman who is in charge of the program understands that in the food world, your background matters far less than your passion and willingness to work hard. And hard work it is. There’s no question about that. And yet, if you talk to a lot of people who own or manage restaurants, see how many of them started out bussing tables and washing dishes.

Even the celebrity chefs who have cooking shows, books, go on tour – yes, they got some incredible breaks along the way, but a number of them did not attend a prestigious culinary school initially. And many of them who own restaurants keep an eye open for employees who show the desire to move up within the culinary world. They often take employees who start out in an entry level, see the promise of a chef-to-be, and either mentor the individual or provide other training.

The big chain restaurants and even a lot of fast food chains usually have management trainees programs for employees that demonstrate interest and work ethic.  And while flipping burgers in a fast food place may not be glamourous, it can definitely be a building block. Aside from restaurants, there are the tens of thousands of “cafeteria ladies”, people who work in food preparation for schools, hospitals, and other institutions. The point of the adult education program that I am talking about is that food preparation and culinary arts can be an entry level career when you are starting out, or as a later career. It is something to consider if you are, or someone who know, is  at a crossroads.


A Local Adult Education Center runs a Food Preparation and Culinary Arts Program where students learn not only about food, but also how to set up and manage a restaurant.



You Start With a Lawnmower…..

If there is one industry in South Florida that is both recession proof and a great example of how to start and grow small business, it’s lawn care and landscaping. Grass here needs to be cut every two weeks and sometimes more often depending on the amount of rain. Shrubbery gets out of control before you know it. Everything, to include weeds, grows like crazy. Some people of course take care of their own places, but lawncare is a great entry-level business and provides a wonderful example of free market application. Here’s the way it works. The market demand is large, consistent, and it is a low overhead business to get started.

You can begin with a lawnmower, weedeater, and pickup truck (or other vehicle) and only yourself for labor. Next up is when someone adds an extra person to help. Next is when you can add a riding lawnmower and a trailer to pull behind the truck. As business increases, you can go to the nicer, enclosed trailer emblazoned with the name of your business. Somewhere in this mix, you add extra services for landscaping rather than just mowing and trimming. Perhaps it’s full service yard maintenance with pest control and landscaping. As you grow, maybe you go into landscape design as well as the physical planting part of landscaping. Maybe you can move up into commercial properties in addition to individual homes. This often also means you add laborers, be they family and friends or new hires.

There are major landscaping companies here that handle large-scale properties, but that’s not the subject of the post. Now, let’s talk about the effort that it requires. Lawn care and landscaping in South Florida is hot, sweaty, messy, labor-intensive work. There are plenty of landscapers available so keeping prices competitive is  important. Providing a good service is paramount and while there is nothing easy about it, many people grow a thriving business from a very modest beginning. When I left the neighborhood this morning, I passed three different lawn care sets, ranging from the single mower with the pickup, all the way to the biggest landscaper in the region. It’s a good lesson to observe for someone who is considering starting their own business.

Farewell to Eureka….

I am writing this really short post before I see the series finale of Eureka scheduled for tonight. I don’t know how they plan to end the show, but there are a lot of “issues” to resolve in only an hour. Now, it could be that they resolve only some of them and leave others to be dealt with in future television movies. Or, perhaps they will simply leave some unresolved and each viewer gets to decide what “happened”. Over the years, we’ve said goodbye to many different series and that brings to mind how a series is ended. MASH set a good standard way back and Magnum, PI followed with their own well-crafted finale. I was not a particular fan of St Elsewhere, but it did have an intriguing ending. The X-Files, of course chose to only sort of end, and to the best of my knowledge none of the follow-on movies that promise to provide “the answers” really has. And yes, I am one of those people who like a “tidy” end where the right couples wind up together and the good guys win. We have enough real life messy endings so that I don’t need that in my entertainment.

So, my question for the day is, what have been some of your favorite television series’ finales?

For Carnivores and Vegetarians…..

If you have read my previous food posts, you know that we are not vegetarian in this house.  However, we do have friends who either are, or have frequent dinner guests who are vegetarian. The recipe that we can most easily adapt to vegetarian is risotto, and I’ll do a post about that one of these days. In the meantime, still using the Italian theme, a friend recently passed me one of those great recipes that can be completely vegetarian or you can add in chicken, pork, shrimp, or lobster if you like. You can even chill it and serve as a pasta salad if you prefer. I don’t know exactly where the recipe originated from, so for the purposes of this post, we’ll call it:

Versatile Main Dish Pasta (No Meat) – Serves 4                                                                1, 8-ounce package of penne or similar pasta; 4 cups chopped seeded tomatoes (or 1 15 ounce can, drained); 1/2 cup chopped, pitted kalamata olives; 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese; 1/4 chopped fresh basil; 1 tablespoon toasted pinenuts; 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar; 2 cloves minced garlic; salt & pepper to taste; 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (depending on taste). Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Combine pasta and all remaining ingredients into bowl and toss to thoroughly mix.

Meats to add:

While pasta is cooking, take 2 cups chicken or pork cut into strips. Salt and pepper to taste and saute in 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil for 4-10 minutes until cooked through (Cooking time will depend on how thick the strips are and whether chicekn or pork). Add cooked meat in with other ingredients to combine with cooked pasta. If use 2 cups peeled and deveined shrimp or lobster chunks, saute in olive oil for approximately 4 minutes and immediately put into the bowl to prevent overcooking. Then add the cooked pasta and other ingredients.

This is also a great recipe for using leftover chicken or pork. Re-heat the meat only approximately 1 minute in the microwave and place the meat in the bottom of the bowl before you add in the cooked pasta and other ingredients. This method prevents the leftover meat from being overcooked.

Pair the pasta with a salad, warm bread/rolls, and a bottle of your favorite wine (or other beverage).




Guest Post – Midlife Motorcycle Fun, Part II….

If you missed Part I of yesterday’s Guest Blog, do scroll over to it. My husband’s cousin, Margaret, is enjoying her own motorcycle at age 58, and kindly sent a guest post. Yesterday was Part I as she recounted the first part of the Motorcycle Safety Class that she took. The story continues today in Part II.

Margaret, ready to ride her own motorcycle.

Margaret’s Post:

The next day we were there again at 6am.  Everyone was tired and coffee just wasn’t doing anything for us.  We begin riding and doing more intricate turns and maneuvers.  I found out I like turning left but not so much to the right.  We had to learn how to do a figure eight within a small box outlined on the parking lot without touching the lines.  We also executed emergency stops and learned how to swerve to miss an obstacle in the road.  I started to realize how skilled Bob is on a bike and began to wonder if I could get to a level of riding where I would be safe on the road. I passed the class even though I began to worry about the right turns.  I didn’t pass with a perfect score, but I did better than most of the inexperienced riders! In retrospect, the instructors really were very good and the class is structure to make sure you learn all of the basic skills to succeed.

I knew I wanted to continue riding and see where I could go with my newfound skill.  I was very aware that a motorcycle license doesn’t mean that you are ready to ride everywhere, all it means is that you are qualified to begin to learn how to negotiate riding in real life situations.  I didn’t want my newly won skills to erode so we immediately began looking for a motorcycle for me. A week after the class I bought a new Harley Davidson Sportster.  It is perfect and I love riding with Bob.  He swears I’m doing really great on the bike but I also remember he said that about our girls when he taught them to drive.  (At that point they were NOT doing well driving!)

I got my license on June 6th and my bike June 16th.  I began practicing by riding around our neighborhood.  Last weekend we went on a 60-mile ride.  Bob rides behind me and we can talk through our helmet communication set and he’s also there to offer some advice. We both love riding and are looking down the road for our next trip!

The main point is, though, I proved to myself that at 58 I could still learn new skills.  When you are on the bike, your ride is always up to you, no one else, its all about your skill and judgment reading the road and the traffic around you. I am very proud to say “I ride, that’s MY bike.”

Congratulations, Margaret, and thanks for sharing. So, fellow and sister Baby Boomers – who cares if we’re in our fifties, sixites, or whatever. If you want to try something new – go for it. Charlie

Guest Post – Midlife Motorcycle Fun, Part I……

Introduction to Guest Post: Margaret, my husband’s first cousin, recently took a step that definitely falls into the category of pursuing a personal goal as a part of midlife fun. It is such a delightful story that I divided it into two parts. The following post is hers and Part II will be tomorrow.

Margaret and Bob on a Ferry with their motocycles

Many of my friends think I have gone crazy.  Some think I have done a very cool thing.  But all will agree I am living my life the way I want to.  Why do they say this?  At the age of 58 I decided to buy a Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle and ride with my husband on his HD Road King Classic.

I started riding on the back of bikes when I was 16 years old. My high school boyfriend had a Triumph motorcycle. I jumped on the back and never looked back. I will never understand why my parents let me do this. From then on, I rode bikes off and on through my college years and after but always as the passenger. In the early 80’s my father bought a Harley Davidson Sturgis. Although I didn’t live at home, I went home as often as possible to ride with him.

When I meet my husband, Bob, he was riding a Suzuki. We enjoyed riding together both in MA and when we moved to VA, but when we had children, quite frankly my attitude changed, as you might imagine. Bob promised to stop riding until the children were on their own. Last year, with the children finally grown, he started riding again and once again I jumped on the back. I very much enjoyed riding with him and it never occurred to me that I could also learn to drive a motorcycle.

Bob encouraged me to take the Motorcycle Safety Class and I began thinking it would make me a safer passenger. I thought it would be good for me to be able to get the bike home if I had to, too. The more I thought about the class the more I began to think I just might want to ride my own bike.

The class was a three-day session that started in June on a Monday. The Harley Davidson dealer in Portsmouth, VA sponsored the class. I live in Virginia Beach, VA and anyone familiar with the location knows that you can’t get from Virginia Beach to Portsmouth with crossing water.  Since the class began at 6:30 PM, I had to cross the bridge and tunnel at the height of rush hour traffic. The rules of the class require that you arrive 15 minutes early or forfeit your place so I found myself on the road at 4 PM.

The first day of class was just classroom work. We learned basic information about motorcycles and the rules of the road. I was surprised to find there were 5 men and 5 women in the class. (4 women and one young girl about 19 years old)  The level of experience was varied. Four of the men had been riding all their lives. One was a new rider. All of them took the class in order to be able to ride their bikes on the military bases here in Tidewater. The military has a strict rule requiring completion of a certified motorcycle safety course in order to operate on base.

None of the women had every driven a bike but, like me, had always been passengers.  The young girl it turns out didn’t even know how to ride a bicycle and had never driven a car with a manual transmission!

I was very confident that I would do well in the class. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get my license at the end of the class. The second day of class, we had to be there at 6:30 am.  Again traffic was an issue and I again made sure I arrived early. I was very eager to being the riding portion of the class. I had my required helmet, gloves, glasses and long sleeved jacket. It didn’t matter how hot it would get, the class required that you wear long sleeves for protection.

We were assigned a bike at the beginning of class. Bikes are provided for the class.  Which is good, considering most of us had never driven a bike. My bike was a silver Honda with only one mirror and a large dent in the tank. I wondered what had befallen this bike prior to my taking the class. Whatever had happen to it, I was determined that I wouldn’t be the one to add any more dings or dents!

Still very confident, we walked the bikes to the area where the riding would begin.  There were a few raindrops but there was no forecast for rain until late afternoon, so no one worried. Bob had made me take his rain gear and a change of clothes. He knew, as I had been told, that the class would go on, rain or shine. We started our bikes and begin learning how to control the clutch and throttle. I found this easy but the young girl in class has already dropped the bike and it wasn’t looking good for her.

We had been riding in circles for about 30 minutes when it started raining.  Everyone thought it would pass quickly. WRONG!  It rained in earnest from 7am to 12pm. The entire time we were riding. Class is not canceled because of rain. Around 10pm the instructor let us go and put on our rain gear, if we had it. I was soaked but it seemed like a good idea. I found out later that it did not rain anywhere in the area except in Portsmouth!

I was very proud of my riding skills that day.The instructors thought I had ridden before.  I was so excited to be riding. I knew at this point I wanted to see if I really could develop the skills to ride on my own. I mean, if I can do well in the poring rain, how hard can the rest of the course be?

Come Back Tomorrow for Part II of more of Margaret’s motorcycle adventure….