Invasive or Adapted Species…..

One of my cousins lives in Texas and she and her husband go on a cruise about every year. They sometimes leave out of Fort Lauderdale and will usually spend the night there before flying out the next morning. Since they dock in the morning, I try to go up and have  lunch and a catch-up talk. Back when we set this up for yesterday, my calendar wasn’t nearly as jammed as it turned out to be. Anyway, I went up and couldn’t spend as long as before, but we did get about 2.5 hours together. They were on what I think is referred to as the Western Caribbean itinerary and no, they weren’t concerned about germs. They did say there was plenty of had sanitizers available on the ship. I’m going blank on which cruise line although it was one of the smaller ships. That’s a relative term since at a 2,500 capacity, I know numerous towns with a smaller population.

At some point we were talking about invasive species we have like the terrible python above ground and the destructive lionfish underwater. That led to wondering about iguanas which as it turns out are not native to Florida. They have adapted well though and aren’t really considered “invasive” in the sense of being harmful. Well, except when they get into chomping up favorite plants and things like that. My cousins mentioned monkeys on St Kitts. Again, they were originally brought to the island and now flourish with the same kind of issue if how much food they consume begins to impact farmers. The brown tree snake was something guarded against in Hawaii as it decimates bird populations when it takes hold. That was a case where they were able to train dogs to detect them around ships and airports which were the most likely points of entrance.

Plants are the same as with some species that adapt to a new environment while adding benefit rather than harm. Many Asian fruits are now being grown here such as dragon fruit which so far seems to welcome.

FIGAT, Here’s What It Is….

There is a charming place, Cauley Square, about 25 minutes north that I have written about in previous posts. It’s a ten-acre, beautifully landscaped historic area filled with small shops and two main restaurants. The one up front is quite well-known and enjoyable. The second, the Village Chalet, is tucked back into tropical foliage and you do have to walk to get to it. Like the other buildings, it is in an old house brought in. It has a wrap-around porch to allow for outside dining and is cozy inside. It has passed through multiple hands over the years and the latest version is FIGAT Chefs Kitchen.

FIGAT is Federation of International Gastronomy, Art and Tourism. It’s an international organization that celebrates the love of food. Chefs are rotated every so often to different places and the reason they are in Cauley Square is because of the proximity to Redland which has unique agriculture. While they are not precisely Farm To Table, they focus on fresh. At the moment, their menu is heavily influenced with Spanish and Caribbean. They are not inexpensive, but portions are generous and worth what you spend. There will also be culinary workshops and events in the near future. Service is impeccable. This is not a place to dash into for a meal. It is intended to be leisurely and the sort of place where one has wine with lunch. Interestingly, their array of desserts (at least for lunch) are shooter size with choices of mousse, key lime pie, multiple flavors of cheesecake, and yes, the coffee is delicious. I will be sitting down with the lady in charge soon to write an article for the paper. They are involved in programs with various levels of students as well as entities associated with tourism. Unless we specifically wish to travel into the Keys to dine on the water, this will be our special occasion place if we want to go beyond our city limits.


About Those Frozen Iguanas….

The few and mostly infrequent “cold snaps” we get in South Florida bring some real issues and a fair amount of humor. This one, where the temperature plunged to 39 degrees before the day time high of only 63, will be over tomorrow. We have had prolonged snaps of up to two weeks with serious consequences for the tropical fruits and certain animals.

“Iguana Rain” is familiar to anyone who has lived here for a while, but is startling for newcomers. Iguanas of all shapes and sizes roam around, but many also like to be up in trees. When the temperature dips into the low 40s, they “freeze” although it is actually a temporary dormant state unless the low temperatures are extended. They do, however, fall out of the trees and appear to be dead. In cases where people toss them in a garbage can for instance and they recover before the can is emptied, it can make for quite the surprise and mess depending on the size of the iguana and sturdiness of the can.

Iguanas can be a real nuisance with tearing up yards and gardens, so there are people who dislike having them around. We have very few in this neighborhood, and most are fairly small. I did have to slam on the brakes one day to keep from running over a large one in the middle of the street and not in a hurry to finish crossing. Fortunately, there wasn’t a car behind me. The upside to a prolonged cold snap is the likelihood of killing pythons too which of course is a far greater problem here and none of us mind that.

We are a bit concerned for the hummingbird, but he should be okay since we’re only talking about a short time. Hubby did bring the orchids inside though as a precaution.

All the Star Wars…..

This is actually a two-item post. In early November, the ShowBiz Entertainment Complex opened in Homestead. We did several articles about it for the paper and it is impressive. The company has quite a few movie theaters in multiple states, but only five of these complexes, and ours is the first one in Florida. When you enter the complex, there are thirteen bowling lanes to the right, an electronic arcade to the left and a full bar in between. In addition to the standard concessions, there’s also an ice cream and coffee bar and a cafe that serves a nice menu. Beyond all this are ten movie theaters; one of which is equipped with a very high tech system, SDX. All the theaters have Dolby sound and big screens though so any of them present quite the experience. I was going to go with Hubby a couple of weeks ago to actually watch a movie, but some kind of last minute crisis interfered. Son and daughter-in-law had “date day” while they were here and went to see Star Wars. The plan to take granddaughter New Year’s Day didn’t come about as other things took priority. Anyway, I finally went with Hubby this week to see Star Wars. The reclining leather seats are quite nice and the fact I could take in my glass of wine was even better. Each seat has not only a cup holder, but also a tray to comfortably hold items.

Now onto the movie. Since we are of an age to have seen the original Star Wars, that puts us in a different category than the kids. I will acknowledge still being somewhat confused with prequels and sequels that make up what I think are now nine movies total. It’s been interesting watching the original stars age as they have and of course the unexpected death of Carrie Fisher three years ago was especially poignant in seeing her on the screen. It’s difficult to know how many young girls have been influenced by her role as Princess Leia. The movie, Rise of Skywalker, was true to the format and the special effects were amazing as always. I really do think it can come to a close now, but Hollywood may well have other ideas.

There was a big crowd for the ShowBiz ribbon cutting.

Close to Swimming Success…..

I’ve mentioned being in the pool is top of our granddaughter’s “visit” list and the weather doesn’t always cooperate. This year was marginal; decent enough temperature to be at least tolerable. I had hoped she would have swimming lessons over the summer, but as it turned out, she resisted the idea. She hates to have water up her nose and hasn’t figured out yet how to prevent that if her face is in the water. I guess they did get her some kind of mask. We got a mask, snorkel, and fins, not certain if they would suit her. She had also outgrown her swim vest and since that is very much a seasonal item in Virginia, there were none available to buy before the kids came down. Despite being assured we, the grown-ups, would make sure she was okay, not having the vest meant she couldn’t be independent. I had to go run some errands the first afternoon and “Grandpa” was going to be in the pool with her and teach her to use the mask, snorkel and fins. I promised I would find a vest for her the following day. When I returned later, however, I was told there was no need for a vest as she had swum on her own. Huh?

Apparently, she took to the fins and as Grandpa held her up, she at some point pulled away from him and made it several feet unassisted. With that boost of confidence, she wanted to do more. She keeps her head above water and hasn’t quite figured out how to do anything with her hands except dog paddle, but it works. She was all excited and the next day when I was in the pool with her, it was more of the same. Our set-up is the hot tub is elevated a bit above the pool with the “waterfall” into the pool. She’s tall enough to stand up in the hot tub and also at the bottom of the steps into shallow part of the pool. She refers to the hot tub as the “little pool” and likes to move back and forth between them. She very quickly understood how to “shuffle” in the fins and carefully step into each pool. It was fascinating to watch her and hopefully by next summer, she’ll be ready for real lessons.

Desert Musings…..

We were watching one of the Science channel shows the other day and there was discussion of sand storms. Having lived in West Texas for three years, hard wind and dust devils were fairly common. Having grown up in the Deep South, tornadoes were common and in fact, I had a car damaged once when serious hail was dumped by a tornado that fortunately didn’t tear too much up. When we were in Desert Storm, sand storms took on a whole new meaning. Watching a towering “devil” in the distance would definitely get your attention. When a storm hit though, it tended to do so with little warning. We never had the prolonged ones so there weren’t mounds of sand to dig out from, but the wind was ferocious. There were times when large tents would be yanked out of the pegs and basically twisted or collapsed inward. And of course, you’d be brushing sand out of all kinds of places for quite some time.

Another aspect was issues driving because most of the bases set up were not on roads and despite the lack of elevation, flat didn’t mean without “bumps”. The way the sand shifted around, even if the sand was flat rather than rippled, that didn’t mean it was solid. The command had to issue an order for the HMMVs (Hummers) to be restricted to 45 miles per hour cross-country because of so many over-turns when drivers hit an unstable surface at too high a speed. The vehicles are designed to manage all sorts of terrain, but driven in a controlled fashion.

The sand also retained a fair amount of heat and that was why cots were used as opposed to the standard of just putting sleeping bags on the ground. The several inches of clearance between the sand and the bottom of the cot made a major difference in the ability to sleep. Interesting memories of all that.


Mermaids For Real (Sort of)…..

You can imagine the fun I had with the article about the new Oceans Sirens Mermaid Academy found at

Aside from the fact I did use free diving to stage a murder (sort of) in my first scuba-themed mystery (Shades of Murder), I’ve never been inclined to go through training for free diving (also known as breath hold). Also setting aside the people who train for making/breaking records, 4 to 5 minutes underwater is more the standard for  a trained free diver. While that may not seem like a long time, it does give you a nice interaction on a reef or the ability to spear a fish if that’s your thing. Part of taking a scuba course does also involve (or used to) one quick lesson in free diving. It isn’t much in the way of training; more to give you the sensation. There is a little bit of crossover in both types of diving in the sense that how long you can stay underwater on scuba is a function of depth and air consumption.  (Those who know this can skip or bear with me). The deeper you dive on scuba, the shorter the amount of time you can stay at depth because of the risk of decompression sickness (DCS or “the bends”). You will also need to save enough air for a 3-5 minute safety stop during your ascent from anything lower than 50 feet as another precaution against DCS. But if you are diving shallow around thirty feet, how rapidly you use air is the main factor in how long you can remain underwater. In general, the more you can relax underwater, the slower you breath and therefore extend your time. The most important difference in free diving and scuba is you absolutely should not hold your breath while on scuba due to potential pressure on your lungs.

Anyway, even though I choose the “techno mermaid” option of scuba as opposed to free diving, I am thrilled with the idea of having a mermaid school close by.

Ah, The First Nutcracker….

While I don’t do much “grandma” stuff on the blog, our granddaughter will be in her first Nutcracker performance this year – part of the Mouse Army, as is common. She actually was in the Spring performance in June as a “chick” and apparently the kinder ballet instructor is having to explain to the budding ballerinas that these are different movements.

At any rate, I remember when my sister and I guess it was another mom took young sons to their first Nutcracker in Houston. It was a gala affair with getting dressed up and enjoying either dinner before or perhaps it was ice cream treats after in addition to the wonder of the experience. (That has been quite a while ago.) For reasons that I don’t exactly recall; probably because we had back-to-back overseas assignments, our son didn’t attend his first Nutcracker until he was in middle school in Hawaii. He enjoyed it and somewhat ironically, he didn’t seem enamored of it. I don’t think the later “spark” was initiated that evening, but who knows if there was a lingering impact. I’ve lost count of the number of times he has now been in Nutcrackers and doing the Russian Dance for Delta Festival Ballet in New Orleans was his first professional appearance as in someone paid him. He generally dances at least two and sometimes three each season, although this year it’s only one, plus “A Christmas Carol” for a studio that often calls on him. There is a scheduling conflict with New Orleans, so he won’t be able to join them this year. On the other hand, that means he isn’t flying back on Christmas Eve for a change. That will make the week of Christmas a bit less hectic for them.

Granddaughter dressed up for the first ballet she attended.

Timing Meals During NASCAR Weekend…..

For those not familiar with our geographic situation, we live about two miles from the Homestead-Miami Speedway. There are only two accesses into our gated community; one from a primary street leading to the Speedway and the other is around to the side. During the three days of NASCAR racing, traffic is terrible. Due to a circumstance of timing, this year is even worse because of construction on two major streets. Those of us who live here are coping as best we can with the daily inconvenience and the correct answer from yesterday until around noon on Monday is be off the streets by 11:00 a.m. Due to extra commitments Thurs and Fri, there was no way to get to the grocery store until this morning. I managed to get there and back before 10:30. With Hubby shooting for the paper – something he absolutely loves as I have previously explained – he is at the Speedway for around ten hours each day with literally miles of walking in going from spot-to-spot. As a member of the press, he has access to the media center where they have food and beverage. However, it’s more of a grab something in between events and the chance to have a real meal is limited. By that same measure, it’s difficult to know exactly when he will get back home. Once the race ends, there is the post-race ceremony, then traffic. Friday night is of course pizza night and that’s easy enough to heat up when he finally makes it in.

Tonight is somewhat complicated because we will have company and the scheduled time to eat around 7:30 is probably doable. The menu though is such that everything can “hold” if needs be for a later start. At the moment, a pot of a sort of stew is cooking to be cooled and put into the other refrigerator. That will be for tomorrow night as it re-heats pretty quickly. The other rule is all comfort food. What Hubby doesn’t know is it will include apple pie as a special treat.

Another Easy Italian Sauce……

I have mentioned before how we had not expected to be assigned to Italy. There are very few Army installations as most are Navy and Air Force. Notwithstanding the charm of living in a seaside village for 18 months in Tuscany, the jobs we had were intense and did not allow nearly as much time for travel as we might have wished. On the other hand, when you are in the virtual heart of Tuscany, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy yourself.

Anyway, as I’ve also mentioned, we learned how incredibly regional cuisine is, and one of the sauces we were not familiar with was Amatriciana. In it’s simplest form, crisp up diced pancetta, remove it from the pan. Use the rendered fat to saute onions and garlic, add tomatoes, a splash or so of wine, red pepper if desired, add pancetta back in, stir thoroughly and serve over pasta.

I often use the “party trays” for events that come with cheese and salami, etc., A few years ago as I was looking at the leftovers, I decided to do a variation of this sauce. I had salami, pepperoni, and ham. I thin sliced rather than diced. I crisped everything up and set that aside. I used one can of tomatoes,but in addition to garlic and onion, I added sun dried tomatoes and some roasted red peppers (we almost always have a jar in the fridge). In the way of most Italian sauces, this one is not long cooking. This can cook for as little as ten minutes before putting the meat back in. Give it a good stir, and cook another couple of minutes before serving over pasta. I didn’t give proportions, but one can of tomatoes basically manages enough sauce for 2-3 servings of pasta. In our case, I use a fair amount of meat, but that isn’t necessary.