Magic Marbles

28 07 2009

I can trace my collecting tendencies back to the mere age of two. One of my earliest memories was that of being “babysat” by a woman who didn’t have much interest in her job. Each day I exploded into hysterical tears as my mother rolled my stroller up to the babysitter’s door. The rest of my day consisted of having my beloved stuffed doggie wrenched from my grasp, and his ears ripped off by a gang of rambunctious and unsupervised boys. And when my mother had to work late, the traumatic days were punctuated with the shouting of the babysitter’s surly husband at the dinner table. Even at that tender age, I understood my family’s situation and the value of affordable childcare. Each night my mother patiently sewed or glued the felt ears back onto my stuffed companion. Things soon changed when my mother divorced my father and moved us back to the farm with her parents. There aren’t enough words to describe the incredible character of my grandfather. This is evidenced by the vivid memories imprinted in my mind at that tender, young age. His battle with cancer tragically ended when I was five; but not before he fueled a lifetime of curiosity, independence and humor in his adoring granddaughter.

My grandparents’ home was filled with fascinating and delicate objects dangerously displayed just within reach of my inquisitive hands. I learned to ask permission to handle the heavy glass paperweight so that I could contemplate how the colorful swirls got inside. Although my grandmother was sometimes cranky, there was no one to torment me anymore. Instead, my grandfather set about filling my days with a kind of extreme joy that I’ve rarely experienced since. He took me for rides on his horse and he let me tag along on his antique tractor as he plowed the fields. Each morning I raced out to feed the chickens and collect the eggs. After a bit of training, I was allowed to do this on my own. Perhaps this sparked my interest in finding things, as well as my fierce sense of independence; or maybe it only gave a venue for expressing a predisposed inclination. Although I can’t say which came first, I am tempted to say that collecting eggs was either the “chicken” or the “egg” when it came to my passion for finding treasures.

Magical and fantastical things began to happen in Grandpa’s presence. He was a great storyteller, and preferred to sit on the floor and entertain the children over the prospect of engaging in meaningless small talk or gossip with the other adults. First, there was the story about toy rabbits that came to life; and about how they would sometimes make their way onto the roadways. Like mysterious cartoon creatures, they only moved when no one was looking, quickly turning back into toys whenever a person came around. The genius behind this story was that a small child happily got into the car, no matter the destination, and stared intently (and quietly) out the window searching for these mythical creatures. I wasn’t to be disappointed. One warm afternoon, we were bouncing along the dusty road, on our way to town, when Grandpa slammed on the brakes. Mom and Grandma grumbled in protest as he opened the door and reached under the car. In his hand was an old rubber rabbit squeak toy, which he presented to me. “I told you we’d find one.” he said “That was close. I almost ran over it.” The rabbits were probably the childhood toys of my mother and her brother; and I don’t remember how many there were. I do believe I had acquired them all before it was over. The end of that era seemed to pain him as much as it did me; and his eyes teared up on the day he had to tell me that there would be no more magic bunnies.

Grandpa Merrit and Me

We moved back into town when my mother remarried and got pregnant with my brother. It was a favorable arrangement to all parties that I was allowed to visit the farm for weeks at a time. Sunscreen was not an option during my grandfather’s life, and the years of working in the fields finally took their toll as melanoma began to eat away at his body and heart disease stole his strength. By the time I was four years old, he was confined to the living room, as he could no longer make the trek up the steep staircase to their bedroom. The pain and weakness stole away all of our games except “Keepsies”. “Keepsies”, also known as “For Keeps” was a popular game played with marbles when my grandfather was a youngster. The objective was to use a giant “shooter” marble to knock the smaller marbles, or “ducks” from a large ring drawn on the ground. A player would “knuckle down” by placing his or her knuckles on the ground and propel the shooter into the ring with the purpose of knocking ducks from the ring. The prized shooter was many times the size of standard marbles; and a great loss was suffered when it failed to make its way back out of the ring. This game was “played for keeps” meaning that the winner got to keep any marbles which crossed over the line. It was commonplace for these games to continue until one child had scored all of the marbles. An inexperienced or unfortunate player might be said to have “lost his marbles”. The saying “Toe the line” and “Ringer” can also be traced to marble games. The game called “Ringer” was invented in 1923 because “Keepsies”, being a game of chance, was considered too immoral for children to play.

Magic Marbles

Grandpa Merritt was said to have been a legendary marble player. He had a large metal coffee can filled to the top with those multi-hued spheres of glass and clay. There may have even been some made of actual marble. He taught me how to play the game; and when he was no longer able to get down on the floor, he would sit on the edge of the sofa-bed and watch for hours, as I took turns playing against myself. He taught me another lesson of responsibility by explaining the importance of getting every marble back into the can, when I was done. Even in his decline, Grandpa continued to mesmerize me with his stories. Upon one of my last visits I raced straight to the marble can and began to pry off the brittle, cracked plastic lid. Hunched over on the edge of his seat, he smiled down at me with a mischievous glint in his sunken blue eyes. “Have you ever heard of ’Magic Marbles’?” he asked. Stopped in my tracks, I listened in awe, as he spun a tale of the elusive marbles which had mystical qualities. “Sometimes, when a marble gets really, really old it turns into candy.” Astonished, I reveled in the prospect of finding marbles that had turned to candy. Suddenly the can of marbles in front of me seemed to vibrate with possibilities. I begged him for more information “How old do they have to be. What do they look like? Are there any in here?” “Oh, I don’t know…I think they’re usually white… You’ll have to look and see if you can find one.

I was halfway through the can before my grandmother came in and realized what was happening. I endured quite a lecture on the dangers of putting marbles in my mouth before Grandpa caught her eye. A moment later she left the room, shaking her head and muttering under her breath. With my grandfather’s approval I continued to risk deadly choking and germ infection in my quest for the magical candy marble. The marbles were cool and slick and clacked against my teeth as I rolled each one around on my tongue. I could feel the nicks in their surface, inflicted by many years of knocking against each other. By the time the white marble surfaced I was quite familiar with the taste of lint and grit, and was starting to doubt the legitimacy of Grandpa’s story. “Is this what they look like?” I asked with fresh hope, as I held the marble up for his inspection. “Could be. Give it a try”. And sure enough, my mouth was instantly flooded with an overwhelming sweetness. The marble changed colors as it shrank, and I proudly produced it for viewing with each new manifestation. Despite his labored breathing and  papery skin I caught a momentary glimpse of the child behind my grandfather’s eyes. My long visits ended as Grandma became his nurse and could no longer manage both of us. The last time I saw him he was only a frail specter of his former self. There were no more “Magic Marbles”. Not long afterward, he died from complications of heart surgery, leaving a great void where laughter and amazement once reigned. Many years passed before anyone was able to convince me that jawbreakers were not really geriatric marbles.

As I ponder my obsession with finding hidden treasures, it becomes clear that my Grandpa Merritt was responsible for its inception. He taught me that incredible things can be found in unusual places, that nature gives us the gift of nourishment and that things are not always as they appear. For these lessons, and the joy he gave me, I am eternally grateful.

I miss you Grandpa Merritt.

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Screamy, Fiesty, Good Food and Silly Cat

16 07 2009

Well, I’ve gone and let weeks go by without any proper updates. Nothing much has happened that would pass for exciting, so I guess I don’t feel too bad.

The Oasis is looking lush and tropical.

Oasis-Close

Screamy the Pepper has ripened. AJ thinks I could sell him as a Michael Jackson likeness on ebay. I’m letting him dry above my desk to see what he looks like when old and wrinkled.

Screamy-Ripe

This is “Feisty” the Cuban Anole. How these miniature dinosaur replicas have escaped extinction is beyond me; because they are none too bright. Every day, without fail, he takes his post on the grill lid handle, puffs up his crests and struts back and forth in an attempt to intimidate his perfectly matched opponent.

Feisty-Puffed-Up

Every day, he gives his best fight, only to be equaled by the foe with the steely  bites (which leave both of their noses battered and raw). Neither will relinquish their territory in this daily ritual. This is one neurotic lizard!

Feisty-Throwdown

Talk about neurosis. I got a little obsessed with this eggplant. As it grew larger and more regal, I began to get paranoid about its well being. My research warned that eggplants lose their goodness once they get too ripe. They grow tough and seedy. They are meant to be picked while young and shiny.

This is the first eggplant I have ever grown, and with all of the dangers of over-ripeness, insects and critters I gave in and picked it. AJ chastised me, saying that they were meant to be much larger before harvesting.

First-Eggplant

I sliced it up to find firm, seedless meat. I marinated in Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar with fresh chopped garden herbs. Then I grilled to perfection. Captain Kym came over for dinner. This is when I realized that eggplant (especially my version) is not for everyone. AJ and Kym politely nibbled on the vegetable, while we all devoured AJ’s roasted, stuffed pork tenderloin. Oh well, I thought the eggplant was good.

Grilled-Eggplant

AJ’s pork tenderloin was delicious. However, just as in everything he does, he immediately criticised his recipe and began planning for the improved version. We still had half of the large cut in the freezer, so a few days later he set about perfecting his stuffed, smoked pork tenderloin technique.

Here is his recipe:

AJ’s Smoked Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Sautee Italian Sausage.

Butterfly tenderloin lengthwise to flatten.

Spread Cream Cheese as bottom layer.


Splitopenandcreamcheese

Add a layer of fresh Baby Spinach

Spinachlayer

Next layer: Prosciutto

Prosciuttolayer

Sprinkle with Grated Cheese.

6Italiancheeselayer

Spread the browned sausage.

ItalianSausagelayer

Layer on Ricotta Cheese.

RicottaParmesanlayer

Roll up and tie with cotton string. Season with Rosemary, Dill and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing.

Readyforsmoker-1

Smoke uncovered, spraying with mixture of Olive Oil, Pineapple Juice and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing until internal temperature reaches 150°

Finished-1

Remove from heat, wrap in foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Thereitis

Unwrap, slice and enjoy!

Sliced

The mystery guest’s children overran the garden, eating up all of the dill and most of the parsley. I moved at least ten ravenous caterpillars to the carrots, where they quickly matured and went on “walkabout”, looking for places to pupate.

This one chose a green onion. Hope the wind doesn’t blow too hard.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Chives

How’s this for camouflage? I found this fellow on the broccoli. The next day was a perfectly hidden chrysalis that I would have never seen had I not known where to look. I have been aching to try broccoli greens, and carefully harvested the most tender leaves, while taking care not to disturb the sleeping beauty.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Broccoli

Roxanne’s Broccoli & Collard Greens

Harvest a bundle of tender Broccoli and/or Collard Greens.

Wash thoroughly, taking care to remove all insects and insect eggs. Cut into medium-sized pieces, removing central vein from larger leaves.

Blanch by submerging greens in boiling, salted water just long enough to tenderize, and then plunging into ice water. This preserves the bright green color.

Blanched--Greens

Chop bacon, onions and peppers (I used a red pepper and Poblano from the garden). Once the bacon is almost cooked, add pressed or chopped garlic.

Sautee

When bacon is cooked and onions are tender, toss in blanched greens. Drench with white wine, cover and simmer until greens are thoroughly wilted.

AJ, who had previously stated his reluctance to try broccoli greens, enthusiastically ate his portion and raved about how good they were. We enjoyed this dish as complement to his scrumptious smoked chicken. All in all, a week of good, down-home cooking.

Greens

And as if on cue, Smokey the Silly Cat has found yet another way to chill while looking ridiculously uncomfortable.

SillyCatBack071609

SillyCat071609

Hope everyone is enjoying life with peace and happiness! See y’all soon.





Abundant Bounty

3 07 2009

Lots of goodies coming from the garden and the Universe over the past couple of weeks.

The tomatoes are still on full bore. I’ve been picking an average of ten to fifteen per day.

Cherry-Tomatoes

Here are a couple of harvests. This is not nearly everything I gathered over the past two weeks, just two of the bigger days. I collected the muskmelons because the vine was mostly dead. They could have ripened a few more days, but they were OK. The middle melon is the one I did not protect with the pantyhose. In retrospect I don’t see the value of doing this. The skin was thin and split on the protected melons, and the netting did not develop normally.

Sunday's-Harvest

Friday's-Harvest

I made salsa for the first time. I didn’t realize how large the green onions were getting until I cut this one! These were store onions that I just stuck in the ground. They grow back each time I cut them. I also picked a puny red pepper and a smallish Poblano. The salsa is still a work in progress.

Onion Peppers

The past week has been very active for the eggplant. It grew…

Eggplant

and grew…

Eggplant2

and grew! Since I’m not familiar with what these are supposed to look like, I am not sure when to pick it. I’m thinking I’ll pick it this weekend, since the consequences of waiting too long seem to outweigh the risk of picking too soon.

Eggplant-big

Here is Super Eggplant’s sidekick. I don’t know why it looks so different, but I think a bug got ahold of it.

Eggplantnew

The second batch of bananas is looking good. First batch is also coming along nicely, too. They sure are taking a long time, though.

Bananas2

This is the string lily AJ brought back from the river. We keep it in a container under the AC condensation drip. It is going great, and bloomed this week.

String-Lily

The blooms were short-lived, but very delicate and pretty. I can’t say my husband doesn’t bring me flowers! The kind he brings are much more interesting and thoughtful than those bought in a store.

String-Lily-Bloomed

Not only that, but he can smoke a mean pork tenderloin! Yum!

AJ-Cuts-Pork-Tenderloin

Yesterday was a special treat. We stopped in at John Roger’s to pick up some bamboo. John is a local horticultural guru and, as I’ve said before, one of the most knowledgeable and unassuming guys you could ever hope to meet.

Bamboo-John

Even though he was on his way to run errands he took the time to give us another tour of his property to show us some of the things he has growing, as well as some nice mounds of mulch and compost. Had you told me, a year ago, that I’d get a thrill from compost I would have looked at you askance!

Nor did I even know of heirloom and heritage varieties, about which I am now quite excited. John Rogers is a true steward of the land and cultivator of native and unique plant varieties.

As we headed to the compost heap we stopped to admire his massive watermelon and squash vines. He promptly plucked this little jewel and bequeathed it upon me. What’s the big deal? This is a renowned, historic gem of the squash persuasion: A Seminole Pumpkin Squash (Cucurbita moschata), to be exact.

At the recent Funky Chicken Farm seed swap, John Rogers encouraged me to get some Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds. I had never heard of this variety, but have since learned that it is a true heirloom, indeed developed by the Seminole Indians. They planted these hardy, natives at the base of palm trees, and allowed the vines to grow up the trunk and fronds. Considering how robust the plants seem to be, I imagine that this was quite a sight! Wish I had brought my camera to John’s place!

Seminole-Pumpkin-Squash

I cooked the squash in the smoker, using my father’s recipe for acorn squash: A chunk of butter, a sprinkling of brown (raw) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. It looked beautiful, and tasted much like sweet potatoes. AJ, didn’t take to it, since he is not much for sweet food. Strange for the guy who can devour ice cream and candy bars like they are going out of style, and who is currently drinking a Pina Colada! Oh well.

I’ve got some seeds and will be planting Seminole Pumpkin Squash this weekend.

Here they are in the smoker, which was still hot from the pork tenderloin.

Pump-Squash-Smoked

The original reason for going to John Roger’s (AKA Bamboo John) was to pick up a cutting of the lovely striped bamboo (Bambusa Vulgaris), which I managed to kill last time. I think we will get it right this go round , and hope to have a stand going soon. Thanks again, John!

Bambusa-Vulgaris

So far, a good two weeks. I will try to get the wrap-up posted on Sunday evening.

Have a Happy 4th of July!





Mr. Fix-it and more Silly Cat

3 07 2009

Why should these last two weeks be any different than the rest?

There are two things I can always count on around here.

1. AJ will be fixing something or researching how to fix something at all times. Here he is preparing to replace the radiator on the car:

AJ-Fixes-Radiator

He also helped the neighbors work on their broken stuff and is now working on the broken computer that has a devastating virus (thanks to me). When he isn’t fixing, he’s doing something else like smoking a pork loin. Yum. I’ll post photos of this (as well as a great gift we received yesterday) in my next edition.

2. The other thing I can always count on is that our neighborhood cat, Smokey, will continue to nap in entertainingly silly postures.

How can any of this be comfortable?

Smokey-on-Bin

Smokey-Chair

Smokey follows me around on all of my garden inspections, and (as though to demonstrate his cat prowess) he runs up the palm tree and hangs there for a brief few seconds before jumping to the ground.

Good times.

Smokey-Tree





The Mystery Guest Revealed

3 07 2009

Remember the Mystery Guest? Well, no one offered an ID. Guess y’all have better things to do, LOL.

Let’s have a review.

The Mystery Guest has already grown up and returned to start her new family in the Oasis.

Here is an egg which she deposited on the Italian Parsley.

Egg-Leaf

In this shot a baby caterpillar investigates an older egg (which is about to hatch).

Egg-Cat

Here is one of a slightly different color.

Small-Caterp

They grow up fast. These two are likely only a few days apart in age.

2Catperps

Out with the old skin, in with the new and improved striped skin!

New-Stripes

Here’s one with the next size up striped suit.

Little-Stripey

This is our Mystery Guest right before she went on walkabout to search for a place to pupate.

Mystery-Guest2

I moved her to a potted plant on the steps, where she ate a little bit more and then built her silk harness.

MysteryGuestHammock

The next morning I found that she had made a green chrysalis. They make both green and brown. I first thought it had to do with camouflage, but I have seen both colors on the same plant. Perhaps the color is pre-programmed, allowing a 50% chance that they will end up on a matching colored stick.

I checked my calendar and planned to keep an eye out for her emergence in two weeks.

MysteryChrysalis

Six days later I went outside to check something, and was surprised to see that she had wasted no time in her transformation. I rushed to grab my camera, and manged to fire off a few shots as she dried her wings.

Papilio-Polynexes-emergin

Within moments (and probably to get away from me), she opened her wings and fluttered off.

Papilio-Polynexes

This lovely gal posed for me before flitting away to find food and a mate. She has returned to the garden, every day, to deposit her eggs on all of the host plants. When I pick my herbs I must be on the lookout for the little visitors, and sometimes have to sacrifice a few unhatched eggs, in order to harvest for the kitchen.

Here she is today. The wind has taken its toll on her wings, but it doesn’t seem to deter from her mission of laying eggs. She was tired, and seemed to pose for over a minute as she rested on the dill plant; then she was off to deposit more mini-pearls of the next generation.

Mama-Returns

You have just witnessed the life cycle of Papilio polyxenes Fabricus, 1775, otherwise known as the Eastern Black Swallowtail.

Those colorful caterpillars (once they change from mimicking bird poop), are also known as “Dillworms, Celeryworms, Carrotworms or Parsleyworms”. I think the names adequately explain their diet. Although they seem garish and conspicuous, the caterpillars are actually quite well disguised when they are on their host plants (sort of like zebras on the grassy plains).

The adults do little more than consume nectar, mate and deposit their eggs; all of which they are welcome to do in the bounty of my little garden.