Creature Feature

6 08 2010

In my last post I alluded to a mystery creature that we found in the lagoon last Saturday.

We are both fascinated by aquatic creatures, and both aspired to be marine biologists as children. So, when AJ pointed out an interesting hole in the sand bar, we were intrigued. As we continued to snorkel, we observed a handful of these perfectly round holes. The largest one I saw was approximately 3″ in diameter.

Most interesting was that the holes appeared very deep and resembled underwater volcanoes. It was obvious that a good-sized creature had created the mound when excavating its den.

Not long after AJ and I had met, we took a trip down to the Florida Keys, where we went snorkeling together for the first time. I recently found the photos from that trip and almost had a heart attack when I saw a particular photo of myself holding a huge, live cone snail. I’ve since learned (thankfully not the hard way) that this was a terrible idea. One sting from a cone snail, and you are pretty much a goner. There is no anti-venom for the deadly poison of this mollusk. I unwittingly escaped a painful demise on that day; and have since developed a high level of respect for sea critters.

So, when we found these mysterious volcano-shaped holes, last weekend, we were cautiously curious. I did drop a pinch of sand into one hole and could vaguely make out what looked like a prehistoric monster peering up at me. It looked almost like a disfigured lobster or a strange crab. I doubted that it were either of these, though; as its body shape had to be conducive to the perfectly cylindrical excavation.

Later, AJ found a remnant of a creature near one of the holes. This led us to believe that either the resident or its prey was some sort of crustacean. If you know me at all, then you will probably have guessed that I spent a good hour or so on Google that night. I did finally ID the creature.

I’ll show you the remnant AJ found, and will give you one hint. “I am very glad I did not have the opportunity to pick up one of these bad boys.”  If you want to guess what it is, stop at the picture. I will post the answer below.

Mystery-Critter

What does this look like to you? I started by searching for crabs, because it is hinged and looks like a bizarre crab claw. To his credit, AJ had suggested what it reminded him of, but at 2″ long, it seemed large for a shrimp part. We ran the gamut from crab to lobster to horseshoe crab, but nothing seemed to fit.

Finally, I remembered what AJ had mentioned and searched “Mantis Shrimp”. Sure enough, we had a match!

I’m not positive, but it seems that we came across Squilla empusa. If you are really interested, you can search this character and find out all the sciencey stuff about him. Otherwise, here is a quick breakdown:

Mantis Shrimp are neither mantids, nor shrimp. They are stomatopods, and are related to crabs, shrimp, lobster and even the roly-polies you find in the garden.

After reading a bit about Mantis Shrimp, however, I think I’d prefer a crab pinch over the damage done by the claw AJ found. Stomatopods are distinguished by two types of claws “Smashers” or “Spearers”. Smashers have a club-like claw and use blunt force trauma to disable their prey, Spearers, well, “spear” their prey with the appendage pictured above. I can attest that this device is very sharp. This is one critter you don’t want to piss off! They are commonly known, by shrimpers, as “Thumb Splitters”, as just about every shrimper has encountered a Mantis Shrimp injury. When AJ and I were in the shrimp selling business, these primitive creatures would occasionally appear in the bags with our stock. I was fascinated enough to take a photo of one (although I cannot find it now).

Mantis shrimp make one of the fastest movements of any animal on earth. They make a “popping” sound as the movement of their claws is as fast as a .22 caliber bullet and creates a sound wave which causes the cavitation of air bubbles. The bubbles “emit light and produce heat in the range of several thousand Kelvin” as described in this article “The Science Behind Stomatopods”. Although admired and collected by some, they are generally thought to be a nuisance by aquarium enthusiasts, as they decimate the other inhabitants, and can even break the aquarium glass with their powerful strike.

As a foraging enthusiast, the trait I find most interesting is that these creatures get as large as 12″ long and are said to be delicious; with a flavor resembling lobster.

With our new found knowledge we will be aware of these feisty critters and will stay poised for the opportunity to grab a couple of them up for gastronomical experimentation.

Broiled Mantis Shrimp, anyone?





Happy Anniversary, Baby!

21 02 2010

Today is February 21st, 2010. After a grueling week, I made an early night of Friday and slept in this morning until well after 9:30 am. For those of you who don’t get to spend a lot of time observing our quaint little life; let me give you a snapshot.

AJ and I typically get up in the mornings and go to work together. We ride in the car to our jobs, work and ride home. Sometimes we talk and sometimes we just ride in silence as AJ frets about money and fixing things and I think of ways to bring in more money and wonder which component of our auditing kit I forgot to load up. After work is finished we return home where we each retire to a computer and/or the TV. AJ often has some beer or wine and I usually have some wine. On other days I work the audits and AJ does the side job of driving Worker’s Comp patients to their appointments. Either way, our evenings rarely vary.

Just as in our car rides, we sometimes spend long periods of our evenings without speaking, while at other times we chatter away like the old pals we have become. Although quarters are tight, and we both often long for our own private space, there is a certain comfort in being so close. It’s hard to conceal things from each other. When one of us is feeling bad or has something on our mind, the other knows almost immediately. The lines of communication are always open. We have misunderstandings and annoyances, but those little glitches tend to get ironed out fairly quickly.

Last night we spent a good deal of our quality time talking about Carrie. Carrie is our 87-year-old next-door neighbor. Yesterday, AJ discovered that she has gone without heat or air for a year and that her water heater is also broken. She just received an electric bill in excess of $400.00 (up from the average $25.00 bill)! The best we can figure is that the space heater she has been using caused this. We try to look after Carrie, as she is completely alone. Her common law husband died years ago, and her children seem to want nothing to do with her. We take her to the store and other errands, mow her grass and fix things around her place; yet neither of us had realized just how bad it had gotten for her. Although our conversation revolved around this, we did briefly discuss the significance that February 21st holds for us.

This morning we awoke, had our coffee and headed over to help Carrie. AJ diagnosed the problems. The water heater is DOA, but the central heat and air unit was in working order. The ducts connected to the unit had become detached. We spent much of the day repairing this; including my crawling under her trailer to reattach the ductwork. Many cuts and scrapes, and much grime later her heat and air was working again. I raked her yard and picked up some trash. AJ finished cleaning up with the leaf blower while I went to the store to buy her some necessities.

It wasn’t until 4:00 pm that I remembered what today is…Our Anniversary! By this time AJ had gone to visit his friend Jay, and I was absorbed in laundry and the internet. Aren’t we romantic?

I know that our laissez-faire approach to romance strikes many as callous, but it works for us. We share companionship and partnership on a daily basis, and find romance in unconventional moments.

As a tribute to the fact that today marks the sixth anniversary or our marriage, I would like to share a couple of photos of that special day.

On February 21st, 2004 AJ and I drove to Kingsland, Georgia because we don’t plan ahead especially well, and there you can get married without a waiting period. I had found the Kingsland Wedding Chapel online, and made an appointment.

Kingsland-Wedding-Chapel

We didn’t bother to dress up for the occasion. In fact, we completely failed to consult each other about wardrobe, and accidentally wore non-matching red shirts. This just helped add to the campiness of the experience. Note the wood panel walls and artificial Ficus trees.

The most memorable part of the chapel (apart from the proselytizing minister) was the massive crack in the front window. I secretly hoped that it wasn’t an omen; although so far, so good!

Wedding-Day-022004

Next, we drove to Savannah, walked around and stayed the night.

Savannah-Honeymoon

Speaking of happy couples…Mark and Karen (Mom) came to visit at the end of January. We had a fine time. They cooed and giggled like high school kids (which they always do:), and we all ate well, drank wine and had a generally great time.

Mark-and-Karen

While they were here we had a spectacular sunset.

Sunset

So, what else has been going on? It’s been cold; too damn cold for Florida! Llami has been inside most of the time, but when she does go out, she snuggles up with Jorgi.

Snuggle-Cats

The Oasis didn’t take the cold very well. Here is a shot showing the decimated banana trees. Fortunately, they didn’t die, and now have fresh leaves emerging.

Garden

The broccoli seemed to love the cold. We have had broccoli greens more than any other veggie from the garden, this season.

Broccoli-Greens

I love how the waxy broccoli leaves repel water.

Broccoli-Closeup

Here is a shot taken today. The broccoli is blooming (much to the delight of the bees), and lettuce, rosemary and carrots are thriving in O2.

Oasis

It has warmed up a bit, and Jorgi is thrilled.

Jorgi

Sometimes I plant things to surprise myself. I can’t recall whether I planted a melon or cucumber here, but I will find out soon enough.

Sprout

The Tatsoi loves the cold as much as the broccoli, and although it is lush and healthy, I haven’t become adept at incorporating it into the menu. Anyone have Tatsoi recipes to share?

Tatsoi

Well, I guess that is enough for now. I promise to come up with something interesting for my next post. Thanks all for reading!





What a load of Crap!

6 09 2009

Literally!

Success

After searching long and hard for a horse manure supplier, I finally got smart and called

Kempfer’s Feed & Seed
2728 Malabar Rd.
Malabar, FL
32950

(321) 723-6433

They were extremely helpful and actually went out of their way to put me in touch with

Pat Reilly of  J Bar E Ranch in Malabar.

Pat was glad to hook me up with as much horse manure as I wanted, and is officially my new supplier.

I also learned that he boards horses and has availability in his barn. From my vantage point, his property is beautifully kept and his stables are ample and immaculate. If you are looking for horse boarding in Malabar, FL please give Pat a call. You won’t find a nicer guy to look after your horses.

His number is (321) 427-0839.

The park manager was so kind as to provide me a space for my new compost heap on the back lot. It is unloaded and beginning to compost as I write.  Yay, horse manure!





My Dress Rehearsal

3 09 2009

I knew I was in trouble when I received this fortune cookie with last week’s indulgence of Chinese take out.

Failure

Chinese take out is bad for you and this week just proves it.

Writing has long been my favorite form of therapy; and (unfortunately for my readers) I have readers. Otherwise, I would scribble this stuff down in a notebook and tuck it away in some dark corner.

But paper notebooks don’t upload pictures, and I have pictures. I am reminded (by that annoying voice in my head) that every cloud has a silver lining. I am taking this post to review my most recent clouds and get busy looking for the linings.

These are in no particular order, except the most depressing part at the end because I don’t want to give you bum-out whiplash.

Cloud #1: Root knot nematodes

Nematodes

The name sounds like I’m talking about cartoon characters, doesn’t it? And these bulbous root growths I discovered when unearthing a tomato plant even look like something you’d see on Adult Swim. But, trust me, there is nothing funny about these little monsters! I thought the caterpillars were annoying, but they have nothing on these microscopic beasts.

I was digging up the expired plants in my garden beds in preparation to infuse my soil with a nice helping of composted road apples (that’s horse manure to you city folk), when I discovered my worst gardening nightmare. Up to this point my gardening woes have ranged somewhere between moderate annoyances and fascinating learning experiences. Mother Nature has upped the ante’ and bestowed upon me the wormy devils of the horticultural world: Root Knot Nematodes! I won’t bore you with the details of their biology, but if you are interested, you can go to The University of Florida IFAS Extension and learn all about them.

“Why are these tiny roundworms such a scourge?” you might ask. Because there is nothing on the market to kill  them. Right away I had a brainstorm and hopped online to see if it had been done. The idea was “Maybe I can cook these little suckers out of my soil with boiling water”. Lo and behold, this is the oldest treatment in the book, and one of the most effective. If one can saturate the soil with hot water, the nematodes will die. Manure also helps to deter them, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

So, off I went to grab the propane boiler, which I set up next to the Oasis and prepared to douse my soil with boiling water. Since my garden is divided up into various containers, I figured that I could get a good kill on in the empty sections and boil off each adjacent area as the plants died off. This all seemed like a great idea until I went to get the propane tank.

Cloud #2: Project aborted due to empty propane tank

Soil-Project

The fact that this rusty old tank is empty might actually be a silver lining, since AJ was certain it would rust through and blow us out of the park the next time it was lit.

Propane-Tank

Cloud #3: No Horse Manure

No picture needed for this one. Just look around you. If you don’t see horse manure, that’s what it looks like here, too. If you do see horse manure, please call me. I’ll be right over to pick it up!

I’m sure that were you to consult my astral chart for this week you would discover that my planet of communication is transiting the house of the planet where chainsaw exhibitions and tractor pulls take place.

I found a pile of horse manure for the taking by placing an ad on craigslist.org. Turns out it was available, but only if I could swoop in with a bobcat and get it without causing inconvenience to the owner. I made attempts to put together a horse manure party by organizing a group of people to come take it all at once. That didn’t work. Next, I suggested to the owner that Mike (my boss/friend/sometimes-nemesis) and I could come with two pickups and a trailer to get it. The email replies ceased at that time, so I guess the answer was “No”.

I’ve suffered a week-long inability to communicate properly (especially in writing). I have managed to unintentionally confuse, piss-off and annoy a good handful of people, one result of which being that I have no free fertilizer for my garden.

Cloud #4: Spaced Out Keyboard

Keyboard

Literally. The space bar has broken and constantly gets stuck in the down position. This causes the cursor to run off faster than Karl Rove from a congressional subpoena. Once I chase it down and start backing up, I end up deleting some of the characters of the previous word.

AJ tried to fix it by banging down real hard with his fist and then whacking the keyboard on the desk. I am officially starting a list of things that AJ can’t fix. So far, this is the first and only. Taking a more creative (and less hostile) approach, I popped out the space bar and taped the little springy wire part back in place with some pretty blue electrical tape. Now the cursor only bolts every once in a while. The silver lining here is that it helps me self-edit by reminding me that every superfluous word brings me that much closer to the next unsolicited space.

Cloud #5: Dropped Green Peppers

Giant-Bells

This one isn’t quite so bad. My amazing volunteer green pepper plants have been manufacturing some promisingly giant peppers. We have been watching and watering in anticipation of picking a bunch once they get really big and making a big batch of stuffed peppers.

This morning we discovered that the branch holding these two could no longer do it; and had dropped them to the ground. The silver lining is easy to find on this one. Two gorgeous, free, organic green peppers and many more maturing on the plants.

Cloud #6: My Beloved Stepmother spent the weekend in the hospital.

Judith went to the emergency room with edema and spent the weekend and all day Monday in the hospital. We have both discovered one silver lining on this one. She got a wake-up call that she needs to start taking oxygen and get back to using her CPAP machine for sleep apnea. Her heart is healthy and she can get better if she follows the doctor’s orders. She is also receiving some help at home. Still, this cloud is an especially dark one, since I live so far away and cannot afford to go up there when she needs me. She has always gone above and beyond the call of duty for a stepmother and I regret that I cannot repay her as I would like.

No picture here either, for the above mentioned reason.

There are a whole lot more little clouds, but I’m done dwelling on the bad stuff. I’m ready for the success for which I have apparently been rehearsing. I have great friends and great family, good health (mostly) and a wonderful life in comparison to so many unfortunate people in the world. With the exception of Cloud #6, my hopes are that we can all find some light humor in my misfortunes and missteps and look forward to a time when you don’t have to read so much griping from me:)

My friend and creative inspiration, Doug Havens, has invited me to collaborate on a brilliant creative project, which I hope to reveal in a future post. For now, please take a look at his wonderful imagery at “What I saw” and writing at “Who I met” and try to forget about all of my doom and gloom.





This, That and The Other Thing

8 08 2009

“Week in Review” has been out the window for a while. Let’s make this a catch-up post and see what happens from here forward. I’m making no promises.

AJ and I work together auditing liquor for bars. We save the bars many times the value of our audit fees in saved profits. Despite the fact that the service pays for itself, there are always accounts who fail to realize the value of the service, or just don’t have the gumption to use the management tools we provide. (Yes, I said “gumption”). Not long ago we lost three bar owners, for a total of 5 accounts, in a single week. Since we work together and this loss was more than half of our business, it was the equivalent of one of us losing our job. We are independent contractors, but the owner of the auditing company treats us as though we are partners. He has jumped in with us and done an intensive sales push to rebuild the client base. Things are slowly picking back up, but it has been a tough road.

The reason I even mention this is that I ran out of Atomic Grow™ right about the time we had our financial crisis. The garden budget was slashed; and even though Atomic Grow™ is very affordable and lasts a long time (due to being so concentrated) I had to put my next purchase on hold.

My blog service shows me what people search to arrive here (some pretty amusing stuff, by the way), and one of the most common searches is “Atomic Grow™”. My guess is that you’ve heard of it and wonder if it will solve your gardening problems. It’s not magic, but it’s pretty darned incredible. My best results have been with plants becoming healthier and happier overnight. After a single application they start flowering and fruiting like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve also had remarkable results with fungus. Leaf spot fungus seems to be stopped in its tracks with Atomic Grow™. “Leaf Spot” and “Tomato Disease” are two more common searches that lead people here; and I can verify that my tomatoes are still hanging on because of Atomic Grow™.  Since I’ve been out, they have gone into a steady decline. However, I think they will prove (once again) the amazing properties of this stuff, once I get back on my application schedule. I will dedicate some future post to tomatoes in particular. Aphids and other hard-bodied insects are defenseless against the direct application of Atomic Grow™. It’s not a pesticide, but it affects their exoskeleton after which they die of dehydration. Jim Shellenback of High Yield Industries (Parent company of Atomic Grow™) told me that “People get addicted to the stuff”. I agree completely, and have been anxiously awaiting the day when I could replenish my supply.

The one (and only) shortcoming of this product is that caterpillars seem to get the upper hand. I love butterflies and moths, but I do not care for most of their children! Over the summer I have fought a constant battle with Pickle Worms (Diaphania nitidalis (Stoll)), Cabbage Worms (Pieris brassicae) and Leafrollers. They do not like Atomic Grow™, but many seem to shake it off or avoid contact with it.

I have been researching bacterial control of caterpillars and was planning to get some Bacillus Thuringiensis (B.T.) to take these buggers out once and for all. Up until now I have been fighting a losing battle of smashing lepidoptera eggs, caterpillars and stems infested with Pickle Worms.

I turned over a brocolli leaf the other day and found these guys fat and happy!

Cabbage Worms (Pieris brassicae)

Cabbage-Worms

The good news is that I got a call from Rita Curry Porter at the Atomic Grow™ test gardens, yesterday. She was bursting with excitement over a product that complements Atomic Grow to eliminate insects once and for all. I have done some research and am bursting at the seams to give it a try. For now, I am going to leave an air of mystery until I have a chance to document the effects in my garden. One way or another the caterpillars will soon be gone!

AJ has been busy, despite excruciating back pain. The VA clinic assures him that his lower back damage is minimal and reversible. I don’t buy it. I get to see him suffer, and there is more going on than some minor glitch. I am pushing for an MRI and some real answers.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the photos of the process, but he tore out the old bamboo fence and built this one, using cured timber poles and a reed screen; all treated with water seal:

Fence-3

I like the way it jogs at the halfway mark. It gives us plenty of room to access the car, and additional space for the grill and smoker. He worked hard on this, and it turned out gorgeous.

Fence-2

Fence

He also finished and treated the bamboo wind chimes. They are “tuned” and sound great.

Bamboo-Chimes

It would be a full-time job were I to document all of AJ’s activities. Over the past week he has been busy building seats for the boat. To date, we have been sitting on coolers placed on the floor. This is neither safe, nor practical. The seats he built are sturdy and user-friendly. I will take some pictures of the finished product for a future post.

Making-Seats

Here is one of the seats showing the heavy-duty Velcro that holds them to the inside of the boat:

Velcro-on-Seat

Our friend Jay has a veritable orchard in his yard. We stopped by his place last week and received an abundance of mangoes, avocados and limes, all of which were delicious. Thanks Jay!

Fruit

This eggplant has me stumped. At some point in its development it became “frozen in time”. The plant next to it has produced a single, gorgeous, dark purple eggplant. Shortly after that one appeared, this specimen began to grow. It got to this size and then ceased development. The skin was streaked and had a leathery patch on the other side. When I finally plucked the thing and cut it open it had dark colored seeds, but the meat was green and smelled unripe. I don’t know what to make of this.

Bad-Eggplant

I guess I’ll wrap it up for now, as I’m on my way to pick up some more Atomic Grow™ and the exciting new miracle product.

For now I leave you with cats…indifferent, intimidating and uninhibited.

Cats





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.





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.