A Visit to Grandma’s Garden

Yesterday I was lucky enough to pay a visit to Grandma’s Garden.

Grandma in this case is my Godmother Kathie and her husband Larry who live up in a gated community in the “village” of Wellington, FL.

The visit was our Xmas visit, we were to go out to lunch at a local restaurant, but I had to be On Time since Larry couldn’t linger.  Unfortunately he had a Funeral to go to and since they’re rarely a pleasant thing, we left for the restaurant almost immediately after my driving up to their place.

As pleasant as Grandma’s Garden is, getting there is unpleasant. I have to ask South Florida have you lost your mind?  I could easily make a nice living writing traffic violations everywhere in between Wilton Manors and Wellington.  I’ve grown used to seeing people not even pretend to see a stop sign.  I am convinced that the mark of a bad driver is the Mercedes Benz nameplate on a car, as well as BMW and Lexus.  Add to all of this, I watched a Delray Beach Police Cruiser speed past me on 441 just to pull into a shopping center and get out to get into a fast food restaurant when I caught up with him later.

All of that aside, my family is a wonderful group of people, and I truly don’t visit them long enough or often enough.  It is a 50 mile one way trip, and that is just long enough to make it an annoying trip no matter whether I am being passed by hungry police, or have neighbors in a Mercedes Benz trying to cut me off while merging into traffic on Powerline road.

Hey Mercedes Drivers here’s a hint… If I’m in front of you, I have the right of way.  Furthermore, if you’re in Wilton Manors on NE 26th St near the Library and the Elementary School and you are behind me, I’m driving 30MPH or less because of the safety issues that we have here.  Tailgating me only makes me slow down.  That particular driver of the Silver C Class was a neighbor from the Central Neighborhood who I have seen around many times before acting like… well a Mercedes Driver.

I’ll allow you to use the appropriate four letter word, I try to keep this blog Safe For Work.

At the restaurant we spent a pleasant half hour in the shade of the building eating our lunches and discussing the changes of the world, and making some rather complete plans on how to do things as diverse as restructuring the economy, the demise of the political system into one party in the United States, and of course how to make a perfect cup of coffee using the Turkish Method.

Boil water, add four scoops of espresso grounds to 16 ounces of boiling water, stir for 30 seconds, rest for 30, stir for 30 more and allow to sit for a minimum of 3 minutes.  Strain the coffee, or just pour it until you start to see more grounds than you prefer.  Sweeten and Cream to taste.

After all of that, Kathie and I climbed into the dusty old Jeep Wrangler to go back to Grandma’s Garden.  Every time we visit, we have the chance to walk through and see what changes she has seen over the years.  Larry and Kathie are fortunate enough to have a home that backs up to a Nature Preserve.  It is an unnamed little area, and is expected to be left as Nature Intended It.  That means don’t plant hibiscus in it, don’t mow the grass down… in short leave it completely untended.  Since Wilma went though I have watched the area rebound and begin to green up.  The citrus trees that the neighbors have planted to the edge of the area may be ragged, but the palms and sawgrass are coming back and it is harder to see the homes on the other side.

However there is a little garden that borders the “non-property” that Larry and Kathie and the neighbors have maintained of mostly Florida Native species.  Kathie proudly pointed out that the plants that were added since they have come to live in this little patch of South Florida are mostly Natives and told the story of how they are watching the Landscapers from the Home Owner’s Association to make sure that the weed killers they use are not used on the Natives.

The Coleus won’t go in that plot, they’re reserved for their little walkway by the cracked stone in front of the house.  We are replenishing our own little corners of the world each in our own way.  Taking cuttings with us as we go back and forth, she sent me home with some cuttings of a native plant that was encroaching on the walk way.  I was told to make sure it was truly a Native since she was proud to give me something from her world and suggested I show it to M.E. De Palma for her park.

All of her cuttings are in Wellington waiting to root, and mine are gracing the window waiting for that time as well.  For now, we will wait to see what survives the next cold snap.

An Emergency Coleus Delivery

A side effect that we’ve had with all this cold weather that we had last week and will have again next week is that a lot of the Exotic Species have died off. 

The last time I saw an Iguana in my neighborhood was before the last cold snap, last winter.  The last cold snap was just about as cold so I suspect that most are gone.  We’ll never get rid of the things but here’s hoping.

I noticed that my Poinsettias in the yard were a little freezer-burned with the edges of the leaves being crispy.  They were in excellent color, but the things are damaged.  A lot of plants have the same problem being plants from a full tropical area. 

I’m in an area that is not supposed to freeze, but I am on the Northern and Western fringe of that area.   The wind blows normally off the ocean and I can tell that the winds are correct today because the trees are bending in the breezes to the West.  That will keep our area a degree or two warmer than the areas over West of I-95.  Move much further inland and there’s the bottom of the zone that can see frost, although it really does depend on the wind direction.  If it is coming from the North instead of the East, it is entirely possible we’ll have strange cold spots in places like Plantation. 

Go even further out to Sunrise or Weston and the Everglades will moderate the temperatures warmer in Winter. 

Got all that?  No problem… I didn’t think so either.  Weather is a subtle thing.  If you go just a little bit in one direction you will find a place that is consistently a degree or two warmer or colder and that can mean the difference of a plant surviving or not. 

Where I lived in Philadelphia I was considering to try to grow a palm tree.  They will grow outside if you have one of two species where I was at, Saw Palmetto or a Needle Palm.  Move to the bottom of that hill or to the East and there were six palms that would survive a sheltered spot over winter.  They won’t grow fast but you will have bragging rights that you too can grow a Needle Palm in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Here my most fragile plant is the Coleus.   I grew whole bunches of the things in offices and indoors over the years up North, and they’re all over the place here.   The plants can’t really survive just a few miles North, they’ll get frosted over in a cold snap if they’re exposed. 

All of the Coleus I have are from clippings, and I just break a piece off and stick it in the ground where the sprinkler can find them and hope they take.  Mostly they do. 

In the last cold snap I didn’t lose any but some of the more exposed ones look more ragged than I’d prefer.  This morning walking outside to look at the Screw Palms and Poinsettias that I keep sticking into the ground to make sure they survive, I noticed that they all looked fine.   I came back in thinking that the Coleus looked Leggy and needed a trim but didn’t think too much about it.

Then after checking the Email this morning, I had a message from my Godmother.  Seems like up in Wellington which is about 60 miles North and 15 miles inland, it got too cold for them.  I had a request for an Emergency Coleus replenishment shipment.   So along with the Coffee and Cookies, I  will be bringing up for Xmas three varieties of Coleus Cuttings stuffed into an old Parfait glass.

Driving a Jeep with a giant feather duster worth of Green and Red foliage will be interesting but they’ll make it.  Most importantly it will make someone who I care deeply about very happy.

Now just how will I secure those silly things?

Triaging the Gingerbread Man Amputee Ward

After making all this food, somebody has to eat it, right?

I was sitting at the dining room table having lunch and thinking just that.  Working my way through an excellent-if-I-do-say-so-myself BBQ Pork Tenderloin Sandwich I surveyed the damages of the holidays. 

On the table is two bags of Gingerbread Cookies.  Wonderful things, but after you’ve had an army of them march through your front door on the way to parties along with Pizelles, Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies, Pecan Brittle, and other home baked wonders, you end up with the leftovers.

Gingerbread cookies are a tricky thing to prepare.  Having watched three batches of the things march their way outside to do battle with the belt line since the holidays got into full swing, I came to realize that it is a wonder that you ever see them in a shop at all.  If done correctly, this recipe tends to be a little soft.  I like soft cookies, in fact I prefer them over crunchy ones for the most part. 

The problem is that Gingerbread Men have little dangly bits hanging off their torso.  Now, do get your mind out of the gutter, the dangly bits I’m talking about are the arms, legs, and head.  You roll the dough out while it is cold, use the cutter to make a large cookie of around 4 ounces, then gingerly slide them onto the baking parchment.  If they break while you are moving them, just wad them back up to be rolled out later because they just won’t bake back into one piece without having that break become the death of that ginger-man in transit. 

The trick of getting these off the parchment paper is minimal in comparison to getting them to the destination in one piece.  You see, they will break if you look at them crosseyed.   If you make them thicker it is an invitation to leftovers because they’re quite massive.  This explains well enough why commercial gingerbread men are usually hard enough to break a molar since they want to be able to sell them instead of discounting body parts.

I just weighed one and it came out to 4 ounces which would place it at a minimum of 440 calories per.  Watching the scale inch it’s way upward since October, I’ll be weighing out portions from now on out.

That little recovery ward is a bit too accessible.  Ginger Body Parts easily pop in the mouth every time you pass the table giving a spicy and sweet lift.  Meant as a conscious treat, they’ve become a subconscious necessity. 

Thankfully the holiday season is winding down.   I got to visit the Oakland Park, FL main post office on Oakland Park Blvd. yesterday and shipped off a box full of goodies to my sister.  There will be no Gingerbread body parts shipped though.   Last year the pizelles that I sent up there became pizelle flour because I didn’t use anything to stop the motion.  This year the box is chock full of goodies again, but each type is isolated somehow from the rest. 

Only two more pounds of cookies are to be baked from the original batches.  I know where they’re going and I’ll be baking one more time before the weekend.  I’ll just have to make sure that I don’t leave them on the Dining Room Table. 

The Gingerbread Men may be jealous.

Barbecue Pork Tenderloin in a Crock Pot

We have found a recipe here, or rather pieced it together out of parts of others that has been amazingly flexible.  Never really having used a crock pot before, I didn’t know how simple it was to make a meat and sauce sort of dish.  I tend to be the baker in the family, and other than grilling, if I am going to make dinner, it will be baked in the oven.  Typically serving sized pieces are all around 400F and around 30 minutes depending on thickness and cut and type of meat.

On the other hand, we have been experimenting with the crock pot that has been languishing in the kitchen under the counter gathering dust.  The recipes for stewing meats seem to be fairly standard.  Brown the meat in the skillet if you want a crust, put the pieces in the crock pot and cover with liquid that works like a marinade.  How much more basic can you get than that?

I did leave a few details out.  For the Pork Tenderloin, since I did the recipe yesterday, I’ll give them to you but that is only half of the story.  I recommend starting the recipe, then going to work.  You will be chewing your legs off by mid afternoon.  Around 2pm there was so strong a Barbecue sauce smell in the house I opened the windows to “blow out the house”!

The raw ingredients for this recipe were:

  1. 2 2/3 pound of Pork Tenderloin, uncooked.  This is approximate and you can go up or down as your needs arise.  I did NOT brown the Pork since it won’t be served as a piece of meat and will be shredded.
  2. 2 cups of pre-made Barbecue Sauce.  I used the excellent traditional Barbecue sauce that I get from GFS Marketplace. If you are not lucky enough to have a GFS Marketplace nearby either move or use your favorite recipe sauce from another vendor.  I suggest moving.  GFS is a wonderful store and I enjoy visiting the people there.  Vanessa is Great!
  3. 2 cups of water.

That’s it.

Now keep in mind, what you’re trying to do is get the tenderloin covered mostly with liquid.  You may use more sauce and water if you have a larger tenderloin, or less if your crock pot is a smaller one.  My pot is really quite large and swallows up the dishwasher when I try to be lazy and clean it there.   Recipes will go all the way up to 4 or 5 pounds in a crock pot so this is one of those Judgement Call Recipes.  It doesn’t have to be floating in the pot, merely covered with the top peaking out is fine.

Start your crock pot on low heat.  If you use high heat it will get tough.  Remember you don’t need 160F for whole pork, only ground pork.  I’ve seen recommendations varying from 140F to 155F.  Low worked out fine for me, and I’m alive to tell the tale!

Cook the meat for 8 hours in the crock pot. Mine has an automatic warm cycle and will turn the temperature down when it has hit the right amount of time.  If you are home while this happens you can check it from time to time rotating the meat, but it shouldn’t be necessary.

When the meat has hit the warm cycle and is properly cooked, drain most of the liquid into a sauce pan. You will be left with your pork in the crock pot mostly dry.  Leave a little puddle in the bottom of the crock pot so it doesn’t dry out.

Cook the liquid down on medium heat until most of the water boils out and the sauce returns to a proper consistency.   I had to do this last night because it was too wet.  The alternative is to use more BBQ sauce and less water, but the 8 hours of cooking will boil off a significant amount of water on its own.  If you use all Sauce and no water, you may end up with a caramelized goo in the bottom of the crock pot.  This worked for me, and the step took around 15 minutes or so at medium heat – a 5 out of 8 on an electric range.

Pour the reduced sauce over the pork and shred the pork with a fork. Mix well and have fun.  The pork should be very easy to shred with a standard dinner fork.  Mine literally fell apart while doing this and left me with the results in the picture even though the picture looks like its Already Been Chewed.  You know, the ABC food you joked about when you were a kid.

Serve and enjoy!

The end results were amazing.  I haven’t had more tender Barbecue Pork ever and I have some excellent barbecue joints around here in South Florida.  This was about as painless a recipe as you can get.  I’ll be having pulled pork barbecue sandwiches for the next couple days, and froze half of it in a ziploc bag.

Getting Up To Speed – Humor

Usually when I post humor, it’s from my friend Velma up in Philadelphia.  Today instead of being an “Open Letter To My Sister”, this posting turns my blog into an “Open Letter From My Sister”.

Pat’s responsible for this posting.  Thanks, Pat!

 (I like WAITT and ROFLCGU personally)

In case you want to *try* to GU2SPD (Get Up To SPeeD)….especially
with the rise of social media, more and more of us  ‘senior citizens’ are texting and tweeting. Here is a guide to some of the codes they use in communicating with peers:
ATD: At The Doctor’s
BTW: Bring The Wheelchair
BYOT: Bring Your Own Teeth
CBM: Covered By Medicare
CUATSC: See You At The Senior Center
DWI: Driving While Incontinent
FWB: Friend With Beta Blockers
FWIW: Forgot Where I Was
FYI: Found Your Insulin
GGPBL: Gotta Go, Pacemaker Battery Low!
GHA: Got Heartburn Again

HGBM: Had Good Bowel Movement
IMHO: Is My Hearing-Aid On?
LMDO: Laughing My Dentures Out
LOL: Living On Lipitor
LWO: Lawrence Welk’s On

OMMR: On My Massage Recliner
OMSG: Oh My! Sorry, Gas.
ROFLCGU: Rolling On The Floor Laughing and Can’t Get Up
SGGP: Sorry, Gotta Go Poop
TTYL: Talk To You Louder
WAITT: Who Am I Talking To?
WTFA: Wet The Furniture Again
WTP: Where’s The Prunes?
WWNO: Walker Wheels Need Oil

Time to Replace the Dying Hard Drive, or More F. U. FPL

It seems that that power spike that I had hit me the other day did some lasting damage.  Now it is time to spend money that I don’t really have to spare on a new hard drive. 

What happened was that the other day, the laptop just “quit”.  No warning … just on one second, dead the next.  There were various appliances that were blinking, flickering, and coming back on line so it wasn’t just the laptop going strange.

It’s an old beast, about 5 years old, and it can only take so many power surges. 

Yesterday I went after some files and found that they had been corrupted.  Windows 7 just could not read them.

So here’s the drill in case you’re in the same place.

First, on Windows you need to run a “Check Disc”.  Back in the old days you’d be in DOS and type in CHKDSK C: /R and walk away and it would create some more files out of the bad sectors, mark the old ones and you’d be good for a while.   Now you basically do the same thing.  Open a command prompt (you know that old window that you never really need any more) and type that string in.  It will argue with you and say hey dummy you’re using the machine how about I do this on the next restart.  Ok, I’m a dummy, I’ll do it that way. 

Close any programs, windows or other “stuff” you have running.  You will want full control over your machine.

Click Start, All Programs (Or Program Files), Accessories, Right Click on Command Prompt and come down the list and select “Run In Administrator Mode“.

If you got an access denied message, you forgot to run the program in Administrator mode.

Your screen will go blank and ask you if you really want to run this (User Access Control window) so click yes.

Now type that in again… and you’ll get the restart message.  Type “y” and hit enter.

If you have a hidden partition on your disc drive, and many do, you can do the same on that one.  Since mine is the “E” Drive, I type in “CHKDSK e: /R” and hit enter and it happily went on it’s way.

Ok, now you have a hidden partition checking, and a scheduled check for your C drive.  If you have a data partition on this drive, you probably are too advanced for this exercise but thanks for reading – you know you’ll want to do this on all of your hard discs, so select them one after another.

Second, when your checks are done, and you have done your data back up to another computer, it is time to restart the computer with the problem drive.  Go make some coffee, tea, or bake some bread because this will take a lot of time.   When the computer comes back up, a program will start and begin to take you through the five steps of a proper Chkdsk.  You may have errors, you may not, but it will take time.  It easily could take hours. 

This is something that you really should do once in a while, on a regular basis.  I’m going to be doing it today once I do an orderly shut down… You see, my backup last night failed on a file that was corrupt.  I’m lucky that that one and another were two small files that will not be a problem if I lose….

Wish me luck!  I’ll be out at the computer store today or tomorrow pricing hard discs.  Ugh… I already know what newegg wants for it.  500GB SATA 7200rpm 16mb cache laptop drive at $70 per.

I Am Why Radio Died

As I sit here, I am listening to Christmas music on a radio station in St Lucia in the Caribbean.  I had changed over from an excellent Soca Radio Station in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  Earlier I was listening to a Disco internet station broadcasting from London, UK.

During the week I also listen to Stephanie Miller for Progressive Talk.  I have to listen to Green 960 in San Francisco, California in order to do this. 

When I want contemporary dance music, I hop onto www.di.fm and I have my choice of dozens of music formats.

So why do I do all this?  Why are all of these channels, plus my Sirius subscribed channels all programmed into our Logitech Squeezebox Classic?

Simply put, Radio in the US Stinks.  The RIAA and Clear Channel have killed it.  The internet made it possible for people to leave broadcast radio stations behind. 

Why is that all important?  Billions of dollars were lost when the new markets of internet radio were created.  With a little effort, I can listen to a Souskous radio station in the Congo.  It’s an African music format that most people in the First World haven’t ever heard of so why not listen to it from it’s home?

What happened was that before the internet age, you were limited to what was broadcast from your nearest cities.  If you were stubborn like I was, you could get a shortwave radio and listen to other nations at night, but that was difficult.  Later when the wrong policy of allowing businesses to buy up a majority of the radio stations in a given market happened, consolidation of music meant that you ended up with 10 radio stations owned by Clear Channel in one given city, and they all sounded the same.  If you wanted variety, for the most part you were stuck.  Those stations that were owned by minorities were bought up and the music became much less diverse, much less listenable, and much more corporate.

An example of that was WDAS FM in Philadelphia.  An EXCELLENT radio station serving the African American Community, it was widely listened to by both black and white folks and was an engine for showcasing black artists and making the beauty of black music to the broader audience.  Clear Channel bought it up and within a year it was… bland. 

I haven’t listened to it since I moved to Florida and would prefer to remember it as it was … before it died.

The internet started up, people started downloading music and the music companies freaked out.  They still haven’t realized that according to most independent groups purchase of music continued to increase and their monopoly continued to give them income.  It didn’t pay the artists any more, but they were getting rich and giving nobody any value.

As radio station property values crashed, the trend was to go to cheaper formats and centralized broadcasting.  All the sudden the contests that were run out of your city were national contests with slightly more money but you had to compete with someone from Idaho and Texas and call a toll free number in New York or somewhere else.  It was completely depersonalized.

So if you’re listening to something that has been dumbed down and depersonalized, why not look for something else.   The final straw was when they pulled the plug on Progressive Talk for me.  There was a very good Progressive Talk station here in Miami.  The so called brains at Clear Channel swapped the format for sports talk.  How many sports stations does one market need?  There are now five.  I guess you listen to a different one each morning on the way to work.

Or you do what most people do, find other ways to get your music or talk fix.

The increase in first MP3 Players like the iPod, then the Smart Phone Revolution meant that you could carry a lifetime of music on your phone and plug it into your car stereo and forget the rest.  I know of people who simply forgo bringing CDs or listening to “terrestrial radio” while driving locally let alone for a long trip. 

Personally I am lucky.  There are three HD radio stations here in the Miami radio market I can listen to to get my fix of in car entertainment so I don’t have to bring along a lot of equipment. 

But for most, Broadcast Terrestrial Radio is a study in how a marketing engine lost it’s own market.  They left their audience, so the audience left the market and demanded iPod compatibility and an “Aux In Port” in the new cars.

So for now, I’m about to switch over to an all trance music station on www.di.fm/trance … care to join me?