Banana Leaves With A Side of Sparkle

6 months of Desert, 6 months of torrential rain.

That’s our climate.  I did see a map once that said that Fort Lauderdale and coastal Broward County are considered a Rainforest Climate according to the Koppen criteria.

It never freezes here, but it gets damn close.

The rains just finally opened up this week.  They got so strong and so commonplace, even though they’re late, that my dog is going through Panic Attacks going out at night.

I will say that it’s probably due to the combination of Rain, Thunder, and Fireworks that happen this week.  If I had a place way out away from everyone, we would be there.

The nice thing is that when you get up in the morning, the world is washed clean.  You have the streets scoured of anything that was killed on them over the last few months, the dust runs off to the soil, and the air smells cleaner than usual.

Where I am, 2 1/2 miles or about 4 K from the ocean, there isn’t much pollution coming from the east.  What we do get are dust clouds from the Sahara Desert.

Seriously.

As in every time I take the Jeep out I have to hose it down.

As in I just spent an hour dusting the room divider of that stuff.

Going out into the morning makes you see why things are green and lush.  My plants are loving this weather.  I’m liking going out after a rain storm and seeing temperatures edging down towards what passes for cool here.

The plants are dusted clean, and usually there’s a mist covering their leaves.

That is what caught my eye.  I was walking around my yard picking up things.  In the corner of my eye, my Banana Tree sparkled this morning.  Like one of those cartoons when you see things cleaned and you hear “ping ping PING!”.

The leaves were misted with tiny jewels of water droplets.  Each droplet catching the light like a band of that reflective paint.  Some bending the light and giving me a show.

I’ve said it before, if you look, you can even find beauty in your own back yard and in your own pots.

In this case, I caught it, even if it did have to be enhanced by the sun in the golden hour after sunrise.

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Welcome to Florida, we have overly friendly wildlife.

The first time wildlife encountered me was in my very own backyard.

I’ve been fascinated by the various lizards that roam around the place here.  Standing in the yard I spotted a rather common lizard.  Something scared it.

Might have been me, I have that effect on some people, and some wildlife.

Might not have been.

The lizard ran onto my shoe, then right up my leg.

And up the pant leg.

I’ve heard of ants in my pants but never a lizard on my lizard.

I’ve had posionous toads hop onto my foot while I was picking up after my dog.

I’ve had more Iguanas turn up in the Bougainvillias and Hibiscus in the yard than I care to count.

Nasty creatures, Iguanas.  No reason for them to be here at all.

Seventeen Ducks making more ducks on my front porch.

This was a much more gentle encounter.

A normal five in the evening Dog Walk.  It’s been really quite intensely hot.  90 to 95 in brilliant sun.

Walking around the block and heading toward home, a “something” fluttered around my head and landed on my friend’s arm.

A rather beautiful Butterfly.  Mostly black winged, some iridescent blue spots.

Basic Black.  Everyone looks better in basic black.

Being a butterfly, it was completely harmless, and it paid a rather long visit walking around my friends T-shirt, up one arm, down the other and hanging out.

As soon as it started it was over when the little creature went on its way.

I guess it wanted a bit of a rest.

The Square Pot, Or How Eric’s Planter is Becoming A Herb Farm

A while back, a local friend, Eric, gave me a bunch of planters.

He was moving from his apartment only a few blocks away to another one a little further out.  That old place had a patio area where he could have his planters, and raised an interesting collection of flowers and milkweed.

I also got most of his milkweed and it’s out in my backyard under various cover so that some gets eaten to sticks by hungry Monarch Butterflies, but not all of it.

He did have this one nicer planter.  It is a square on top, almost a cube.  He wanted it back once he landed and since I have the room, I was going to hang onto it for him when he came calling for it.

I did wait a while, but he never asked for it back after settling in.

Typical to my own quirky behavior, if I have a spare planter, it will get used.

I moved it out to my front porch and clipped a few cuttings off my Ruellia.  I have rather a lot of Ruellia, and it does spread somewhat, so there’s a small background noise of me cutting plants and debating Throw Or Cut.

This was one of those days.  Smiling I said “Lets make a planter for Eric”.

Ruellia Cuttings will mope and look dead or dying for a month but almost always snap back alive with generous watering.  Just snip the cutting below a knuckle where the leaves come out and you’re golden.  The Ruellia was only planted on one half of the planter and I was going to put something else in there.

Basil.  I have a lot of the stuff, and as a result I also have a lot of seeds.  Two weeks later the Basil has started to sprout.

Mind you, I wandered out there looking over the pot a morning later and was having breakfast.  Some Canteloupe with seeds fell out of the bowl and landed in a corner.  Weirdly, the Canteloupe sprouted.

I really have no idea if I will manage to get anything out of the Canteloupe but this weird little garden will be in that spot for a while.   If the vines do grow up and out of the pot, I can let them grow into my garden in front of it.

This all comes from the theory of when something nice happens, even for a small while, do something nice in return.

The other day I contacted Eric and told him this story and he generously told me to keep it as he doesn’t have space.

It’s taken root here I guess, purple flowers blooming every single day and the Basil that was meant to go into someone else’s tomato sauce will go into mine.

Who doesn’t like Fresh Basil!?

So Thanks, Eric, I’m out to put more cuttings in that pot.

Meet Mothra, My Mystery Moth

I keep telling those folks Up North that Florida has weird wildlife.

Ball Pythons and other snakes in the Everglades.

Iguanas grazing in my backyard.

Those damn Muscovy Ducks all over the place.

This is much more benign.

I’ve grown accustomed to seeing large flocks of birds around town.  Green parrots shrieking at Dawn and Sunset call to flock.  Flocks of white Snowy Egrets hunting for grubs in the yards around here and sometimes standing on the roof of a car from time to time.

So when I see large things flapping around my front yard, I tend to only give them passing notice.

It rained for a couple days straight this week.  The first sunny day we have Zebra Mosquitoes that can carry you off.  The second one it’s the dance of the Dragonflies that dine on those evil creatures.  All the while it’s Zebra and Swallowtail Butterflies and my Monarch Butterflies dining on the flowers.

This was a bit of a shock.

Moths in my mind are wee little coin sized creatures.   They silently fly around eating things that they can get at but are never too numerous.  It isn’t a case of running for the hills, it’s more like, “Oh. There’s a Moth.”

I thought there was yet-another bird confused and fluttering on the front porch.

Nope.  I finally looked up from my Big Green Chair where I was practicing my Spanish and taking tests and I saw this total Unit of a Moth.

I mean huge.

As in the size of your hand.  Flip your hand over and look at the palm.  Then have your fingers touch each other at the outstretched flat tips.

Six inches, 15 CM of absolute moth.

I have never seen a beast like this.

I allowed its privacy while it could probably see me.

Buenos tardes, senor, como estas?

Good afternoon Mr Moth.

Or Mrs, I don’t know how to tell.

I did get curious, so next trip off my perch, I walked out front with the camera and did the tourist thing.

It visited me for a day and a half and one moment it was gone.  Flapped its bird sized wings and flew off into the Florida Sunset.

Sipping my Iced Tea.  “Weird freaky wildlife we’ve got here.  Most of it is introduced.  That’s a story for another day.”

Taking a Break From Windsurfing on Eight Wheels

I have a couple very hard and fast rules.

Never in the rain.

Never in the damp.

Never if the wind was more than a 20 MPH gust.

Call that last one 30 KPH for the metrically endowed.

I had a routine that I fell into back in the days when inline skating was hot.

Which was to say that everyone, their grandmother, and their dog was on some sort of wheeled contrivance at the time.  Yes, the wonderful time that was the 1990s.

While many of us found ourselves on inline skates, others looked upon it and laughed.

I used it as a sport.  Big time for me.  Most of my dry and calm weekends were spent with my cruising skates on.  I’d be wearing a groove in the trails in and around the fabled city of Philadelphia and all the way out to west of Valley Forge.

I say groove because it was about 30 miles per workout.  Lord, Europeans, I can’t Math… 1.6 Times 30, er… I make that 48 K’s give or take a meter.

Peak was 54 miles in a single morning, 200 miles in a week.

But Geography is your friend sometimes.

The trail, Schuylkill River Rails to Trails trail, or similar was built on an old railroad line.  That means that the road was flat with a one degree rise or less for the most part and along the river.  Oriented on a Northwest to Southeast direction it also was in a valley.  That focused the wind down along the river.  It was always windier in the valley than it was just outside of it and if the wind was right, you could skate out fighting the winds and use that same wind home to Windsurf back.

I did that often.  I fell into the habit of bringing along two liters of water, about 400 calories of snacks, and looking forward to that mid workout rest in Oaks, PA right over the Perkiomen Creek.  It was a hangout there and you’d meet up with us regulars.  Bikers would continue out to the Reading (PA) trail, or stop with us and chat for a while.

This was where I had met up on the way back with a Deer that stopped me dead in the

middle of the trail.  Just West of Valley Forge in a beautiful forested area before you hit the big power lines, it spotted me, I spotted him.  He was just off the trail, moved to the middle of it, and approached.

Yes, a Deer.   Came to visit me.  Looking in those big brown eyes, I said hello, and asked “what would you like to do?  Feel like a bit of a run?”.

It did.  With that wind at my back, a clean trail, I started off.   The buck joined me and we trotted along for about a solid mile, er, K and a half or so, toward the water stop at Valley Forge.  He veered off and watched me go on my way.

The rest of that ride was very gently downhill and very gently breezy.  I windsurfed back to the parking lot just within the city of Philadelphia where the trail turned to gravel towards Manayunk and Center City.

Freaky huh?

While it has to be one of those “things were just right” occasions in Pennsylvania for me to be able to windsurf, especially with a torso tall tawny buck trotting along for the ride, here in South Florida it is much more commonplace.

The trail at the Pompano Airpark is laid out in a slightly more than a mile per side square.  We predictably get a wind off the ocean here.  East To West.  That means that you windsurf one side of that square, are cooled on two sides, and get to battle the winds on the fourth.

I’ve been known to peak out at about a 20MPH (30Ks) on my skates, especially with the winds at my back.  It’s a broad back, I have to have a broad chair, and my favorite Poang Chair is as wide as I am at the shoulders.

Got the picture?

The trail is best done heading West on the southern side of that square to give you a boost from the breezes on the first leg to give you a good Warm Up Mile.  This particular day, winds just below my own speed limit, I managed to stand bolt upright instead of the more normal racing skate crouch to avoid the wind.

I captured that wind and flew down the trail.   Really all I had to do was get going and it was a free ride toward that western edge and the 90 degree turn that I had to brake to get around.

Falling on skates is not fun, I’ve done it too many times.

Luckily the wind was just a bit more North of West that day, and I got a boost out heading northbound on that second leg.

Sitting on the bench I had just enough of a runner’s high to smile at what I had just done.  It was a second hop actually, this was my second time around the square, and come April, that second mile on the park would be closed for repaving.

Looking back, south, at the scene it was what I consider heaven.

You see anywhere I would travel to since I started skating in 1992, I would plan to take the inline skates with me.  Most of these trails are about a car lane wide, split down the middle.  Nondescript grey asphalt, and a great place to get a runner’s high.

Hence the smile.

Not a bad place to sit in the sun and enjoy a half liter of water before getting up to finish the last lap.

Getting my heart rate down from cruising at 173 BPM, to about 140, I stood up and thought I could refill the water at the three and a half mile water stop before heading home.

A good day on skates is better than just about anything else I can think of.   No wonder why people are coming back into the sport.

The Original Pizza Story and The One Ingredient Pizza Sauce

There is a story I was told, time and again.

When the Allied troops were fighting the Nazis in Italy after the fall of Mussolini they eventually approached Naples.

Due to the Volcanic Soil from Mount Vesuvius and other volcanos, the soil there is extremely rich.  The climate in the area is perfect for growing tomatoes that are held to be better than anywhere else.

(Ok, maybe AS good as the home grown tomatoes that are from South Jersey, but I digress.)

However, due to the impoverishment caused by the Fascists and the War, there was very little to go around.

The troops came upon pizzas made with only about four ingredients.  Crust made from Flour, water, yeast and a little salt.  Mozzarella made from milk from the few cows that were left.  A simple red sauce made with those tomatoes and almost always a touch of basil.

Yep, that’s it.  A Margarita Pizza.  Or however my spell check forces me to spell it.

(I have seen it Margherita on Menus as well.  The picture is labeled like that, the article uses the other spelling.)

Crust, Sauce, Basil, Mozzarella Cheese.  Heat in a wood burning oven.  Serve.

It was a hit and brought back to the US and became a favorite here and worldwide.

Mind you, to me, pizza made with Pineapples or Cheddar Cheese are an abomination, but I am quite fond of Mushrooms and perhaps sundried tomatoes on occasion.

About that sauce?

A week or two ago, I went to downtown Miami and went to what was an Italian restaurant.  They had all the prerequisite items on the menu and a simple Marg(h)erita Pizza in their wood burning stove.   I got that and it was excellent.

As I sat there I was pondering the sauce with my lunch partner.  We decided that if there was anything more in that sauce than a little basil and San Marzano Tomatoes, we couldn’t tell.

San Marzano Tomatoes are the name for the “DOP” for that area – The Protected Area.

So we got a can.  I used a 100 year old potato masher and mushed them down to a chunky mash.

Then I turned the heat onto medium low and cooked them down for 90 minutes.

Allowing the sauce to cool and rest until the next day, because tomato sauces are always ALWAYS better “tomorrow”, I waited.

I made the pizza you see in that picture.  It was almost identical to that $16, Serves One, Pizza.

We cracked it.  Simple is best if you want an Authentic Pizza.

Mind you, I will say that Neopolitan Pizza in any of the major NE US Cities is supposed to be better, but this was an awesome pizza with a no fuss sauce that I would put up against anything I’ve had elsewhere.

So much for artisanal, you can be an artisan too!

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 1 26 Ounce Can of San Marzano Tomatoes, peeled, with Basil.  (800 grams)

That’s it.

Recipe Process:

  • Open can into sauce pan.
  • Use potato masher to rough-mix the Tomatoes.  If you use a blender, you want chunks so just pulse.
  • Warm the sauce pan to Medium Low – 3 on a regular American Stove.  (You know that Iconic one that goes “Lo”, then 2 to 8, then “Hi”?)
  • Cook the sauce, stirring frequently, until the desired thickness is achieved – it took me 90 minutes on a slow simmer.
  • Set the sauce aside in the refrigerator until tomorrow to allow flavors to rest and meld.
  • Use promptly.

My Clock Has Four Legs and Fur or how Rack gets me to inspect the sprinklers

Most people have a very stable schedule.

Oh sure, you leave the house five minutes this way or that, go a different direction once in a while.  What I mean is that if you pull back and look at things at a “One Thousand Foot Level” instead of being specific, you do roughly the same things every day at about the same time daily.

This effect can be seen while looking at pollution levels at a city for example.  Saturday and Sunday has cleaner air.  Monday traffic is a little less than Tuesday because you and a couple hundred people in your city had a case of The Mondays that week.

That sort of thing.

I think that I’m in that sort of a relationship with my dog.  A bit of a feedback loop.

In my pre-dawn haze, almost every single day, I look over at him when I open my eyes.

Rack is almost always looking right back at me.

Ok, so it’s 5am, so let me sleep in.  Dawn comes two hours from now in winter, ok?

Didn’t think so.

If humans have a semi-rigid schedule, so do dogs.

We get out of bed and get prepared for a lap around town.  Fifteen minutes later, like furry clockwork, we’re on our way.

When we’re back, he fiddles around doing those Dog Things that he does, but he knows that when the microwave door opens, 40 seconds later, he gets food.  “Come on over” is something I rarely have to say.

Food, coffee, Spanish, online stuff, and all the sudden he’s at my elbow again.  I check the clock, it’s just turned 7 and someone else is getting up.

“Go see ’em!” I say.  It rarely works but I try anyway.  Time for a little attention, and he’s back in his corner.

I go back to my own routine and after a bit he’s back at my elbow.

It’s 7:31am.  My sprinkler systems have kicked on for a quick watering of the pots.  He’s looking at me, he knows, it’s time.  I have to do the yard inspection.   That’s a pretty rigid time there even if the clock there needs to be adjusted.

We’re in the yard, I dump my first mug’s coffee grounds in the plants because “It’s Gardener’s Gold!” in this sandbox that we call soil here, plus it can reduce the number of mosquitoes and feral cats that wander through the property.

Dumping the pool scoop in the can, I’m being herded inside.

I think Rack manages my time as effectively as any cellphone, Palm Pilot, or Secretary ever could.

He does know not to ask for an ice cube on the second mug of coffee, he gets one and that is fine by him.

Similar things happen around lunch where he knows to check what I am making.  I learned that if I tell him that it is chicken or “there’s onions” he won’t bother me.

I’ll give him some homemade yogurt instead.

At 440, he gets up to wander into the kitchen for his dinner and our second yard inspection.  Oh sure, I may be deeply involved in something, but if I am, he’ll nudge me along.

Not at 4:35 nor 4:45, but promptly at 4:40.

“Dog?  Can you read a clock?”

Brown eyes lasering a hole through my head.

When we get back inside, I try to reclaim my own schedule.

5PM on the dot he gets up and walks to the front door.   The house is about to fill up again, I am having more holes sintered in to my head.  Twin brown laser beams are telling me that someone is on the way.

I see the white SUV pull past, then back into the drive.  Time once again to go for a walk.

Yep, dog walk time.

It’s almost cause and effect.  He knows what is going on, and has a good understanding of what he is being included in.

Rack, being a McNab Dog, is so intelligent that I have learned just to accept that he will understand what is going on.   If I get up and move for the keys in a certain way that indicates that a car is being used, he tries to invite himself.  If it is a Skate Day instead, when he sees me put my skates or pads by the door, he backs off.

Intense little black and white dogs can’t run as far or as fast for as long as I can skate, although the ride would have him beyond excited.

But a herding dog, especially a McNab, is a special thing.  They will manage you if they can, and will understand what you are saying even if you can’t see the clock!