Going To Publix to Cage A Thunderstorm

I have often said “Beauty happens everywhere, prepare yourself, and take a camera.”

Even when you are doing something that you might consider mundane, you might be surprised.

All it takes is to stop and smell the roses.

In my case, it was to stop and load the back of the car with the groceries.

You see we had just had a whole bunch of rainstorms.   That’s a technical term “whole bunch”.  We had a miss of a hurricane, then a couple days of storms.  All that gets followed by what passes for normal, which really is just a setting on the washer.

Since we, as a species, have decided to ignore what is happening around us, the weather got “weird”.

South Florida at this time of year Back In The Old Days of the 80s and before, or so I have been told, had very regular weather in The Wet Season.  Rain at 4:30PM.  Clear for the drive home.

Then we managed to fill up the place with condos put too close to roads and homes that were once low slung and now are beginning to look strangely familiar to anyone who grew up in a colder climate.  You know, two stories or more.  Split Levels.  Frame houses.

Yeah, all of that will get knocked down the first time we have a proper Category 3 blow through like Matthew was supposed to be here.  Those houses will all end up in my swimming pool and like places.

If you are moving down here from Up North, buy an older house.  One floor.  Concrete Block.  Impact Glass.  Non-Flat roof made of Tile.  That’s a start.  Let the other guy “take the hit”.

We moved here after everyone filled the place up and took over from someone else who wandered off to the Florida Keys to build a house on stilts.  I guess he wanted to fish for Lion Fish off his back porch.

But the storms don’t come at the same time since all those homes and all those pitched roofs and all that black asphalt warmed the air.   The sun hits it all, warms it up and creates a strong updraft.  It creates an island of heat that my own house is on the edge of.

So those 4:30 PM storms hit south of Miami and at the airport since the airport is a big open grassy field.  We get our storms at random times, seemingly around “The Dinner Hour” which certainly varies, or over night, or all day.

You get the picture… it all changed.

This particular day was one of those random days.   We got rain most of the afternoon and that meant that we were puttering.  I went into the kitchen and got creative and realized I needed a few things from the market.  Since it was raining, we went down to The Big Publix downtown in Fort Lauderdale since there is a parking garage built over top of the market.  Convenient and you don’t have to park in another area code because you want to park in the shade.

Another Floridian trick:  You will park way “out there” so  you can put your car under a tree, then walk way back.  This is so your car doesn’t melt in the sun.  Of course you get your suntan on the walk back from the shop, or the mall, or what have you.

Tourists tan.  Locals don’t.

The building is built like a bunker.  Thick walls to support all those SUVs and Exotic Cars that people here seem to think they need to show off to their neighbors with.  Plus my qualifies-for-antique-license-plates Jeep Wrangler.

Think of a casino.  No idea of what is happening around you, outside, day or night.  You can’t tell if you are in the middle of a war in one of those bunkers of a buildings.

I was in Aisle 7, I think.  Giggling at the magazines.  Looking at the pictures and considering translating one of the Spanish Language ones just for practice.

We heard the weather then.  A Deep Rumble, and a far away wind.  Considering we were further inside that building than my entire property length, that was a surprise.

“Must be rain”.

We rarely use umbrellas here.  Locals, that is.  You see someone using an umbrella and it is a snowbird or other tourist, or it is one of those rain storms that has no wind.

This wasn’t that.  It was a gully washer out there.

We managed to finish the shopping and went up to load up the car.  I stopped dead in my tracks and looked West.  Weather almost always moves East to West here except the times it moves North to South or Up and Down.

Scratch that, you really can’t tell what way a specific cell is Supposed To Move.  Thunderstorms can come from any direction at any time in October.

And there it was.  Looking Caged.  A thunderstorm.  I guess that was what I heard when I was reading that one Spanish magazine.

They do come from any direction and sometimes they just pose for you.

Finishing the shopping, we made it home without incident.  Just a little rain starting up just as we got into the driveway and loaded the food into the house.

You see, Storms here can come at any moment…

Sometimes, you just need a Cheesesteak and Fries

I had been baking all morning.

I made some Chocolate Chip Cookies, Coconut Cookies, and Anisette Cookies.

Yeah I know, I’m repeating myself.  Actually, I am writing this right after I wrote about the Anisette Cookie recipe.

Tasty cookies, amazingly easy batter to work with too.

But, I was informed.  Told.

“Lunch today is a Cheesesteak, and by the way, you’re making fries”.

Do.  Tell.

Actually, Kevin makes a good cheesesteak.  We had gotten some appropriate “Home Made Hoagie Rolls” at Publix.  Just how a supermarket chain can make a “home made” roll, I don’t know, but they do make a good roll.  They’re not Amoroso, but they’re damn close.

That trip to Publix, I actually found Cheese Wiz.   What Cheese Wiz is, I don’t know.  We discovered that it makes a great dip for crackers though.

So we started.  A quarter of a sweet onion got grilled.  Twice what I needed but hey, I have eggs and I know how to use them.

Then the rolls were thawed, split, and slathered with a generous layer of that Wiz stuff I was talking about.

The Steak was cooking in the skillet.  I put half of the onions on top.  The onions immediately stuck to the “Cheeze” like substance.

Then the steak.  It melted the cheese.  On a whim, I squirted catsup on the fries and the steak.

Wow, ok, Food Porn.

See, Cheesesteaks are a religion in Philadelphia.  Museums are online dedicated to the art of the perfect Cheesesteak.  There are a laundry list of places that people will visit over others.  Every one of those people have most likely tried to make a steak at home.

I grew up with Provolone on mine, but mom was Italian and didn’t speak English until she was 7.

But, here in South Florida the true cheesesteak is not something that you can’t find easily.  There are some close calls, but it’s a bit off.

Like that roll.  Good, close, but not Amoroso’s.

No worries, it was a great meal.

Oh Scrapple, Why Do You Taunt Me?

They say that South Florida is the Sixth Borough of New York City.

I think that’s a bit inaccurate.

A better title would be “Little New Jersey”.

It’s chock full of refugees from NYC, of course.  I can even find a good Brooklyn Bagel here, and I know of a decent Jewish Deli if I choose to drive a bit.

Lox, Bagels, and Cream Cheese… Yum!

But I can also find Philadelphians by the Septa Train Load, People from the “Pennsylvania Dutch” areas out by Lancaster and Reading, and folks from Connecticut by the Fishing Boat full.

We’re all here.  I personally think Broward County is “Little Long Beach Island” because it’s mixed pretty thoroughly of New Yorkers and Philadelphians.

That Philly Pretzel place nearby even has a Drexel University flag inside it.

So I wasn’t completely shocked when I went to the Big Publix in downtown Fort Lauderdale and found some Habersett’s Scrapple.  The one near me in Wilton Manors has packets of Taylor Ham, which was a treat too.

If you know either of those products, you are from an area that is roughly 150 miles from around the Liberty Bell in Center City Philadelphia, know someone from there, or just got curious when you saw them in a random shop.

Both of those are what are loosely called “Breakfast Meats”.  Fry them up like you would bacon.  Serve with your eggs in the morning.

In this case, I served my Scrapple with a 2 egg onion omelette on top of a home made rye bagel with some extra sharp cheddar.  Not a light breakfast, but I finished it off with my coffee and that was it until lunch that day.

Scrapple is vaguely like sausage.  It’s sold in a brick, frozen.  Like sausage you don’t really want to know what’s in the stuff.   Other than corn meal, spices, and perhaps some thickeners, it is a Pork Product.  Everything but the oink, as we say in Philly.

There are two schools of thought, either thick and creamy or thin and crispy.  You slice the stuff off the brick, toss it in a skillet, and fry it up.

Yum.

But in my case, I’m being taunted.

I prefer mine creamy in the middle, crisp on the outside. 

First things first, that slicing bit.

I remember my father on a weekend morning.  Only on the weekends.  Saturday or Sunday, and you will like it.  Get the picture?

He’d fry up the slab of Scrapple in the skillet, getting it good and crispy on the outside, hot and creamy inside.  Served just as I like it.  Yeah, Dad taught me how to eat the stuff, I’m sure your parents broke you like that too.

Except there’s the rub.  That slicing of a slab.  Doesn’t go so well.

I have a habit of making things in “prepared serving sizes” like they’re listed on the package.  Two ounces of the stuff is one serving, 120 calories.  Not terrible.  Except that that is an eighth of a brick.

How do you slice an eighth of a brick of frozen sausagey-like goodness into a skillet? 

You don’t.  You thaw it when you get it home from the Big Publix that you park on top of, or the Acme in Roxborough in Philly, or even the Shop Rite in Cherry Hill.   Put it in the refrigerator on Friday Morning.  Saturday Morning it will have thawed enough to be sliced.

Except.

Now you have a roughly 37 degree Fahrenheit, 2 degree Celsius block of grey gritty gooey block of Pork and Pork By Products with Spices.  Cut open that Red and White package.  Some undefinable liquid leaks out.  The package is briefly looked at and then you realize that the Quixotic desire to be thrifty is pointless and you reach under the counter for a plastic container to place the remnants in. 

Lay the Scrapple block lovingly on a “Cutting Plate”.   You want an eighth of the block for your serving, right?  Go to the knife drawer and select the sharpest blade you have.  You will need it.  Walk over to the cupboard and grab a ceramic coffee mug and sharpen it on the bottom, or just use your sharpening stone.

No, really, you need deadly sharp here.  The dog will now be curious, this would not be a good time to step on his feet.  Be careful there.

Look at that block of Scrapple lenghtwise.  Lovingly draw your blade on the top to mark but not cut it in half.  Cut each half in half, then each in half again.  You have just approximated eight pieces.

Yeah you could just toss the damn thing in the skillet and make a monster scrapple but where’s the fun in that?

Now look at your eight even pieces.  The outermost one needs to be cut off the block. 

As you draw back that deadly sharp knife through the slightly gelatinous gritty block of savory goodness, you realize this won’t go well.   It begins to break apart like a meteor hitting the atmosphere.  Instead of getting a thick slab of grey goodness to toss in the skillet, you have three “large” pieces, and a pile of grit.

Cursing at your luck, you walk across the kitchen to the preheated skillet.   I can’t heat it up too high because the skillet has a non stick surface and if you have a parrot, that will kill them if it scorches.  You had better have greased the thing up because if you hadn’t you’re going to make scrapple crumbles.  Even now, you have a pile of grit to toss to the flames.

Here’s where I got creative. 

I had saved a couple ceramic tiles.  They’re nothing special being from my old kitchen in Philadelphia.  Some day I will incorporate them into this house here.  For now, they’re wrapped in aluminium foil and used to press things down to flatten them in my skillet.  They’re my very own “Fryer Blocks”.

I take my Scrapple crumbles, and edge them together.  Pressing down with the Fryer Block, I am able to roughly reshape the crumbles into a solid mass.

Now, patience is a virtue.  Cook them until the bottom crisps up.  I can’t tell you how long that is.  I went out into the next room, found some wire and needle-nosed pliers for a project, made two copper loops, finished cleaning the counter, and started roasting a batch of coffee in the time it took to get that brown scrapple look that I wanted.  Five Minutes a side?  Six?  Ten?  I just don’t know!

With a plastic spatula, I tease the scrapple up from the bottom of the skillet.   It wants to stick, but this stuff has a sheen of grease, a gift of the Pork goodness inside.  Flip it over and hope that it won’t fall apart.

It did, push it back together, and use that Fryer Block to re-form the thing roughly back into a square.

Walk away.  More patience.  More time.

The dog is getting curious, the parrot is begging by saying “Hello!” and blowing kisses.   They both want some of your scrapple-y goodness.  But no, Dad was right.  This was a special thing.  This is Scrapple.

Not for dogs!
Not for parrots!

Has it been long enough?  Worry the edge up.  Did it stick?  No!  Tease the now thin Scrapple cookie up off the skillet.   Place on the cheese to warm and melt it into the bagel.

The egg you scrambled will get poured onto the onions that are now translucent with sweetness, your weekend breakfast commune with Dad will come soon.   Reaching through the years, you taste the savory goodness and smile.  I think of the Stoltzfus and Yoders in the Pennsylvania Dutch areas and thank them mentally for passing this recipe on through this day.

This was a good breakfast.  But it just doesn’t stick together, no matter how tasty it is.  Not to worry, I’ll try again tomorrow.  I have another slice to make.   Maybe I’ll get Dad’s old Cast Iron skillet out.  Really go Old School on this Scrapple thing.  Serve it with some pancakes and real Vermont Maple Syrup.

A slab of crumbly creamy crispy crusty heaven on a plate.

Ikea, Particle Boards and Florida Don’t Mix

It was one of those things.

Having house guests meant we got to go shopping.  I had to restock the kitchen.  No problem there, I actually like going to the big Publix supermarket downtown.  If anything I try to restrain myself from getting all sorts of crazy goodies because I like the challenge of making new recipes and sharing them with friends and family.

In a small house, you learn quickly that cabinets and pantry space are at a premium.  There are many that would consider 1200 square feet large, and others that would consider it a rabbit hutch.  They’re all not paying my mortgage so I’m inclined to tell them to have a nice day.

Among other things.

But we did get creative with storage when we moved in here.   Coming from 1900 square feet on three floors in Philadelphia, I’m still throwing things out that we moved with back in 2006.  The box of random parts gets smaller since I just don’t have room to store things that can be repaired.

There is always room for food, and with the seasons being only two here, I have to store food for each.

Hurricane Season means that we store two weeks worth of food, water, and necessities for six months.
Snowbird season is easy, the weather is predictable, and we don’t really expect problems.  So this is when you eat the Hurricane food.

Hopefully.

One of the things we did was throw up our hands and build up the laundry room.  It’s definitely not “ADA Compliant” any longer.  In fact, I have to wonder if it is even Ramblingmoose Compliant. 

There are so many cabinets in the laundry room that my shoulders brush both sides of the path to the back of the room.   Shelves above your head, on the walls, and cabinets on the entryway.

That’s where Ikea came in.

We went to the land of cheap Swedish Flat Pack Furniture a while back.  They name things by taking a phone book in Stockholm and throwing darts at a random page and saying “Billy!  I shall call a cabinet Billy!”  or “Look it’s a Boj!”.

Not that anyone out of Scandinavia knows what on Earth a Boj is, mind you.  I suspect it’s another word for a room of convenience, and most likely flat packed so you can assemble it with a happy Allen Key and a lot of swearing.

Oh, and it’s probably made with Particle Board.

Ikea doesn’t make everything out of particle board.  This is a good thing because particle board is rubbish in a humid climate like South Florida.  It’s rubbish in a dry climate too, but at least it won’t melt there.

I had some rather nice looking dressers from Ikea that were made of particle board in Philadelphia.  By the time I moved out, I didn’t have any trouble moving them out.  I simply gave it a nudge, and it collapsed. 

All the more easy to throw out.

And this was the basis of my problem.

We got back from Publix with giant bags of food.  Technicolor bottles of soda.  Cans of random condiments.  Eggs.  Lots of Eggs.

All of that food had to be stored.

I walked into the kitchen and began to fill the freezer immediately as Kevin brought in the rest of the food. 

Beginning with the frozen fish that was on a “Bogo”, I began playing Freezer Tetris. 

I think somewhere in Stockholm, six weeks ago, a Butterfly flapped its wings.  That butterfly caused my pickles from Nebraska to bounce.

The pantry simply collapsed.

We hadn’t actually added anything to the pantry.  What must have happened was that the rain that was approaching from a tropical system that was two days away at that point scared it.  Six feet worth of Canned Goods, boxed pasta, random glassware including two strange Star Trek promo glasses I have no idea what to do with, a stack of 5 ready made pie shells, three jars of spaghetti sauce and much more began a short trip.

The shelves gave way in the middle of the pantry.

The sheer volume of the food that hit the floor was a shock, we didn’t realize that we had those 4 bottles of catsup in the extra large sized handy plastic squeeze bottle.  We also don’t know what we’ll do with them, considering that we don’t use quite that much catsup. 

We still have the catsup by the way.  It survived the trip to the floor.  Those bottles ricocheted off of the washer, onto the stack of bottled water and onto the floor in the corner cushioning more fragile things like cereal boxes on their way down.

The pickles were a gift from my cousin Bill in Nebraska.  Good ol’ Mason jars.   I never knew that a glass Mason storage jar could take the fall from chest high, bounce off of my dryer, the spaghetti jars, and some other weirdly random food and survive with only the sealing ring getting dented.  But survive they did.  Good thing because Bill has an excellent recipe for sweet and sour pickles!

Unfortunately that spaghetti sauce didn’t survive.   We had four jars of the stuff.  The two that were in the Good Ol’ Mason Jars bounced off of the pickles and settled on the floor back in the corner intact among the dirty towels that have been collecting waiting for Hot Wash Day.  The other two did not.  They were commercially prepared, and since glass isn’t designed to take impact unless it is a Good Ol’ Mason Jar, and the commercially prepared stuff is much thinner glass.  It’s Just Thick Enough to get it home, but not really thick enough to survive any shock.

How did all this happen?

The side walls of the pantry were not built with any support beams across the back.  The pantry itself was built as four sides with a piece of cardboard nailed to the “box” as a backing.  It wasn’t designed to hold it together.  Yes, a piece of particle board nailed across the back would hold it up much better but that wasn’t to be. 

The box bulged through the successive years of humid weather and jars of pickles, and that night even before I put another can of Whole Fruit Cranberry Sauce on the shelves, it collapsed.

I never saw a cabinet burst its seams like that before.  It was a giant waterfall of crap.  It simply vomited up my stored food and Star Trek glasses into my laundry room.

My laundry room now has a slightly pink floor.   Yes, the spaghetti sauce again.  The floor is unsealed concrete and while I managed to get up almost all of the sauce with a mop and a lot of hot water, it is impossible to get all that healthy lycopene back up off the floor once it has been left there in an explosive fashion.

I’ll be cleaning up spaghetti sauce for years.

So if you do get a tall and narrow Ikea Particle Board cabinet, there is a fix.  Screw your shelves in with a long drywall screw through the outside box of the cabinet.   That will give you the lateral stability you need in case your cousin Bill from Nebraska should ship you some yummy pickles again!

Pickles.  Suddenly I’m craving some pickles.   No ice cream, please, and we have quite enough spaghetti sauce that survived.

Did you know that a Mason Jar could bounce?  Neither did I!

Happy Thanksgiving from Rack The Laser Dog and Ramblingmoose.com

Happy Thanksgiving from Rack the Laserdog, Oscar the noisy Parrot, and us here at www.Ramblingmoose.com

Can’t tell you what we’re doing.  It isn’t a secret, it’s just that this is going up on Thursday, and I wrote it at 11am on Sunday before.  Rack was whining for attention, Oscar was chattering lightly, and I was trying to get “caught up”.

Here, dog, go fetch!  Nothing worse than a bored teenager that you can’t hand a mop or a vacuum cleaner to and get your housework done.

At this point we’ve got plans for a roast beef for today, but I won’t know until it happens.

So get off the computer and go spend time with your loved ones.  Have some for me!

Actually, the plans are (yes, I had to change this on Thanksgiving morning) that there’s the second-to-last from Publix at Five Points Chicken Roaster that will go into the oven later today.  Along with some stuffing, cranberry jelly, and some of the cans I had left in the house this week, we’re going to have a full table.  The only thing we forgot was some Celery.   Oh well!

Oh and the two pieces of cake I squirreled away will be quite nice.

So from me and mine to you and yours, enjoy your Thanksgiving. 

Now about an Egg Roll? No, the other kind! – Recipe

Yes, the other kind.

As in slice down the middle and have a sandwich with a sunshine yellow ball of soft carbohydrate goodness.

I guess I may as well play with my food while I am at it.  I’ve been having problems with finding just the right roll, and I realize that bread is pretty common, but excellent bread is rare.  There are a few very good shops here in South Florida, one on Commercial comes to mind called the German Bread Haus, but that means I’d have to get in the car and so forth. 

Like I said basic and good.

I had trouble finding a decent Egg Bagel at the same time.  Ok, it’s not the Bagel Place in Cherry Hill with their chewy goodness – and I understand it isn’t even what I remember it from 2006 and has been sold, but I have been having Lenders Frozen Egg Bagels until Publix stopped carrying them in the chain at least in this Region.  Whatever you define a region as.

I also wanted a “right sized” bagel – 150 calories plus or minus 10, not the more generous ones you find when you’re out.  Look at the bag on those – 320 calories.  No wonder why people are fat.

So bake them yourself.   I managed to size them correctly and hit right at 150 calories.  

The ingredients are at the bottom but I did manage to tweak the recipe to get them this way.

First, I wanted rolls, not bagels in this case.  No Egg Wash for Shiny Crust.  Personal preference.  If you want a shiny crust, brush them with egg whites.  Separate an egg and brush with pastry brush.  I didn’t really want that this time.  Maybe next time.  We’ll see how the mood is.

Second, I was going for a set size.  Sandwich sized, not a loaf.  I cut the dough into 9 equal parts.  Weigh the resultant dough, then get the calculator out and divide by 9.  Works best when you use Metric since for some weird coincidence these rolls were exactly 78 grams.   The dough ran at 702 grams.  Just easier to do the math that way since that works out to be 2.78 ounces per roll.

I didn’t think so.  Use a calculator it’s easier.

Third I wanted big poofy fluffy rolls.  I added extra Yeast.   USE 2 TABLESPOONS OF DRY YEAST.

Fourth I allowed 4 hours to rise.  Just felt better that way and I tossed them in the oven when they looked happy.  I could have stopped earlier and had denser rolls and they just didn’t seem to be getting bigger at that time.

The Recipe: 

Ingredients:

3/4 Cup Warm Water
1 Package Yeast – I used 2 Tablespoons and got what you see above.
2 Tablespoons plus 1 Teaspoon of Sugar
2 1/2 Cups of High Gluten Flour
1 Tablespoon light tasting Oil.   I used Safflower for heart healthy.
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Egg

Process – Pretty Simple really…

  1. Add ingredients as listed.  
  2. Mix until you get a nice dough.  
  3. Bake at 450 for 8 to 12 or until done like you like them.

I used the Bread Machine to mix the dough but you could just as easily use a mixer with a dough hook or if you’re really feeling like a workout, in a big bowl.   It made for a sticky dough.

Bake at 450 for 8 to 12 minutes.   The picture was the first batch baked at 450F at 11 minutes and my oven is notoriously inaccurate.  The next batch was at 9 minutes, the third was at 8 and I couldn’t tell the difference in the result.  

If your oven is accurate let me know, I’ll come over and use yours.

Tis the Season to Bake Cookies

It is December.  The Holiday Season.  It means that while everyone else is running round ragged at shopping malls, growling at people who took that last gift that they needed for just that special person…

We’re baking cookies.

Last week, we baked Pizelles, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip Pecan, and Gingerbread Cookies.   We still have more of all to make between now and the New Year and will be making Pecan Brittle and roasting a lot of extra coffee.

Why all of this?  I got started being the odd man out years back when I was getting ready for parties.  I’ve always had something of an aptitude for baking as those who have tasted my goods will attest.  It got to the point where in the summer I was hearing about last year’s cookies and “will you please just give me a box of cookies for xmas?”.  I turned myself into “the little old lady with the recipes” a while back and told everyone that they were getting “Care Packages” of baked goods for one holiday and that I encouraged those who were getting one to try to be creative in kind.  Not everyone can bake, but I did get some home made goods that I have to this day from friends and family. 

That was back in the 1980s, and I’m still doing it to this day.  A batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies is around 100 cookies, add pecans and it becomes around 144.  A tray of Pecan Brittle can be as much as 3 pounds of sugary goodness. 

Now when a home cooked meal means stopping in the first aisle by the door in Publix near the house at Five Points and getting a pre-roasted Chicken, some Red Velvet Cake, and a bottle of wine on the way home, a little something truly made by hand can be unexpected.  While Publix is an excellent supermarket, I find that the reality of the profit motive means that they skimp a little and use ingredients that aren’t quite as good as I would.  Ironically I do buy my ingredients from Publix as well as GFS, so I do know what they can do if they applied themselves.

Somehow I don’t think they are going to be churning butter to make a cake. 

I on the other hand can say “Been there, done that.” The home churned butter really does change the flavor of what ever you’re baking.  It is well worth the extra 10 minutes.

After all, if you’re going to bake for someone for the holidays you had better make sure that it’s going to be “Mindbendingly good”… even if I do say so myself!  😉

Now all I have to do is decide if I want to send along Decaf or Regular home roasted coffee…