Category Archives: Food

Pictures, we got pictures

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time right now to post them. But today – a day that was supposed to be all rain, all day, turned into another bum forecast for this area. The large mass of heavy storms burned themselves out before they got to us. We did get about 0.15 inches of rain today, which is just enough to be annoying: can’t mow, can’t work on pulling weeds (because getting all the soil off the roots is a pain), can’t work with the bees, and so on.

It was, though, an excellent day for having my niece and nephew over while my sister took care of a few things, and during a break in the rain we did have, we picked some muscadine grapes from the vine in the herb garden. I also found some caterpillars on the foliage. At first, in my addled, needs-much-more-sleep brain, I thought, hey, monarchs! Then I reminded myself they only use milkweed, which this was not, and their caterpillars have no hairs, as these did. We finally identified them with some help from Stacy (thanks!) as grapeleaf skelentonizer caterpillars – an entirely apt name, because that’s exactly what they do to the leaves on the grapevines. The adult moth they  morph into is ugly, too. I counted 15, mostly young ones. Tomorrow, I’ll go on caterpillar patrol and kill them all.

The first round of peppers I harvested the other day is in and drying. By tomorrow morning, they will be fully dried, and I’ll start round two. Given the shape the plants and fruits are in, there will only be two rounds this time. Tomorrow, my sister is coming over, and we will pull the pepper plants that have been chewed away/damaged to nothing, along with the squash and zuke plants the bugs got to. We did manage to get some yellow squash off early from those, and they were delicious. Inattention, however, allows the bugs to take over and destroy things. If only some bright person would come up with a commercially viable solution for leaf-footed bugs and stinkbugs, they’d make a fortune.

Very early this morning, I went to the doc for my annual checkup, even though I had just seen him two weeks ago. All my bloodwork is normal, except for a couple of items that are slightly out of normal range, but not so far out that they’re problematic. Xrays are good, scans are good, and on paper, if someone just looked at these results, they’d pronounce me in fine health indeed. And that, of course, is what I tell people: outside this cancer business (fuck you, cancer!), I’m healthy as a horse – healthier, actually, than most people. I did talk to him about my right shoulder, which I’ve either torn the rotator cuff or the labrum in, most likely. I’m fairly sure I did this months ago, and it’s progressively gotten worse, but I have ha so many things going on this year, it’s taken a seat behind all that. Now, though, it’s time, and it will probably take an mri to figure out what the problem is. Interesting note: my referral to an ortho doc happens to be to the brother of the doc who handled my radiation oncology work back in 2005 for the first cancer round. He also surgically repaired my primary doc’s rotator cuff injury, so he’s definitely the guy I want.

Tomorrow, we are planning to do some honey extraction – about 10 frames, I believe, that I pulled off the bees in the west yard. I really need to do a full round of inspections on the girls, and tomorrow I also need to feed them, as I’m behind a day on that.

And now, it’s back to tame the helldesk, get that cleared, and eventually tonight, get some sleep that is better than last night’s, which was atrocious even for my baseline of sleep habits.

Until next time, peeps. Be well.

Touching yourself

That should bring the pr0n spammers around.

More accurately, the title of this post should be “NOT Touching Yourself”. Or “Wear gloves when working with chiles”. As in, don’t touch your face (or any other area) when you’re working with chiles and not wearing gloves, no matter where they fall on the Scoville scale.

In other news, we had almost an inch of ranch at the ranch this afternoon, with some giant cells moving over us. Huge thunderous roars came from the sky as it opened up on us and provided a light show.

I used Movavi* to do a couple of repeat clips at the end to show it in slow motion and then again in super slow motion. Very lucky to catch it, and it is awesome.

*No, Movavi does not pay me, and that is not an affiliate link. I have access to Adobe’s Premiere Pro, and that is a fine product, to be sure. But I don’t really have the time to spend figuring out everything in it when I can just slam some clips into Movavi, do a rough edit, and be done. I also have to redo all our tutorials on the “real” business side, as those are woefully out of date with the design they contain, even though the various functions operate mostly as they used to. Just another item on the todo list, which never goes away.

Until next time, peeps. Be well.

 

Plans, we got ’em

This weekend: probably more on this server thing, but thankfully that is coming to a close, at least as far as our involvement goes.

Other plans: pepper picking time! The cayennes and paprikas are nice and red  – I noticed while getting some mowing time in. That means harvesting, washing, splitting, and drying. It also means a house full of the smell of drying peppers, which is usually not that bad, although there are times when the smell – of that or any other food – is nauseating to me.

I’ll also be making broccoli cheese soup, because I am getting kind of tired of shakes and formula. If things (like my back) hold up, I might even make some cheesy potato soup (with crispy ham!) as well.

And another trip to the NOC, to set up a machine for someone who is upgrading his existing server to a big dog machine, so that is one ray of sunshine in an otherwise shitty and even more sleep deprived than usual week.

On a completely other note, meteorology really is one of the few jobs that you can be consistently wrong and still have a job. Today’s forecast: no rain, at all. Literally, a 0% forecast. Then a nice cell rolled right over us and brought about .2 inches of rain. Not a lot, and better than none.

Also on the menu for this weekend: taking stock of my sad, sad tomatoes, seeing what can be recovered, going through my seeds and finding some short maturity varieties to start another flat, and, of course, weeding. The weeds are not as bad in the frames where we’ve gotten the plastic or the weedblock down, but the edges are a nightmare because of the bowing of the frame edges (to be fixed in the fall, because that’s a heavy duty job). It’s also time to feed the bees again: the other day, I added additional brood boxes to two of them, so they are making progress.

Right now: more database wrangling, and then a brief stop for a nap before getting back up and doing more.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

But seriously, folks

Day five of server cleanup. At least we’re now to the point where I’m porting over massive amounts of data, now that all the database have been repaired. I should get hazard pay.

Some days, you just want a do over. Today is that day. A horribly bad night of sleep and bathroom runs (haha, runs, get it?) and a late night still working on aforementioned server equals feeling in the morning like laying in bed all day. Alas, a followup with my primary care doc thanks to my brief stint in the hospital called, so off I went.

And as I drove, I promptly had: spasms in my left side that came and went and came and went (plus they came and went there waiting for him, seeing him, and driving back), a coughing fit that turned into a sneezing fit, which made me forever grateful that I always have kleenex in my car now, and the realization that my left hip is absolutely killing me at the back of my pelvic bone. That feels almost bruised, although I have not looked at my ass in the mirror today to see if it is actually so. That might be an item for later, and I can check what I think was that bite on my ass at the same time. One check, one butt view, since those are both on the left. How efficient.

(Day six)

Ah, the pleasures of manually rebuilding a compromised server for someone and having them ask if the accounts have been recreated with random passwords. This is one of the joys of my life, really.

Blood work results are back: my cholesterol is well within normal range – remarkable, since not too long ago the doc put me on statins, each variety of which made me feel like crap and which I stopped taking. I suppose eating formula through a tube for most of your meals has that effect. On the downside, eating formula through a tube, balanced though it may be, can also lead to slightly oddball numbers in other areas, because when you think about it, it’s a slightly malnourished state of being. Fortunately, in my case, the blood work shows nothing so far out of range that’s something to worry about, so I’m not going to. I’m just going to keep pumping shakes and formula down the hatch (whichever one it may be), try to get my weight back up, and then get this stupid tube removed as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, I’ve written nothing this week, thanks to the server issue above. I’m hoping today will be the end of that, though, so I can return to my plans, delayed by a mere week.

Until next time, peeps. Be well.

Peppers, peppers, everywhere

Nor any piece to eat*

Not for me, anyhow.

A rare double post day! And a break from the tech stuff that weighs on my brain.

This is why red bell peppers are a) grown in greenhouses, primarily, and b) are more expensive (they take longer to mature to red from green; anywhere from 20-30 days). Outside, in Florida, in summer, the peppers are prone to rot, wilt, and scald, and it’s damned hard to get a bell pepper from green to red here growing them outside.

The chiles, on the other hand, generally have no issues with the heat and humidity, and usually when I lose a few of those fruits, it’s because I didn’t pick them in a timely manner. So far, they all look quite good.

The cayennes: very dependable variety here, called Cheyenne. I dry these and then grind them to make my own bottles of cayenne pepper powder for various things – bbq rub and sauce, my honey-soy shrimp, a dash into my roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup, beef stew, etc. It’s very handy to have on hand.

The jalapenos this year are a “gigante” version. I chose the larger ones since one of my sisters likes to make jalapeno poppers, and larger equals easier to stuff with whatever needs to go in them.

Poblanos: these are also good stuffed (chile rellenos, anyone?) as is, but most of these I’ll wind up drying, at which point they will become anchos. One of the weirder transmorgrifications, I think.

Finally: tabascos. I still have a bunch in the freezer from last year to make my own tabasco-based sauce. The last batch I made two years ago is almost gone, as everyone uses it for everything. Between last year’s harvest and this year’s, it’s going to be a huge batch of sauce. When I make it, I have to open all the windows, turn the fans up to high, and wear a mask. It’s why I don’t process them into sauce until fall, but last fall, I was sick throughout and the sauce making just wasn’t happening. This year, it will happen – and primarily because my mother keeps reminding me she’s down to her last bottle. Yes, mom.

It’s been an excellent pepper season so far. The tomatoes, though. Heavy sigh. Far too much rain in June here, and they are a sad lot indeed.

*What, you never read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? For shame!

More later, peeps. Be well.

Hotties

No, not those kinds of hotties, you pervs – get your mind out of the gutter!

I’m referring to this sort:

This was just before 3 PM local time, with a temp of 93F and a heat index of 110F. You know that phrase “It isn’t the heat, it’s the humidity.”? This week has matched that phrase. This morning I popped out to the beeyard to check a few hives to see who needed a second brood box and to generally make sure there were a good number of bees and stores in those hives. At that time, about 9:30 AM, it was already 84F with a heat index of 92F. I was so soaked with sweat when I came in I had to change all my clothes. It was like wearing a swimsuit, and I had to peel all my clothes off my body, they were that soaked – including my socks.

But that’s ok. This is Florida, after all, and while some days are not all that pleasant, I expect this, and I chose to live here. Making it through the summers is my version of climbing Everest: how far can I push myself without keeling over?

I rolled out of bed at about 7:30 this morning, and this is what greeted me:

Foggy morning at the ranch, which turned into a burner of a day. It all burned off by the time I went out to the bees, and then Mother Nature did her thing by bringing the heat.

The gardens are still a work in progress, and there is still more work to be done. However, each year, I keep refining the processes out there, and I think next year will be even better because of the changes I have in mind. That refinement is what I’m trying to do in other areas of life as well, from outdoor work to the helpdesk where a new user accused us of selling his email address to spammers. He had registered a domain, and naturally, since WHOIS information is public, and the spammers watch new domain registrations, he started getting spammed. He also told us this was “very unprofessional”. I counted backwards from five, then pointed this fact out to him and offered to use our masking info for the domain, so that we would get the spam and the phone calls. He took up that offer. Problem solved, and for me, no being pissed off because of the rudeness some people shoot our way for no reason.

I’ve now posted to the blog here daily since the 24th. It’s a start, and helps me get into the groove of making writing a habit. It occurred to me that I wasn’t making writing one of my top priorities, being too busy with the business, doctor visits, and so on. I made the decision to make it a priority, just as the business, my gardens, and my bees are. I had started a web site as a hobby type of thing, tracking deaths in any given week, I realized that was a major timesink, since I had to pick from the lists, then go do research to build the short blurb I’d give to each. That one had to go, because it took away time I wanted to assign over to my writing instead.

There’s another major shift I made that freed up a ton of time. But that’s a story for tomorrow.

Be well, peeps, and I’ll blather more at you soon.

Critters

Big mowing day today at the ranch. We’ve had a ton of rain, so there are still areas where it’s flooded and can’t be mowed. There are also places where the water has been absorbed or evaporated enough that the ground is springy, but not under water, so it can be mowed.

The problem with those areas is that they stink: a fetid, dead smell enveloping you as you drive by, cutting grass that’s almost hip high because the area was previously flooded.

In addition, in all of these area, the mosquitoes are heinous, even with the addition of mosquito dunks and granules thrown in to try to keep the larvae to a minimum. The mosquitoes are also gigantic, much like any other pain in the ass annoyance/invasive species down here: giant slugs, giant snakes, giant roaches, etc. I smacked three of them and left a bloody trail where they had landed and immediately tried to bleed me dry. But some of their buddies made it beyond my slapping and got me here and there.

In other news, one of the turtles made an appearance after I’d mowed the front of the property. This is one of the smaller ones. I think there are three living here, one of which is massive and probably quite old.

The kids had a good time crouching down with it, looking it over, and taking pictures. I’m sure the turtle was thinking what a horrible commute it was having.

There was also a small harvest going on: peppers, green beans, and sungold tomatoes. It was raining, so it was a bit of a short harvest, but the bell peppers are doing fantastic, the tabascos are beginning to fruit, the paprikas, anchos, and cayennes are producing crazy amounts, and the giant jalapenos (for stuffing) are just beautiful. There isn’t a ton of bug/critter activity on the peppers, and that’s good since I’ve basically neglected them. I’d love to have some of the green bells to age to red, but down here, leaving them past the green stage is usually an invitation to have the pepper get scalded or go soft. There’s a reason red peppers are generally grown in greenhouses and cost more than greens: they take longer and they need more specialized care.

Of course, once you harvest, you have to wash. There wasn’t much in the way of dirt or anything else on these, but someone loves to wash the veg, so of course…

She did an excellent job, too, even if she was eating every other sungold. Both the soul eating baby (kid, now, I guess) and the monkeyboy ate bell peppers like apples. There’s nothing quite like fresh, right out of the garden veg to get kids to eat their vegetables.

Reinsertion

We’ve had the circus in town at the ranch: a few weeks of my sister, her toddler, and her three month old, in from Germany, staying here. That, naturally, brings in my other sister, her son, and HER toddler to the ranch on an almost daily basis, as everyone visits.  It’s a little insane.

Tuesday now, and the trio is off for the many-houred flights to get back across the ocean, the other trio is settling back into their usual routine, and the ranch is quiet again (except for the snoring of the big guy under my chair).

That should mean a return to my routine as well, but my routine has been, as we all know, shot to hell this year.

Saturday now – four days after I started typing this up, thanks to this or that, but mainly other, like heading to the hospital yesterday to actually walk into the medical records office because no one can find the fax we sent over a week ago for the records from this year to be sent to Mayo. It’s amazing in this day and age – and more amazing, considering the primary field I’m in – that records are still faxed hither and yon. Until there’s a unified, encrypted way to get records electronically from point a to point b, I guess we’re stuck with it.

Otherwise, this is how my spring/early summer life is going.

In previous years, I’d have been up to my elbows in cukes by Memorial Day, but that whole February incident really put me behind. The cukes, however, decided they didn’t give a rat’s ass when they were sown, just that they were.

The first to come in loaded are the gherkins. We don’t really do sweet pickles here – like, eat them out of the jar sort of deal – but we do go through a ton of sweet relish. So that’s what I do: a three day, lots of steps process to go from cuke to relish. That up there is the batch about to start the process (black pot). The silver pot next to it on the stove is sugar syrup I had made for the bees, and the far left is the canner.

The cukes destined for relish get two pickling salt brines, like this, the first one.

After the second saltwater brine:

A bit duller green, yes. How would you feel about 24 hours in saltwater? After this, they all get some poking to allow the first of the vinegar/sugar/spice mix to start infiltrating their tender, defenseless bodies, and into the hot pot they go. The spice bundle there is celery seed, pickling spice, whole allspice seeds, cinnamon sticks) and the color in the vinegar/sugar mix is turmeric.

For large batches like this, I use the bottom from one of the canners to lay over the cukes, because it’s the perfect size. A ziplock of water goes on that as the weight to keep the cukes submerged – you don’t want any air getting to them in this, they’ll get moldy and gross and be unsuitable for eating.

After a few more iterations of the vinegar/sugar soak, the cukes have lost a significant amount of volume, and the weight sits more deeply in the pot each time. This is the last one before they’re ready for the canning.

Then, the next tedious steps: chopping (by hand), filling jars, and topping off with the heated vinegar/sugar/spice mixture.

Final step after packing: processing in the canner – just a boiling water bath, as these are acidic enough to not require pressure canning.

And there you have it: relish. I’d guess this is why most people don’t make their own: it’s tedious, hard, hot work. It’s worth it to me, though, as everyone who can eat the stuff – not me, of course – likes it a lot.

 

The ranch workout is good for what ails you

Or, it may just be what ails you in the end afterward – sometimes, literally in the end, as your glutes are awakened by all the squatting, kneeling, and standing you do, over and over and over again.

Late yesterday, with some help from my sister, we got some weedblock down on one of the 50′ rows out back. We also confirmed something I already knew: I need a better solution for the side of the frames, which are bowing out from the pressure of the contained soil, even with bracing in place about every four feet. The issue with the bracing, I think, is that those are made of wood. My idea is to get some bracing on the outsides of the frames only, with rebar sunk at an angle toward the sides of the frames, and some conduit bent and fitted over that rebar. You can see the first test positioning of there here.

 

The reason we use raised beds in the first place is that digging down about a foot to a foot and a half runs into hardpan – that’s why nothing would grow when we first moved out here, or it would grow maybe twelve or eighteen inches before simply stopping: there was no way for the usual plants to punch through that, as they are not sturdy enough (and, there wasn’t a decent mix of nutrients in it, even if they could have, anyway). I’ve done a ton of rehabilitation on the property, and this is just another obstacle that will take patience and time. I’ll be testing a combination of daikon radish and alfalfa seed. Both of those can break through hard/compacted soil, and neither needs a ton of nutrients to do what they do. Besides breaking up the soil, they’re also ready-made compost, as I will simply be cutting them off at ground level and letting the roots die off underground – both the roots of the alfalfa and the radish (a root itself) will add nutrients to the soil so other things can go in those areas eventually.

Back to the ranch workout, though. We pushed out some of the indeterminate tomatoes yesterday. The indeterminates are the ones that need trellising, so those go between the fence posts that line the frames in the back. The determinate tomatoes don’t need trellising, but most need staking, as they can get pretty heavy from the fruit that’s hanging off them. The determinates are mostly the early variety tomatoes (Oregon Spring, Early Girl, etc.), and the sauce/paste/salsa tomatoes (Paisano, Mariana, Fresh Salsa). The determinates will set fruit all about the same time, which is why they’re great for making giant batches spaghetti, ketchup, pizza sauces, salsa, tomato soup, or just squeezing for fresh tomato juice, among other thing. They can also just be thrown into the freezer after washing (and drying thoroughly), for use in anything that doesn’t need to have a sliced tomato in it to eat fresh – pretty much any of those same applications.

Saturday ramble

After working in the gardens again today (more on that in another post), and now chilling out with a dinner of Tex-Mex rice and beans and a shake with weight gain powder to try to lift me back up above the 92-pound mark (a whopping 325 calories in just half a scoop, plus the calories in the tablespoon and a half of peanut butter I add to it), I was catching up on some cooking-related shows. I never really paid attention to some of these things before, but as time goes by, there are some things that are simply annoying.

Let’s go first with a segment on a show I’m watching now, about Cincinnati chili.  For those unaware, Cincinnati chili is spaghetti noodles topped with chili and cheese, usually cheddar. An owner of a place serving it in (of course) Cincinnati opines that nobody seems to know why it works, but it does. Well, I can tell him why: it’s basically spaghetti with meat sauce, duh. It’s just a little spicier than your average spaghetti, and the parm is swapped out for cheddar. This is not rocket science.

Another thing that makes me roll my eyes is the insistence that there is some kind of secret in a recipe. This can come with or without the old saw “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you.” nonsense. What’s the problem with telling people the ingredients in something? The thing that matters is not the ingredients themselves, it’s the amounts of each one that makes the difference. For instance, here is the list of ingredients in my barbecue sauce: salt, pepper, garlic powder, brown sugar, honey, white sugar, paprika, ground chipotle pepper, allspice, nutmeg, onion powder, apple cider vinegar, poultry seasoning, oregano, ground yellow mustard seed, ginger, liquid smoke, rum, cayenne, ketchup, ground cloves, ground lemon peel, worcestershire sauce, molasses, and ground orange peel.

Now, in theory, someone could experiment and get to the point where they could duplicate my bbq sauce, but it’s unlikely, just as it’s unlikely people could duplicate exactly whatever it is these people on these shows make, unless there are only three or so ingredients. Add to that the fact that most people are not going to take the time to do any of the experimenting to figure it out, and the recipes are perfectly safe. The only thing I think of when someone says this is that the person saying it has a need to make themselves feel important and possibly make themselves feel indispensable if only they know it, which makes no sense to me. After all, if they get hit by a bus or a meteor or fall into a sinkhole that goes to the center of the earth, how is the remaining staff supposed to carry on without knowing the super secret recipe that was only in that person’s head?

Another annoying thing is when the host of any of these shows shoves one bite of a dish into their face and does an instantaneous swoon over it as if it’s the best thing they ever ate. Bonus annoying points for anyone who drops their fork or spoon on the plate/bowl/whatever, as if they’ve lost their motor control because of the awesomeness of that one bite. It takes more than a nanosecond to derive the full taste of that bite, and not everything is the best thing they’ve ever eaten, nor worthy of a utensil drop. Ditto for diners who are eating something and do these things. They get additional points for hamming it up on tv.

Speaking of people having foodgasms over things: why do some of these people act like something they’re eating is something no one thought of before and it’s the best thing they’ve ever had (until they eat the next thing, which becomes the best thing they’ve ever had)? A woman on one of these shows was enthusing about bacon with mussels. “Who thinks of that?” she asks. Anyone who has ever had seafood, I’d think. Seafood often has a sweet taste,  and combining sweet and savory/salty is not new. Has she never heard of bacon-wrapped scallops or shrimp? Seafood chowder with bacon? Clams casino? Come on!

Finally, can we please get rid of the “the secret ingredient is love” or “it’s made with love” or any of the other “love” stuff. We get it, you don’t want to share your so-called “secret ingredient” (see above), or you think saying it’s “made with love” makes you special in some way. Anyone who really does enjoy cooking, and moreover enjoys cooking for other people, is doing the same thing you are.

Deep breath. On we go. I have brioche dough rising, and after it’s doubled, I’ll stick it in the fridge for shaping, proofing, and baking tomorrow. Later today: bananas foster banana bread. Yes, it’s all made with love.