Good luck for the coming year

It is a tradition here in the South to eat black eyed peas and greens on News Year’s Day, as a way of ensuring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. We hedge our bets and eat black eyed peas, rice (with some onion – also known as Hoppin’ John) and cornbread on the side on New Year’s Eve, with leftovers on the day itself, usually while watching one or more bowl games.

Cornbread – good cornbread – can’t be beat as a side. The best cornbread is made in a well seasoned cast iron skillet. Swirl some oil in the bottom of the skillet and toss it into the preheated oven for about five minutes or so. Remove it, pour off any excess oil, and in goes your batter. The trick is not to have too much oil in the skillet, or have the skillet be much too hot. This will lead to either a skin of oil on what will be the top of the cornbread (and a mushy top) or to burned cornbread. Neither of those is appetizing. Twenty minutes or so later, we have this.


When it comes out, we like to slather it with butter, top and bottom, before cutting into it.

Cornbread sliced

And yet more butter on the slice you’ve taken.

Mmm, butter

And then: the rest.

Good luck for the new year

My mom takes this a step further: she mixes up everything, chunks the cornbread into pieces on top of it, then eats it in one glorious mess o’ good luck.

Football paradise

For football fans, this time of year is the best: both college and pros come to the end of the season, which means multiple games throughout the week, and the very end of the year brings the bowl games, with multiple games on the same day, starting early and ending late.

One of the other things all this activity brings is even more strange and bad things from the mouths of the announcers.

Tonight I heard Sterling Sharpe say “I don’t got none o’ that.” while referring to an Oklahoma State fan decked out in his Cowboy duds, complete with large belt buckle. This is as bad as anything Emmit Smith managed to stumble through in what I hope will be his one and only season on ESPN.

During the Minnesota game yesterday, I caught this gem: “How many defensive touchdowns has Minnesota scored on defense this year?” Well, that would be all of those defensive touchdowns, just by definition, since the offense can’t very well score a defensive touchdown. I’m sure he meant “How many defensive touchdowns has Minnesota scored this year?” (six interceptions returned for tds for 2007, in case you’re curious), but that struck me as quite funny while I was checking through all the games.
I know it must be hard, speaking extemporaneously during a live broadcast, but at least in the first case, I would hope they would be able to speak in a grammatically correct way.

Three days of freeze

To be more accurate, that should be three nights of freeze, but it comes down to the same thing: we will be dipping down into hard freeze temperatures for more than a few hours come the first few nights of the new year.

It's gonna be cold out there, baby!

Altogether, that isn’t terrible, and certainly nothing compared to the tales that could be told by people in other parts of the country or world. But I don’t live there, I live here, and after almost a week of temps in the 70s (over 80 one day), the crazy nature of Florida weather once again rears its head for a reminder that there are actual seasons, even if we don’t see them all that much.

It’s that crazy nature that has the milder temp things popping up all over the place in my frames. Last year’s garlic was wiped out by the nonstop rains of a tropical storm, but this year’s garlic is motoring along with nothing more than an initial watering after planting and the occasional rain we’ve had – including the strong line of storms that moved through late last night as a precursor to the coming cold snap.

Garlic shoots

The strawberries are a bit off their schedule, too, with multiple plants flowering and putting out berries. They are everbearing plants, but this isn’t exactly the sort of thing we’d expected from them. And yesterday, we pulled the first pod from the snow pea trellis.

Snow pea pods

Mom judged the first one quite sweet, but alas, it didn’t taste like much of anything to me other than green. The smell, though, was fabulous: there is nothing quite like the fresh, earthy smell of something you’ve just pulled from the vine.

Tomorrow will be a test for me, to determine how best to cover the entire fenced area for the overnight hours. Some of the plants would survive a nuclear attack – thyme, I’m talking to you – but overall, I’d like to give all of the plants every opportunity to make it through the cold stretch and back into the more normal mild weather we usually enjoy down here.

Going green

In more ways than one. Followers of this homesteading saga probably recall that our soil, such as it is, mostly contains clay and on this lot in particular, sand. The sand is predominantly the result of this house being built after others were built; it was used as a dump site for fill dirt, excavated sand, and it’s rather remarkable the trash that continues to wash up as we receive rain here and there.

The problem with this of course is that beyond the scrub, the hardier weeds, and saw palmettos, which seem to thrive no matter what, it’s difficult to coax anything else from the ground. The guajillos loved it, the thyme I’d probably only be able to kill by setting it afire given its hardy nature, and the cowpeas (black eyed peas to those of you not from around here) were fine as well. The tomatoes couldn’t do much of anything, the bell peppers tried valiantly but only mustered two, and most of the seedlings just couldn’t hack it.

Getting grass to grow also proved to be a huge challenge: with nothing nutritious in the sand and the hardpack of the clay/sand combination making it virtually impossible for grass seed to take hold, it almost seemed that it would take many, many loads of topsoil for us to do anything with the barren front of the property. I’d rather spend the money for the topsoil to be put in the areas where we’ll be growing more productive things, really: four of the five loads we had trucked in went to the back, not only to give us something more to work with, but also, like the one load that went up front, to level out some of the hollow areas in order to give us better drainage.

That left us – or, rather, me – with the problem of the front of the property and getting grass in. It isn’t primarily to have a nice lawn. After all, if I thought no one would object too terribly much, I’d just as soon plant vegetables and fruit trees all around the front of the property. No, the primary reason to get something down out front is erosion. The wind here blows mainly from the plain…I mean, from the east to the west, and there is rarely a day with no wind. This results in the sandy part of the soil mix flying off, leaving only the hardpack. This further results in flooding, as the hardpack of course does not drain particularly well, as the older photos from our rain and tropical storms show. What is an aspiring farmer to do?

Lots of backbreaking breakup of the hardpack. Lots of organic additive to get something nutritious into the soil. Lots of grass mixes (fescues, perrenial ryes, bahia). And lots of hay, spread by hand after getting the seed down. This what it looks like on November 16. Some small patches of grass are there from the first attempt to just see what would grow with with seed put down and no other real work done beyond the addition of a bit of topsoil (not much).

Grass beginning

With a lot of other work, on December 2, it looked like this.

Grass, finally

And this is today.

More grass.

The edges of the area are places where no work has been done on getting grass down, as other work needs to be done first. The far area in the above image has a giant mass of blackberry bushes that need to be dug up and burned so they don’t reroot and come back. The pile near the left of the picture behind the tree is the debris, including saw palmettos, that Wade the tractor guy cleared out from these trees so we didn’t have to spend the time digging them out by hand. There is something to be said for doing that sort of work by hand, but there are also limits to the amount of time available when there is also a huge list of other property-related work that also needs to be done (and that is also much more fun, even if it is still hard work).

Sidling into the new year

Once again, here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Once again, it will be time for people to make a list of resolutions the cynic in me says they will never keep. Ironically, although I have never really been prone to making such lists, I had started one the other day, and one of the items on that list was to be less cynical about people and their motives. Another is to be calmer in the face of abject stupidity – I suspect that these two actually go hand in hand. Years ago – and this is many years, since it was two exes ago – I had a fairly profound interest in Zen Buddhism. Not to the extent that I am a particularly spiritual person. I am not. I am also not a religious person, much to the dismay of my sister, who is, and who finally settled on Catholicism as her religion of choice. Most of my interest in this is for the human factor, and to me it’s a lot like any other stress-reducing pursuit. As I was reviewing the past couple of years and all the assorted activities that have occurred, I told myself it would be worth my while to take up that interest again, and so I have. I expect this will help immensely in dealing with the people we have to deal with every day, and also help with the anxiety that every day brings as a result of that one singular day when the biopsy came back positive and the snowball that developed from there.

I also told myself that getting back out in the yard and working around the property will help, both physically and mentally. Getting the greenhouse built – what, you didn’t know that was planned? – will enable some experimentation with growing things out of season, inasmuch as anything really is out of season down here. This is Florida, after all. Plus, I’ve decided to take up another hobby: soap and candle making. Not very complicated (or, rather, only as complicated as you make it), relaxing, and in the end, a useful product, all of which satisfies both the left and right brain requirements. Who knows, that might be another side to the business here as well, but we’ll need a snappy name for it. My lack of sleep combined with one side of that (the soapmaking) may bring about echoes of something else entirely, but I think leaving out the underground fighting and general mayhem won’t be a real issue to overcome.

With all of that, plus two additional brands to finally launch, 2008 should be very active indeed. Here’s hoping it will also be happy, prosperous, safe, and healthy for everyone.

Hi, stranger

“Where are yooooouuuuuu?” asks one of my loyal, even if slightly deranged, handful of readers.


I’ve been busy with work-related stuff, trying to get some things done for the end of the year. I’ve also been dealing with a couple of the absolutely, without a doubt, unquestionably dumbest, rudest people I have ever had the misfortune of encountering. Let’s face it, if you call me by something other than my own name, when my name is in the dozens of ticket responses you’ve received, including the very one you’re quoting, then you are indeed a rude jackass. If you also can’t read plain English and suggest that we’re lying about something, you’re just ratcheting down our already low opinion of you. By the way: if your domain expires, and you don’t notice the fact that it doesn’t go anywhere for three entire months, don’t whine to us about how important it was to you, and that you were “busy” getting married and working. I’ve been dealing with cancer-related crap for over two years now, and I’m guessing that my employees, the state, and the feds wouldn’t accept that as an excuse if I neglected to pay them or file paperwork because I was “busy”.

In any case, I finally unloaded the camera the other day, and was shocked to discover about 500 pictures on the thing. That’s a lot of review and selective editing to be done. First, though, the goal is to complete the rollout of our gift to our clients before Santa shoves his butt down the chimney (what? no chimney?) so I can move on to other things. And since it’s just me on the job today – everyone else is at the football game or off having other fun – and since it’s quiet, I’m hoping to use today to bang out quite a number of things on my todo list, if only to see if there’s any hope of shrinking that before the new year rolls around.

Hope everyone is well and enjoying their holiday. Be safe, be well, be happy.

Planning for the harvest

“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

We don’t have any chickens around here (yet), and wouldn’t be hatching any babies anyway, since we’re only interested in fresh eggs, so I suppose it would be better as “Don’t count your vegetables before they’re grown” for me.

Despite the rather horrible output of the garden in the sand that is the lot – the most prolific things were the guajillo pepper, putting out a bucket of peppers, the thyme and catnip, that survived floods then baking heat, and wonder of wonder, the onions, which thrived and even crowded one another – hope springs eternal. With that and some frames to create some raised beds where you can mix a good soil instead of trying to do anything with a sandlot, you can actually grow some things.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to get outside to get some soil mixed for a frame to hold my garlic. Tomorrow – or today, as the case may be – will be the day, assuming that I manage to get any sleep at all this morning.

Heading into winter is also the time to be looking at seed catalogs, for spring planting. The way winter is going around here, it will be a little springlike for quite some time, but even if it isn’t, I have a plan. You’ll have to wait a day or so for details on that. In the interim, I’d like to blame, I mean thank, Steven for causing me to go to Seeds from Italy. Thanks to him, I now have all sorts of seeds ordered, some of which I plan to foist off on Stacy, as I can’t use five grams of carrot seed in this lifetime. I think. Unless I get a wild hair and decide to try and sell some of it. Those items will be in addition to all the things I’d like to get growing next season after this season’s stuff is harvested.

The big day

There are few things in life for which I will get out of bed at 5:30 in the morning after going to bed around 3 or so. Since I’d not done a lot of the things I had wanted to do earlier in the week, there was quite a lot of prep and cooking to be done on the big day. I hauled myself out of bed and got my thoughts together.

One of the benefits of getting up before the sun is watching the sun come up over the barn and trees. On this particular morning, the colors were even more striking, as we were expecting rain and this lent an extra vivid start to the day.

Thanksgiving sunrise

The colors faded rapidly as the clouds moved in, and that was my hint to get started on what would be the real show of the day: the food.

Our family gatherings for Thanksgiving tend to be huge. Between family, friends, and assorted guests, in the past we’ve had up to 80 people at any one meal. This year, we were expecting to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 people. Between moves, sudden other engagements, scheduling conflicts, and miscellaneous issues like flat tires, we wound up with a much smaller, much more intimate gathering: 12 people, four animals.

This, when you think about it, can be a good thing, really. At times when there are dozens and dozens of people wandering around, sometimes it’s difficult to really touch base with some people you might not see very often. Now that we’re living further out in the country, it makes it doubly so.

The amount of food I’d planned did not change. That is, after all, one of the joys of a holiday like Thanksgiving: leftovers. Fewer people equals bigger doggie bags.

As I was spending most of my time cooking, one of my sisters wound up with the camera for much of the evening, so many of the photos here were ones she took throughout the festivities.

Mom had the right idea to start the day: coffee first, before anything.

There must be coffee

Through the window, we could see the rain beginning to fall. Since we weren’t really planning anything outside, this was not weighing too heavily on our minds.

Fat Man was up first. Like Little Boy, he had spent a luxurious evening soaking in the brine. After a shower…

Cleanliness is important!

he was ready to meet his match: aromatics.

Something to stuff you with, my dear

I like to keep it simple, and I don’t like to stuff my bird with stuffing (dressing, to those of us down here). Aromatics only, please, along with a good dose of this

Herby, buttery goodness

under the skin. Finish with a nice rub of various spices, and the big guy is ready to go.

Ready for your closeup?

Except that we discovered a 20 pound bird will not fit into our standard roasting pans. A little improv, maestro, if you please: a giant steam tray, with racks in the bottom, made for a nice bed for the bird. And then, another problem: no twine. No problem.

Non-cheesy cloth

Some judicious use of cheesecloth to tie the legs, a little tuck of the wings underneath, and we were okay to go.

Low and slow

Low and slow: the bird went in for his marathon cooking at 8 AM.

After some hours, his tan was shaping up nicely.


Not to mention creating some great drippings for gravy later.


Little Boy went on the smoker about half an hour after the big guy went into the oven for roasting. But the day is not just all about turkey, of course. There were also rolls to be made.

Golden orbs

Fresh, day-of-event, pull-apart rolls.


Seriously, though, it’s the people. What would happen to all the food if they weren’t around?

Susi and Samir took a stroll about the grounds.

Susi and Samir

Gabrielle stayed inside and kept us company.


While Ricky and Mom also took a stroll outside and then came back in…

Mom and Ricky

Gabs showed us how she was enjoying the mushroom turnovers.

You gonna eat that?

Then she showed us all how to be quietly beautiful.

Gabs again

Ricky was very serious, or just looked like he was about to go into a coma, probably because he and Gabs had been at his mom’s earlier for an early dinner.

Serious Ricky

Barb arrived, alone, a few hours after her own early dinner with her group.

Barb and Samir

Frank arrived, either a bit out of focus, or the recipient of my sister dashing around snapping pictures right in everyone’s face. Probably the latter.


Angie looked fabulous, as usual.


All, right, I hear you: enough with the people. Where’s the food?

Tarragon pickled mushrooms and onions, crabcakes, mushroom turnovers.

Let’s eat

These didn’t last long.


Or these.


Or those.


Or even those.


We also had assorted other stuff: sweet potato casserole, shrimp, stuffing (with and without sausage), mashed potatoes,apricot glazed carrots…

Weighed down

broccoli gratin , cranberry compote, brussels sprouts, those aforementioned rolls, crabcakes, and pickles. Everything was labeled.


Because you have to know what you’re eating. The ham is hiding over there on the right. The butternut squash soup is in the crock on the left.


There was also focaccia, which disappeared before a good picture could be taken, a hawaiian dessert that mom made that likewise disappeared, cinnamon raisin bread…

Cinnamon raisin bread

assorted cookies, fudge, pie.


After stuffing ourselves and watching more football, things finally broke up and everyone went home, no doubt to sleep and then get up in the middle of the night to tear off a piece of turkey as a midnight snack.

Overall, a highly successful evening. From this dinner, and for the next four days, I ate turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry compote, and gravy. Over and over, for each meal. Not a bad way to get some food into yourself.

Heading into the stretch

I decided, rather on the spur of the moment, to convert the blog to WordPress. The thought has been brewing in my head for a bit now, even before the conversion to Movable Type 4. After dealing with the back end of MT in the latest version and trying to find certain options that should be readily apparent (but aren’t), and after converting someone else’s blog this evening from MT to WP, I decided to go ahead and – as the ads say – just do it.

This is not to say that everything is exactly the way I want it. There is still some tweaking to be done. But it certainly is easier to manage this, and there is no rebuilding after doing one little thing, only to find that you’ve screwed up and need to redo something, then having to rebuild yet again. There are a few things I like about MT, but the aggravation factor with WP is less, os it wins. I get enough aggravation from dealing with work.

I promise you this: Monday will bring about a post on Thanksgiving. With pictures.