Friday, February 27, 2015

Mema's Magic Refrigerator

Fridge and microwave next to the bed in our 73" sleeper.
Mema's magic refrigerator.

My mother's mother lived in northern Mississippi. They had 86 acres of farm land, so there was always an abundance of food, especially veggies. She had a deep freezer, a  second small refrigerator, and a magic refrigerator with an unending hole in the back.

No matter how many left overs we had, or fresh fruit, or gallons of tea getting cold, or any number of things needing to go in the fridge there was always room. More to the point, she alone knew the magic combination to open that vast hole mysteriously cloaked in the back of that old fridge. Nothing ever had to be thrown away that was still edible. And no matter how many groceries she came home with from the commissary, she always found room for it all.

This magical legacy has been passed down to me. Even with the tiny dorm fridge we have in the truck with a freezer smaller than a mailbox, that magically hidden hole opens for me allowing me to find a place for everything that needs chilling. Gallon of creamer? Sure. Milk, 2 types of deli cheese, butter, cream cheese, deli meats, tortillas, condiments, sodas, fruits, and veggies? No problem. A whole pot roast, beef tips, ground beef, ground pork, chicken breasts, frozen spinach and peas?  Sure thing!  Left overs? Pudding? Candy? Chicken salad? Juice? Yogurt? Ricotta? Mozzarella? Eggs? Bacon? Apple sauce? More? I can make it fit with room to spare!

This gift is a god-send while we are over the road.  A big truck, even with a 73" sleeper, has limited space. Every inch is valuable and utilized. Eating out all the time is expensive and unhealthy. I love my little fridge and other appliances that allow me to cook more meals than not while we are on the road. He drives all day, in all weather conditions. This way I can always have fresh food to fix him a nourishing hot meal at the end of the day.

Thank you Mema, for passing down this witchery, this magical heritage, the unending refrigerator hole!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mountain Snow, Deer, and Anxiety

Last week while night driving through the western part of Idaho there was a range of mountains ahead of us that was covered in snow.  It was later in the afternoon, closer to early evening.  The sun hadn't quite set yet, so the sky had that bluish haze of dusk that makes things seem magical and surreal.  While my picture doesn't do justice to the actual site I saw ahead of me, hopefully you can get a little bit of an idea.  We have all heard about mountains being blanketed in snow.  Indeed these appeared that way, blanketed in a shimmery layer of whitish/bluish satin.

Of course cooler weather and snow at these elevations brings creatures of all sorts down from the mountain tops.  This created an up-close encounter that was slightly less exhilarating than the Bald Eagles from the other day.  Rounding a curve there straddling the center line was a mule deer.

A giant female mule deer.

The top of her head must have come at least as high as the hood of our big truck.  There was no where to go, and she was in no hurry to go anywhere.  Thank goodness he was driving because my brain froze.  The only thing I could do was put my feet on the dash (don't laugh) and say “Baby! Baby! Baby! Baby!” over and over again like a record with a scratch stuck in repeat.  With his many years experience of driving his reaction was much calmer and productive.  Thankfully, he was able to slow enough to give the mammoth doe time to make up her mind that yes, she did want to get out of the road.  I watched as she casually trotted off to the snowy grass on the other side and he went around her.

Heart pounding, stomach churning, I spent the rest of the night curled up in the sleeper.  I will never forget that deer, her eyes, her size, and the fear of hitting her or sliding off the side of the mountain.  Thankfully, I will also never forget the beauty seen just a little while before of the satiny mountaintops.  And I am so very thankful for his calm handling of our fully-loaded, nearly 80,000lb truck in that sticky situation.

If anyone ever thinks driving a big truck is a skill-less trade that anyone can do better think again!  It takes a calm mind, quick thinking, rational though, quick and steady reflexes. And lots of road, equipment, land, and animal knowledge to successfully survive out here across America's highways.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Size Matters

A beautiful morning in Arkansas, just because.
Bigger doesn't always mean better.  Especially in the case of cities.  Certainly big cities have their benefits.  Most things you could possibly need or want are close by.  Bigger cities usually are a host to a variety of entertainment, cultural, and shopping centers, not to mention easy access to an abundance of educational opportunities.  But they are also crowded, congested, often dirty, and higher crime.  But the biggest thing that stands out to me while traveling across the country is the lack of architectural diversity in larger cities.  Yes, they have huge sky scrapers, interesting medical buildings, art museums where the building itself is a work of art.  But essentially they all look the same.

You have your grid lock of street lights with cars racing between the reds.  You have your big box stores, your typical strip mall shopping centers, your chain restaurants.  You have your residential sections split up according to income and social status.  And driving through these larger cities very little stands out that is worth seeing aside from a famous night skyline or two.  Otherwise, the only thing you are usually watching are the taillights in front of you as you try to avoid an accident from the bumper to bumper, always in a rush, traffic.

It is the smaller towns that catch my eye.  The rural life with its rustic beauty and diversity.  The ones that have historic town hall buildings that are still functional.  The mom and pop stores and family owned grocery.  They are filled with history both in landmarks, stories, and architecture.  These little towns catch the eye as you travel slowly through them with all their neat little buildings and layouts.  They aren't as segregated as the larger cities.  You can often see residential mixed in with businesses, right next to “industrial”.  These little towns are made for walking, exploring, and enjoying.  They boast a slower pace in life.

When we are younger most of us want to escape to the big city to experience all the excitement.  But as I get older I realize the the beauty of a slower paced life and enjoy the quaint beauty of the tiny towns.


Friday, February 6, 2015

The All-Terrain Dog goes Mudding

Look at that face!  You can't tell me she's not smiling.
My 12-year-old grumpy old lady of a puppy was having the time of her life at the beach!

Now let me give you a little background.  This is the dog that grew up in Florida.  She hates getting a bath.  She hates going to the beach.  She won't go near the water.  And she has never been much of a playful dog nor done much running around.

Since being in the big truck she has suddenly become my “all-terrain dog”.  She absolutely loves riding in the truck.  The cooler weather and the higher altitudes seems to bring out a playfulness in her that was never there before.

On this particular day in late January we were at Ocean City State Park in Washington State, which is on the Pacific Coast.  For my puppy and me, it was our first time ever seeing the the Pacific Ocean.  Her reaction was priceless!  She spent a good hour literally running (on her leash of course) all over the beach, in and out of the water, splashing in the puddles, even swimming in the chilly little rivulets of water left behind by the receding tide.  She pranced and pounced and thoroughly covered her legs in cold beach mud with what can only be described as a smile on her pretty puppy face.

Catching her breath before taking off running again. 
Splash! Splash! Splash!
Look at the mud on those feet!


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Great Pacific Ocean

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“Are those the waves?!”  I exclaimed as we came around a bend in the trail and the shrubbery opened up to the expanse of damp beach sand.  He could only laugh at me, which is his usual reaction to my apparently amusing expressions upon discovering something new.

This was my first view of the Pacific Ocean.

Growing up in Florida, with parents born and raised in Key West, the ocean is no strange sight to me.  Where most kids grew up having their yearly growth measured against a mark on a wall, my parents recorded my growth via video as I played on the beach and my ever increasing adventure as I interacted with the waves.  But just as the Florida Atlantic coast is different from the Gulf coast, the Pacific coast is also vastly different from anything I had ever seen before.

The water was darker color and the waves, even on a calm day furiously crashed in rows and rows back into the cold Pacific waters.  You don't see waves like that in Florida unless a hurricane is blowing.  The shore was 100 yards easily, if not more, of wet sand with tiny little streams of water left from the receding tide.  That means the tidal change on the Pacific coast is MASSIVE compared to the East coast.  Talk about rip tides and undercurrents!  I can only imagine that swimming in these waters during a tidal change could be a challenge even for an experienced swimmer.

Another thing I noticed is that the air was not as salty.  When you get close to the beach in Florida the air is filled not only with the smell of sea salt, but you can quite literally feel it on your skin.  A day at the beach, even if you aren't in the water, will leave your skin and hair with a coating of salt.  I guess because the Pacific is so much larger in water volume, the salinity is significantly less than that of the Atlantic or Gulf.

That morning I woke with the tightness in my chest that signals the onset of a massive anxiety attack or mood swing filled with mania and rage.  What a day to set out on an adventure, right?  As always, he was calm and patient with me, forever understanding.  We walked around on the beach letting the dog run and play (on her leash) while I picked up shells and just marveled at the view.  After the hike through the trails of the state park and an hour out at the beach, my whole being felt calm and happy.  I have always said the beach is my safe place, my place of grounding and peace.  And this particular day was a perfect example how going to the beach can significantly turn around an anxiety attack and manic swing.  The rest of the day and drive was spent with smiles and love, and lots of planning for future trips to the Seattle area.  Looking forward to the spring when he takes me horse-back riding on the beach!

Water marker for flood/tsunami waters. 0.o !!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Southern Summers

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It's funny how a song can bring back memories so vivid it's like you experienced them only yesterday.  One such song for me is “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley.  The music and lyrics are very poignant and maudlin of days past, especially growing up in Florida and spending summers at the beaches.  Those late summer evenings when the beaches empty early due to cooler weather is a sorrowful experience for us beach bound southerners, as it signaled the end of lazy sunny days and a return to school.  Even now as an adult, no longer privy to they months-long, carefree, summertime breaks, the change in weather certain songs still bring about the strong feelings of those long-gone days of youth.  Needless to say, driving down the highway, in January, in Idaho, the juxtaposition of warm summer nights with the chilly windy north was rather strong.

Earlier in the morning while having breakfast with a friend we found ourselves explaining what can only be described as a true “Southernism”.  Along with hot summer days and iced cold sweet tea, boiled peanuts are decidedly a Southern delicacy.  Northerners and even Westerners are familiar with roasted peanuts, but few have heard of, much less tried the salty, briny, deliciousness that is the boiled peanut.  As a child the beginning of summer and that first trip to the beach was always christened with a large container of fresh, hot, salty, boiled peanuts.  From August to October you can find these yummy treats being sold at any number of road-side stands throughout the South, especially close to the coast.  Boiled peanuts and sunny days at the beach just go hand in hand.

But what IS a boiled peanut?  (asked in the voice of Joe Pesci from My Cousin Vinney when asking what is a grit.)

Boiled peanuts are just what they sound like, but they aren't made from the dry roasted peanuts most are familiar with.  The best boiled peanuts are made from freshly harvested “green” peanuts.  What that means is the peanut has been recently harvested (usually within just a couple days) and has not been allowed to dry out.  The shells and nut inside still retain as much as 35% of their growing moisture.  Many people will also call them “raw” peanuts.  Of course you want to rinse these peanuts several times to remove cracked shells, bad nuts, dirt, etc...  Then place them in a very large pot and cover them with water until the peanuts float.  The key to making the best boiled peanuts is salt, and lots of it!  Typically you will want to add at least ½ cup of salt per gallon of water.  I like mine much saltier, as do most Southerners.  If boiling a large batch of them it is not unheard of to use a whole container of mortons salt, or sea salt if you prefer.  Some people add cajun seasoning, hot sauce, jalapenos peppers, sweet and sour seasoning, lemons, or other variations.  Personally, I enjoy just the basic salted version.  Let the peanuts boil about 4 hours in a regular pot or about an hour in a pressure cooker.  As they cook the shells will become softened and the salty brine will penetrate the shell and peanut inside softening and flavoring both.  (*Important note:  roasted peanuts cannot be boiled as the shell and nut will not soften no matter how long you boil them, even under pressure.)  Once thoroughly cooked allow to cool just enough so not to burn your fingers and tongue.  

Now for the eating.  This is the trick.  You want to savor the juice inside the shell.  Crack the shell along the seem with your teeth and quickly suck the juice out.  Oh dear salty yumminess!  Finish opening the shell and eat the softened nut inside.  DO NOT EAT THE SHELL.  It won't hurt you, but it really doesn't taste all the appetizing.  Discard the empty shell and repeat with a fresh peanut from what ever container you've put them in.  They store for several days in the refrigerator and heat up just as well in the microwave or a few minutes on the stove.  You can also freeze them for longer keeping.


Of course it is only January and we are in the Northern half of the country, so I have a long wait until my next treat of boiled peanuts.  But for those of you who have never tried them, don't be scared.  It's definitely different.  But once you get past the texture difference and stop expecting the hard, crunchy, roasted variety of peanuts, I am quite sure you will love them boiled.