25 February 2010

Shuffleboard: A Dialogue

Before this week, the most shuffleboard I'd seen was the beer-stained tabletop version they have at the Gaslight in South Orange.  But we're in Florida, where there are lots of retirees, and hence, lots of shuffleboard.  Last evening on the news, there was a whole thing about some shuffleboard club that was closing and how devastating that was because people had to belong to a club to join tournaments.

Generally, I'd say that these shuffleboard clubs are like the pool teams I encountered down in the Mon Valley.  This morning, walking down Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach, we passed the Coronado Shuffleboard Club, and since I had lots of questions, I asked a lady (in a sparkly visor and earmuffs) about it:
Me: So are there any fights here ever?
Lady: No, I've never seen any.
Me: Are you really serious about those poles? Do you get them online and are they collapsible?
Lady: Yes, you can get them online and some of them are collapsible, but the Ace Hardware also has them.
Me: So do you play? [because at the time, she was sitting on the sidelines]
Lady: Yes, I'm waiting for my turn.  This side is the amateurs, this side is the professionals. [gesturing] I'm in the professional category, not because I'm so good but because of how many points I've racked up.
Me: How long do you do play?
Lady: We try to get to the point today where tomorrow we can just play for first, second and third places on the second day. Sometimes it takes three days if we get a crowd, but because it's so cold (about 55 degrees) not many people showed up.
(She'd come from a town 50 miles away because they're all in the same district.)
Me: How did you learn how to play? Did someone teach you?
Lady: Just practice, really.
Fascinating.  With that, I had to move along with my party, but seriously, when else do you have the opportunity to approach and talk with a professional shuffleboard player? I'm a bit biased, but as far as sports that retired people play, I think bocce is much more interesting and stimulating and graceful -- this is like curling with a little bit of paint drying thrown in - although I guess you need to know what to watch for, as with anything else.

Wekiva River Adventure

View Wekiva Float 24 Feb 10 in a larger map

Wow. This trip was a combination of the Adirondack paddle and Kremenec -- both days notable for being excellently beautiful, grueling, and ending with obscene amounts of rain.  I posted the bird list earlier, and the birds and wildlife we saw were amazing, though the alligators were always a bit too close for comfort...

Great Blue Heron
One alligator out of five (six) that we saw.


So midway through the Wekiva River, it started to pour.  This is not a big deal, because really, nature looks nicer in the rain than it does when it's dry -- something about light, refractions and reflections, methinks.  And we were expecting rain and were reasonably well-prepared for rain -- but raingear is almost never adequate.  It can be, but not really.

For proof that God has a sense of humor and she's really funny, this all happened on the first day of my period.  Because this is what happens in life (this was another one of those days).  Except this time, I was sitting in a puddle (especially because I was in a sea kayak, which drains easily but is wetter on a dry day in this type of water than a regular kayak is) in the middle of a downpour with highly absorbent material between my legs.  It's good to know that things work the way they're supposed to, I guess. 

The big issue for all of us was when we took a wrong turn at the confluence of the Wekiva and Saint John rivers.  We paddled about a mile in the wrong direction before we got out around some uninhabited vacation homes and had a pit stop/fact finding mission.  Then we headed back in the other (correct) direction and our fearless leader talked to some Great Samaritans who gave us a ride/tow to the car, which was at Blue Springs.  Things would have gotten quite unsafe because we were already wet and cold, we were tired, and it was going to be getting dark quite soon.

Thanks, Rick and Fred!

Our fearless leader bringing up the rear

We finally got to Blue Springs, and half of our group went to go pick up the other car while three of us waited in Blue Springs being wet and cold.  It's a state park, and it closed at 6:15pm, so they had locked the bathrooms and I couldn't go in there to sit under the automatic hand dryer -- which is fine because doing so would have required acrobatics I was incapable of since I'd just been paddling the last 5 hours.  Blue Springs is Florida's best manatee refuge, so we went to look at them while we were waiting!  So cool -- here's some video I took:

Blue Spring is 72°F year round because it's a natural hot spring, and so the manatees go there in the winter because they can't live in water that's less than 60°F.  There are some other varieties of fish in there, including some invasive species like these tilapia:
The cool thing is that so many fish were making their nests, and so you can clearly see it in this photo.  The fish use their tails to clear off a spot in the sand and then they go into hyper-defensive mode, fertilize their eggs via some sort of mating swim, and then protect the nests.

Our day was so awesome, and such an adventure.  Having to be bailed out is a bit of a sticky wicket, because it meant that we didn't plan well enough to know exactly where we were going -- if you're reading this and want to do the Wekiva, consider taking out at the Swamp House Grill in Highbanks.  We were as prepared as we were able to be, and that would have been the only place to take out...  You can't bail out of the trip in the middle of a swamp -- or you could but have fun in the swamp!  It was a great day, the birding and the float were excellent -- and we are able to say that because our heroes of the day, Fred and Rick, were so kind and responsive to our needs and our situation. 

Awesome float though, and truly a great adventure I'm not doing justice to in this post.  One of those things you've got to see in order to believe -- the map should help.

A Mostly Complete Bird List from the Wekiva River Float

  1. Cattle Egret
  2. Pileated Woodpecker
  3. Great Blue Heron
  4. Little Blue Heron
  5. Great Egret
  6. Great White Heron
  7. Peregrine Falcon
  8. Osprey
  9. Bald Eagle
  10. Cardinal
  11. Tricolor Heron
  12. Cormorant
  13. Anhinga
  14. Wood Stork
  15. Ibis
  16. Kingfisher
  17. Turkey Vulture
  18. Crested Flycatcher
  19. Hairy Woodpecker
  20. Sandhill Crane
  21. Red Shouldered Hawk

An Okra Recipe

I haven't made this (yet!), but I found it in the local paper today and it seems similar to what I had the other day.

Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 pound of fresh okra, stemmed and sliced ½ inch thick (NB: choose young pods free of bruises, tender but not soft and no more than 4" long)
  • 2 medium Roma tomatoes
  • ½ cup water
  • salt to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a medium skillet; add the sliced onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin sees and turmeric and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the okra and cook for 2 minutes, tossing.  Add tomatoes and cook over high heat until they release their juices, about 1 minute.  Add the water and cover, stirring occasionally, until okra is tender, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt if desired.

23 February 2010

REAL Soul Food!!!

Ohhhh soul food.  How I love it, yearn for it, and yet how I rather insist on having it be cooked by people who really know what they're doing and have been cooking in this style their whole lives -- because I want the real thing, baby.  Yesterday, on our way down to Florida, we had planned a stop in Savannah and this became our destination.

So let's let the food porn begin, shall we?

Clockwise from top: biscuits (dessert!), corn pudding, OKRA! and tomatoes, and sweet potato salad in the blue bowl.
The okra.  Okra doesn't look appealing to me, because it's kind of tubular -- but it's so delightful.  And the corn pudding was sweet and magical.  I didn't like the sweet potato salad, because there was a lot of celery in there -- but there was also fresh dill, which I love.  But the presence of celery lost me.  No matter, it was the only thing that I had that I wasn't 100% into eating.

Baked sweet potato with brown sugar butter, collard greens! and cheese grits.  I prefer my grits with a ton of butter, but these were delightfully savory.  I didn't have any of the sweet potato, but I would walk 500 miles for a mountain of those collared greens.  Any collared greens, really.

Notable on this plate? Lima beans with dill!  I know lots of people really loathe lima beans, but as long as you don't have to eat only lima beans for your whole meal or something, I really rather enjoy them.  And loving dill is part of my genetic structure.  You can't really see them on the dish, but they were part of the taste.

I'm saving the best for last.  We also had coleslaw, but it was rather pedestrian and we had to season it ourselves -- I usually won't season things other people cook, because I trust whoever's cooking.  Anyway.  This asparagus.  OHHHHHH.  It was chilled, with a bit of a fresh tomato, onion and parsley salad with a zippy viniagarette -- there was a teeny bit of horseradish in there that made it delightful.  And I really enjoy asparagus and don't get to eat it enough.  The asparagus was also picked small enough so that it wasn't some thick stalk, it was still tender.

I often think people wait too long to pick vegetables -- zucchini is much better when it's not the size of a baseball bat, so is asparagus, often tomatoes...

It's meals like this wherein I realize that if this type of thing was what was available to me, I could be a satisfied vegetarian.  Or if I was in India.  But it would be a great sacrifice for me to say no to bacon/pork.  I'd be closer to enlightenment if I could let that go.  I wanted to try the catfish and did have a bite of some chicken there, but I've been eating a lot of seafood lately and knew I'd be having more this week - so yay for veggies!

And where did we eat all of this wonderful food?  At Sweet Potatoes in Savannah, Georgia.  I first read about it on Serious Eats, and Yelp sealed the deal.  The place was pleasantly full of a local lunch crowd -- I think we were the only Yankees in there, and four of us ate for about $30.  It's not near I-95 and it's not near Historic Savannah, but I'd definitely go back and make it a stop if I was in the area.