Sunday, February 28, 2010

Winter Barbecue

There are times in a man's life when being a manly man is important. Moving a table round the garden for an outdoor party is one of them. It was heavy but we manly men managed it for the party last night.Jan keeps a busy winter garden. This winter has been wet enough his garden has gone underwater repeatedly and his plants struggle to grow in the wettest winter in memory. Jan's raised mango bushes are flowering, a source of pride for our host:Jan owns more than one lot and he has a fabulous jungle out back. Cheyenne was happy. Her host Satchmo was pretty easy going, sitting in the grass and chowing down on...oyster shells. This is his party trick every time Jan and Lucy have an oyster party. Life in the Florida Keys can sometimes be reduced to oysters and beer and a rocking chair in the back yard. Jan has one other attribute, a 1980s BMW R100RT airhead. I sometimes cross paths with Jan when I'm riding into work as he comes home from the Navy base where he has a civilian job. He bought the bike in New England in perfect running condition with the as-new bike cover. Full fairing original saddle bags and only a dead battery to deal with and it runs like a top these days. He loves to tinker.
Jan has satellite TV and the story of the day was the Chilean earthquake causing a possible "killer tsunami" in Hawaii. I haven't seen live TV since we had dinner at Jack Flats a couple of weeks ago.The weather people spent the afternoon with a hard on telling TV viewers how dangerous everything was and how huge waves could curl round and wipe out the city of Hilo and blah blah blah. I don't miss the hype. Looking out the window we had weather of our own. The cold front arrived:The rain passed and 15 minutes later the cool air was moving in. Hawaii was still in crisis because the weather morons were still trying to convince somebody "tragedy" was still possible. Chile is really in tragic shape after an 8.8 earthquake: TV renders everything weird. Here we were talking and drinking and waiting for the birthday girl while on television, in the background, millions were displaced and facing a crumbled future. As Chuck said, before instant communications we just never knew about this stuff. Carol made salad-on-a-stick, mozzarella, basil and cherry tomatoes. Instead of standing around outside we ate them indoors to avoid the (relatively) foul weather.
Cheyenne was perfectly behaved as always.
Chocolate birthday cake with cream and banana filling. I ended up stealing a piece of my wife's slice. I'm not proud of my sweet tooth.
Cheyenne's traveling dinner plate was in the trunk of her kennel.
It was a bit of scene at the house.
This is the kind of place where kids play in the street. Very old fashioned I'm sure, tossing a baseball.
Jan fired up the barbecue with sausages, sweet and regular potatoes and hamburgers. We stood around and criticized, as one does. "That one looks over done..Is that one ready yet?" Zack looks hungry.
Chuck used to work in an oyster bar in Atlanta. Steve was helping.
Darkness falls suddenly in the sub-tropics. Jan had some seafood chowder going at this point. The sausages were crisp and superb. I love sausages and mustard.
I treated this as a meat and potatoes kind of night. Barbara was keeping her distance from my tonsillitis, not the food.
Cheyenne abandoned me and hung out downstairs waiting for scraps to fall from the barbecue or the oyster shucking. Imagine. People Up North are shoveling snow from their driveways. We aren't.
The rain had blown away, the sky was clear, the temperature was dropping to around 60 American/15 Canadian, the moon was full.
I needed to go home, too much excitement for a man running a low grade fever and eating far too much. To her credit Cheyenne came when called; at home we turned up the heat as we are wussies. "I would never elect to live in cold climate" my wife mumbled as she wrapped herself in a second blanket and composed herself for sleep.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sugarloaf Food Company

They call it the Sugarloaf Food Company because that's where it used to be, the owner told me, though now it is on the north side of the Overseas Highway on Summerland Key. It's easy enough to spot:I am compulsive enough that I would change the name and use the original incorporation papers modified with a "doing business as Summerland..." but that is more a mark of my personality defects than of any problem with their food. Besides, I think people enjoy the quirky absence of corporate conformity and having to ask why Sugarloaf on Summerland gets people talking. Most people (not me) like tot alk when they go out to buy food.Many food outlets in the Lower Keys like to take Monday off so the fact these people are open six days a week is worth noting.
I would have to return without my wife to be able to advise what these things taste like but they were just one item in a whole display case.The staff are uniformly cheerful and efficient, and while they may be friendly they don't seem to forget that sandwiches are food for people on the go. "Organized chaos" one employee laughed. Organized organization I think, masquerading as cheerful chaos.It's not a startling menu but they use quality ingredients and though I have yet to work my way through the menu board I am pretty sure I won't regret going out on a limb.A modern business cannot it seems get by without dust catchers for sale...Perhaps it is a remnant of the boom economy when we could blow twenty bucks on a whim; probably snowbirds still can. We took our sandwiches and coffee outside and sat on the deck in back under an aquamarine umbrella that lent the day a peculiar submarine shade.
A wrap and a quiche and some very good coffee, none of that battery acid extra burnt stuff here. I am a lone yuppie in a world that doesn't seem to appreciate mild sweet coffee anymore. I rate a cup well made if I don't have to tone it down with milk. I took mine black at the irritatingly named Sugarloaf Food Company at Mile Marker 25, on Summerland Key. Everyone wants a water view in the Keys. we got a water glimpse out back:
I wondered how they were going to make it when they opened a few years ago which goes to show how little I know. They do a land sale business every time I drive by and with good reason because the stuff tastes good. If I were driving to Key West I might well stop here for a break before the Big City swept me up.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spain Boulevard

I have been out here a few times but Cheyenne and I walked here together for the first time last week. A clump of houses set among the mangroves and backwaters of north Cudjoe (pro: Kud-joe) Key. The cyclists were rushing north on Blimp Road without a solitary glance down the dirt road that is Spain Boulevard to their right.That's okay, Cheyenne and I enjoy our companionable solitude. She shows little interest in other dogs, a quick sniff and she moves on. She showed little interest in the horse paddocks found in the middle of the housing subdivision out here.I like the rural look of the area, the fields and fences put one in mind of places where agriculture actually exists.A place unlike the Keys where farm tractors are only used to trim roadside mangroves or sweep up dead seaweed at the beach.This sort of countryside is not ideal for planting crops or harvesting anything much except possibly fish. I would not like to live on a gravel street; I have suffered these kinds of roads in the past and all they end up doing, aside from looking picturesque, is throwing clouds of dust or mud depending on the season which requires incessant vehicle washing.Horse turds on the other hand don't bother me much at all, though I am glad Cheyenne's output, though smellier, is a lot smaller than these fragrant heaps: There were no horses there that day but she seemed to be looking and wondering. A warning I think (" I feel entitled to drive badly as I am towing horses"), and probably not a command. Which is lucky as I had none to show. By local standards the lots are large and vegetation is rampant to secure privacy. One doesn't feel much like invading these yards with a camera and a dog and shouting: "Smile!"
I am very fond of mushrooms but these looked rather too appealing to be edible. Bright colors in Nature tend to indicate poison. And then we found them. Nothing more than very large dogs really. Cheyenne was not impressed.They were much more interested in us than we in them and we marched on by, with not even a bark from my companion, on past more houses tucked away almost out of sight.
This sign was explicit but looked odd somehow. It was stolen from someplace Up North, Chicago as I recall and transplanted down here. The message was clear enough but using a stolen sign somehow seemed to put it on a rather lower moral pedestal...We respected the spirit of the theft and walked on by.
These is room for newcomers in this neighborhood.
And this area includes examples of my favorite pine trees, shown here with a rather nice palm.Some red flowers, which as they lacked any convenient label I couldn't hazard a guess as to what they are called.
And at last we tramped back to Blimp Road and took our ease:
A pocket park complete with, of all things, a bicycle rack. I wonder why bicycle thieves might be feared around here?
You just can't beat the companionship of a good dog.