Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mint Madness

        I love a mojito, which is made with white rum and fresh mint. So when I spotted an abundance of mint plants in my late neighbor's yard last summer, I decided to help myself to one or two.
      I quickly discovered that you can't dig up one or two mint plants from a bed of many. The roots were so long, and so intertwined, that I wound up with five. Wisely, I  put them in large pots. I later read that they will take over a garden. 
     The mint plants flourished. I thought I had lost them in August, though, when I  returned from 12 days in Peru. My tenant had overwatered them, and they looked pitiful. But they soon bounced back. I thought I'd lost them when the temperatures dropped below 32 degrees this month.  But they're hardy little devils, especially when they're among friends. The pot with only one plant froze to death, but the one with three made it just fine. I then brought it inside, and it's still producing.
     So, the question is, what do I do with all this mint? There are only so many mojitos a woman my size can drink. That goes double for mint juleps, which are way too strong for my tastes anyway. 
     A gardening friend freezes fresh herbs in ice cubes, and uses them in soups and stews during the winter. Hmmm. Would that work for mojitos? I froze a couple of ice trays as an experiment. But I can only store so many ice cubes.
     I found a recipe for Green Beans, Snap Peas and Edamame Toss (sic) with Cilantro-Mint Pesto in Publix's Family Style magazine. You steam the veggies, then toss with the pesto. It’s a yummy dish. So I'm making it again for Thanksgiving. I've already made the second batch of pesto. Then I experimented with a batch of mint walnut pesto. I think it will be good on pasta.
     And still I have mint. 
     So I posed my mint dilemma to another friend, who apparently spread the word among her friends, and she sent me three lists of recipes. Most were a bust, because they either used too little mint or were too complicated, but I saved a couple. One was Tomato, Cucumber and Red Onion Salad with Mint. That reminded me of a dish I had in Istanbul last month, which a Turk told me was very Turkish. However, my Persian friend makes it, too, and she’s from Iran. It combined chopped cucumber and mint with slightly thinned plain yogurt. It was quite tasty. Another was Grilled Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Mustard Mint Dipping Sauce, which comes from Bobby Fray on the Food Network. It appears to be a tad time-consuming, because you cook the potatoes in boiling water, let them cool, cut them into wedges, then grill them. But I love sweet potatoes, so I saved that recipe, too.
     My friend suggested adding finely minced mint to my next batch of chocolate frosting and/or a batch of brownies. Hmmm. Mint and chocolate. That's a winning combination.
     So, do any of my readers have other suggestions for using mint? 
     While you're looking through your recipe files, I'm going to enjoy another pineapple mojito.
     Bottoms up!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saving the Fish

Every summer, my pond becomes a mud hole. I’ve never been able to keep water in it, so I haven’t had much luck with fish, either.
When I moved here 13 years ago, I had 18 catfish and dozens of bream. The fish would feel the vibration of my car on the driveway, and swim to my small pier. I’d throw them fish food, and they’d jump out of the water to get it. It was great fun, and I was looking forward to letting my grandsons feed the fish, too.
The pond is now a work in progress.
But it’s a runoff pond that’s dependent upon rain to keep it filled. When we have lots of rain, the pond is about a third of an acre in area, and several feet deep at one end. However, when we go through a dry spell, the pond shrinks up to a muddy, child-size wadding pool. The poor fish that are left become easy pickings for the blue heron that feasts there every year. A few years ago, when we had a particularly bad drought, I lost all those catfish, including the one with the white face that I called Grandpa.
Besides the receding water, I had a lot of vegetation to deal with, both in and around the pond. Norm Haley, a regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s forestry, wildlife and natural resources division, advised me on a herbicide that’s safe for fish and the groundwater downstream. However, it was extremely difficult to spray the sloping banks, much less the reeds and other vegetation in the pond itself. I liked the reeds, but they were slowly taking over.  A tenant got into a copperhead nest while chopping them down. Grass carp wouldn’t help, according to Haley, because the pond gets too low for them. He said I wouldn’t have the vegetation problem if I cut the banks steeper.
I had ducks once.
After 13 years of saying, “I ought to have that pond dug out while it’s shallow,“  I  put my money where my mouth is. Bobby Isbell, a neighbor who has an excavation business, did the job this week. Once the rains fill it in, the pond will be three to four feet deep from one end to the other. When the pond has enough water, Bobby will come back with a truck load of chicken litter, which he’ll spread over the water with a blower. The litter will sink to the bottom and fill in the cracks. Once the leaks are plugged, I’ll be able to keep fish in it, and maybe some ducks on it.
Bobby had to pump out some water before he could start the excavation, and I wanted to save the few fish that were left. So Phillip, his employee, scooped them out with a butterfly net and by hand as the pump sucked out the water. Some of them scooted into the mud, where they flopped around until Philip could grab them.
We put several dozen small bream in one water tank, and two catfish, a bass and a carp in another. Phillip suggested that the raccoons probably would make a feast of the smaller fish, and I was okay with that. At least they would die as part of the food chain, instead of from asphyxiation. But they were either too crowded, or the cold night temperature got them, because next morning, they were all dead. 
Well, at least I tried.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Alabama dancer gets paid to sail the seas

Jesse Calvert at Thessaloniki, Greece

If you’ve ever taken a cruise, you’ve no doubt noticed that most of the crew members are from all over the world. It’s rare to meet a ship’s crew or staff member from the USA. Imagine my surprise, then, during my Greece and Turkey voyage last month, to hear the ship’s captain introduce a staff member from Brushy Pond, Alabama. I just had to meet this gal and find out how she got where she is today.
As it turns out, 25-year-old Jesse Calvert, cruise sales manager, danced her way onto the ship. After graduating from Birmingham-Southern College with a degree in dance, she left Brushy Pond, a small community near Cullman, for the bright lights of Atlanta. “I danced with a small company there,” she says. “I’ve been dancing since I was five.”
In 2012, she auditioned for the cast of Royal Caribbean Productions, which provides entertainment for the entire cruise line. The audition lasted three hours, but a week later, she had a job on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. The cast of 12  rehearsed together seven to eight hours per day, seven days per week, for six weeks, in Hollywood, Florida. She spent six months on the ship, sailing in the Baltic region, to Iceland and to Eastern Canada. “It  was my first time on a ship, and it took two weeks to get my body to adjust to the ship and stage always moving,” she says. “It was very different from anything I had done before, and I loved it.”
  A summer spent studying art and literature in Paris proved useful when she started helping the ship’s art auctioneer keep up with the bids. “It became a side job, and I earned a little in commissions,” she says. When her contract was up in January 2013, she did a couple of shows with her old dance company in Atlanta. She was scheduled for another ship that June, but got a call in March about an opening for a dancer on the Azamara Quest. After eight weeks of rehearsals, she signed on to the Azamara in late May as part of the crew, staff and entertainment. That first tour was from May-December of 2013, and she got home to Alabama two days before Christmas. 
“Contracts usually are for six to eight months, but a lot of entertainers do repeat contracts because they get addicted,” she says. With the Azamara, she works four months on, two months off, sometimes spending those off months  in Atlanta. Her experience with the auctioneer on the Brilliance of the Seas helped her land her current job as cruise sales manager. “It was a big jump going from dancing to speaking in public, and it took a lot of preparation,” she says. “This this job is detail oriented.”
        When she's not on duty, she likes to explore foreign ports-of-call. Her favorites are Iceland, because of the geo-thermal hot springs at its Blue Lagoon, and Sorrento, Italy,
because it feeds her cameo collection. "In Sorrento, they carve cameos out of the conch shells they collect," she explains. "You can watch them carve one, then buy it."
      One of the first things I noticed about Jesse was her lack of a Southern accent. “I worked at that,” she explains. “When doing boat drills, for example, people from other countries don't understand a Southern twang. But when I go home, in two days, my twang is back.”
Eventually she’ll want to settle in one place, but not for a while. “You’re always  visible on a ship this size,” she says of the Azamara, which houses up to  694 passengers and a crew of 407. “You do crew duties, too. You meet people, and you make friends. I like what I’m doing.”
It has to be more exciting than life in Brushy Pond!