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Last November, my wife drove down to visit her parents for a week in Gulf Shores, Alabama. She returned with a white Styrofoam cooler with red letters across the front, “Rouses Market.” Melissa presented the cooler to me. “Happy birthday, honey!”
My first thought was, “You bought me a disposable cooler for my birthday? Um, how nice.” When I took the cooler from her, it was fairly heavy. Much to my surprise, inside the cooler was three pounds of fresh Gulf shrimp on ice. “Wow! This is awesome, babe. Thank you.”
Now, if you want the best walleye, northern pike, or lake trout, y’all from the south need to come to the north shore, eh? Our coldwater lakes have the best freshwater fish. But clearly the best shrimp I’ve ever tasted, comes from the southern states along the Gulf of Mexico.
I didn’t care if it was mid-November in northern Minnesota. I cleared the snow from the deck, pulled out the Weber and began the feast. Imagine, fresh gulf shrimp, in Minnesota’s winter weather. Now that’s a northerner’s delight!
Just five months later, Melissa and I were going to Picayune, Mississippi, to get our new puppy, Nova Mae - less than thirty minutes from the Gulf. After that we would travel 120 miles along the coast. Coincidentally, I brought a cooler with us. There would be plenty of opportunities for me to stock the cooler with fresh Gulf shrimp to bring home.
Our trip would include a five-day visit to her parents’ house in South Carolina. We were still over a week from home and that’s a long time to keep fresh shrimp on ice. I was afraid it wouldn’t survive the trip and I gave up on the idea of taking more fresh shrimp home.
Instead, we stopped at a restaurant in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Melissa had blackened fish tacos, I had the large shrimp boil, with fresh gulf shrimp, spicy sausage, corn on the cob and boiled red potatoes. This is a common meal in the south, but to a northerner, this was a real delight.
After visiting in South Carolina, we started the long drive home to Minnesota. The weather in Greer was cool, by southern folk’s standards, but to a couple of Minnesotans, temperatures in the upper sixties were just right. We had been watching the weather at home, and knew we had twelve more inches of snow while we were away.
Less than twenty minutes into our journey, I started seeing signs for fresh strawberries. The middle of April seemed way too early for fresh fruit. “Surely someone leaves those signs up year-round,” I said, not seeing any produce stands. Not long after, I saw newer signs, “Fresh Strawberries. Open Now.” I took my foot off the gas and started to slow down – just in case.
“What are you doing,” Melissa asked.
“There’s a strawberry stand ahead,” I answered. I’m sure my eyes were bulging out of my head when I saw those tables topped with white buckets, filled to the brim with strawberries; each with an American flag, as I turned into the farmer’s driveway. There was a truck full of more strawberries under a shelter.
“Hello,” the farmer greeted me. He glanced at my license plate, “Are you really from Minnesota?” I assured him we were. “What brings you all the way down to South Carolina,” he asked.
I smiled, “Strawberries. Oh, and to visit my in-laws, too.” We shared a good laugh about that as I selected a quart container. It wasn’t an easy choice. The tables were full of square green quart containers, and white gallon pails of perfectly bright red berries.
“These are special strawberries,” he told me. “Most farmers don’t want to mess with them because they’re harder to grow; they more finicky. I have to charge a little more for them, but I think it’s worth it because they have about twenty-percent more natural sugars than other varieties. Go ahead and try one.”
“Try one,” I questioned? “Is that a sales pitch?”
“No sir, not at all,” replied the farmer as I bit into a big, juicy strawberry. “It’s a sale closer.” As I ate the fruit, I must have been smiling from ear to ear. It was as close to heaven as I’ve ever been in South Carolina. “You can have another if you’d like,” he offered, “but if you’re going to eat a third, I’ll have to charge you for the quart.” We shared a good laugh about that.
I questioned the farmer, “How long will these keep in a cooler on ice?”
“Well, I spect a couple of days at least. But don’t let them sit directly in water,” he warned. Then told me, “Ripe strawberries are like you and me – they like to drink water. But once they’re picked, the water will draw the natural sugars from the berry.”
I set my quart of strawberries back on the counter and picked up a gallon. The farmer smiled, “It was the taste test, wasn’t it?” We shared another good laugh about that. I paid him twenty-dollars for the gallon of berries, and he gave me a plastic bag to put the bucket in. “This will keep them out of the water,” he said.
I lifted the end gate to put the berries in the cooler I had intended to use for fresh shrimp. “Why don’t you just bring those up here for now,” Melissa said.
I chuckled thinking, “I’ll bet she wouldn’t have said that if this was raw shrimp.”
I set the bag on the front seat floor. Melissa opened the bag. “You bought a gallon? What are we going to do with all these?” I had an idea.
Our neighbors up the hill, produce a bumper crop of rhubarb each summer, and gracefully share their bounty with us. I still had some of their rhubarb in the freezer. Our other neighbors gave us several quarts of wild raspberries, and we still had some wild blueberries in the freezer. My mouth was watering over the thought of a strawberry-rhubarb pie, and a mixed berry pie. Yum.
On the trip home we each ate several strawberries, and I assure you, they tasted much better than raw shrimp would have. I put the pail of strawberries in the back of the car, on ice, so that we wouldn’t eat them all. Each time we stopped, the end gate was opened to grab a few more strawberries.
The next day we stopped at a rest area just outside of Indianapolis. I put Nova Mae on her leash and took her out of the kennel. Just as I set her down on the ground, the man parked next to us opened his back door to let out his large black dog. Yikes! I had no idea how the two dogs would react. They sniffed noses, and that was that.
The man’s wife came around the car, “Well that’s a real cute puppy you have. He looks pretty young.”
I thanked her, then said, “This is Nova Mae. We just got her in Mississippi. She’s about ten weeks old.”
“And she likes to travel already,” the lady asked? I told her Nova would be a traveling dog, and so far, everything was going great. “Our dog is getting pretty old, but she still likes to travel,” she said. “She’s made this round trip from Alaska to Indiana with us over twenty times.”
We enjoyed some small talk. The man told me they come down in the very early spring, or late fall, “The summers here are just too warm for us.”
I went to the back of my car and grabbed a handful of strawberries. “Here, I have a little gift for you. Naturally ripened, fresh strawberries we bought them yesterday from a farmer in South Carolina.”
His eyes really lit up, “Wow, this is a real treat. We don’t get fresh strawberries like these in Alaska.” The man gladly accepted my offer and thanked me. When his wife returned, he shared the berries with her. They seemed to enjoy them so much, I went to the back of our car and grabbed another handful.
“Would you like some more for the road,” I asked.
“Absolutely,” he said, putting his hands out to accept them. He thanked me again, then the man got in the passenger side of the car. His big black dog was in the back seat. He and his wife drove away smiling – eating strawberries. I could only imagine, if these South Carolina berries were such a treat for a couple of Minnesotans, just how good they must taste to a couple of Alaskans? A real northerner’s delight, and I was pleased to share them.
When we got home, I cleared the snow from the driveway. A day or two later, after we were settled in, I pulled the rhubarb from the freezer cutting up just a little over two cups to thaw and mix with the strawberries. This pie was going to be awesome! I went to grab the pail of strawberries from the fridge. On the floor of the pail were five bright red strawberries. They looked so lonely after seeing the bucket so full.
“Honey,” I called out, “where are the rest of the strawberries? I’m going to make a pie.”
“We ate them,” she replied.
In disbelief I questioned, “You went through a gallon of strawberries?”
“We,” she replied adamantly. “We went through a gallon of strawberries. I saved the last few for you.”
Hmm. I drove into Zup’s grocery store to buy a quart of strawberries for my pie. When I got home, I cut them up, mixed in the rhubarb, then put my pie in the oven. I went to the fridge to grab the rest of the South Carolina berries to eat while the pie baked – but the bucket was empty. “Where’d the rest of the strawberries go,” I called out, but got no answer.
When the pie had cooled, I cut it up and shared it with two of our neighbors. A strawberry-rhubarb pie made with rhubarb from the neighbor’s patch – a real northerner’s delight.
The next time we go south, we’ll do our visiting first. I’ll take two coolers: one for fresh gulf shrimp and another for fresh strawberries. Maybe I’d better take three – the Georgia peaches should be ready by then.
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Bad Egg, Good Egg
I love hard-boiled eggs, and most generally have them in the refrigerator. I can eat them anytime as a snack, an appetizer, or the main entrée. I’ve even had them for dessert. I love hard-boiled eggs.
This morning, I ate the last boiled egg from the fridge while my oatmeal was cooking. Yum.
When I had finished breakfast, I put a pan of water on the stove and turned the burned on high. I set the remaining seven eggs from the carton into the water. I smiled, thinking about all the different ways people have for hard boiling eggs: Use fresh eggs, never use fresh eggs. Boil the water first, or, put them in cold water. Cover the pan with a lid, don’t cover the pan. Add vinegar; use salt, not vinegar. So many ways to boil an egg, and they’re all opinions.
How hard can it be? Put the eggs in water, boil them, peel them, and eat them. That’s it. But people have specific techniques. I suppose I can understand why; maybe there should be a recipe for hard-boiled eggs.
One hot summer day, I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner. We would have chef salads, but I forgot to hard boil the eggs. So, I called my daughter Annie who was about fifteen years old. “Can you boil eight eggs for me?”
“I don’t know how,” she replied. “Do you have a recipe?”
“Are you serious,” I questioned. Annie told me she had never boiled eggs. “Put eight eggs in a pan, fill it with water, about a half-inch or so over the eggs. Put the lid on the pan, put the pan on the burner, and turn it on high.” I told her to use the burner on the grill outdoors. It was hot outside, and I didn’t want the heat or humidity inside the house.
“How long do I boil them,” she asked?
“Just turn the burner on high, and I’ll take care of them when I get home.” I would be home in fifteen minutes which would be perfect. I noted the time, but as usual, I ran into someone I knew at the store and got home fifteen minutes late.
When I got home, a horrible stench came in through the kitchen window and was wafting through the house. It smelled like something rotten was burning. I worried the eggs may have boiled dry and ran out the back door. There was smoke pouring out the vents on the lid of the pan.
I quickly turned off the flame. I removed the lid with a hot pad, nearly gagging on the smell of black smoke billowing out of the pan. “What the heck?” I hollered, “Annie, get out here!” When she came outside, I showed her the charred disaster, “Why did you crack the eggs before putting them in the pan? You’re supposed to leave them IN the shells.”
“You didn’t say that,” she justified. “I put the eggs in the pan and added water covering them by a half-inch.”
I was perplexed. “Did you smell the eggs burning? Why didn’t you come out and shut the burner off?”
“You told me to turn the burner on high and just leave them alone,” she said. “I assumed you knew what you were talking about.” I couldn’t argue with her; she did exactly what I said to do, and I did fail to specify leaving the eggs in the shells. The pan was ruined. I threw the whole mess in the garbage can, got another pan, and boiled more eggs for our salads.
I laughed as I thought about that incident while my eggs were boiling. (Although I was not laughing when it happened.) We often remind Annie of the “Hard-Boiled Egg Incident.” She gets defensive every time, “I did exactly what Dad told me to do!”
Everyone has their technique for boiling eggs, claiming, “Do it my way, and the shells peel super easy – every time.” Right. The way I boil eggs works (almost) every time for me. But I find eggs have a mind of their own, and some are just plain stubborn!
When I cooled my eggs, the shells peeled real smoothly from the first six eggs; one egg’s shell stuck to a small piece of the egg white, leaving a small mark, but it was still plenty pretty to keep with the other eggs. The seventh egg? Not so smooth.
I couldn’t seem to get the membrane loose from the egg. Big chunks of egg white ripped away with the shell. The egg white was torn so badly that it exposed the egg yolk in several places. Most people would have chucked the bad egg into the trash – not me.
The battle was on; Man vs. Egg. I was determined to win, and I did. However, I’ll admit, when I claimed my victory, I was looking at one of the ugliest eggs I’d ever seen. The egg looked like I peeled it with a weed-whacker, a lawnmower, or maybe a hammer and chisel.
I looked at the seven eggs on the plate and remembered my elementary school assignment. “Which one of these doesn’t belong?” I had learned that lesson well.
The egg was way too hideous to put in the refrigerator with the other eggs. Some of that ugliness could rub off on the others. I mean, seriously, what if we had company and they went to the fridge for an egg? When they saw the pathetic resemblance of an egg, they would say, “This man can bake a wonderful pie, but he has no idea how to boil eggs.” Some would even claim, “I’ll bet his children can’t hard boil an egg either.”
To avoid bringing future shame onto my kin, I did the right thing - I got rid of the evidence. I ate that battle-scarred egg. As ragged as that egg was, it was actually quite tasty (with a bit of salt and pepper.)
I pondered the whole situation further. People and eggs have a lot in common. Most people are good eggs, but you’re going to run into a bad or stubborn egg once in a while.
When you come across a bad egg, give it the benefit of the doubt. If you take time to look beyond the outer appearance, even a bad egg can turn out to be a good egg – especially with a bit of seasoning.
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I remember a song from my childhood; "The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, so see what he could see." The song has a good message that still holds meaning for me. As an adult, I'm still going places to see what I can see.
Most of the day Sunday, we had clear skies and sunshine, which was exciting! I was hoping those sky conditions would hold on into the night as there would be a total lunar eclipse. For a change, the lunar eclipse would happen at a decent hour so we could stay up and watch it. I intended to go out on my deck and watch the entire spectacle. But then the clouds moved in. Ugh.
Still, I walked out onto the deck numerous times, hoping to find a break in the overcast, granting me a sneak peek at the moon. No such luck. I wondered, "Why do we make such a big deal out of seeing the moon blocked by the showdown of Earth? Technically, we can't see it if it's blocked, can we?" I laughed to myself over my analogy, then went to bed.
My daughter and her boyfriend watched the eclipse under clear skies in Iowa. With their telescope, they took some excellent photos. I appreciated them sharing their photos, but pictures just aren't the same as seeing it for yourself. It's spiritual for me to experience a lunar eclipse firsthand.
Monday, I took Nova Mae out to potty a little after six in the morning. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and a gentle breeze played a sweet melody on the wind chimes. "Looking at the clear sky," I said. "Where were you last night when I needed you?"
I went back into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Two hummingbirds hovered around the red feeder just outside the window over the sink, keeping me well entertained. They fed on nectar from the small (plastic) red flowers. It was a delightful show to see. This same feeder has been the source of much entertainment.
Earlier this week, a male Baltimore oriel was hanging around our deck. He also was attracted to the red hummingbird feeder. Several times, I watched him perched on the feeder just outside the window. His bright orange and black feathers, with accents of white, were beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him. Then, wanting to encourage him to stay, I researched oriels. They like to eat fruits, nectar, and insects, but they won't eat birdseed.
Unfortunately, his beak was too large to draw nectar from the flowers, and there weren't a lot of insects out yet. So, I set up a four-foot ladder on the deck. I put a red lid filled with nectar and two strawberries on the top step. I added a few sunflower seeds, should the bird want to expand his palate by trying something new. The oriel returned a short time later. He enjoyed the strawberries more than the nectar but feasted on both.
The Baltimore oriel was perched on the left side of the step. Soon, a rose-breasted grosbeak landed on the right side. With wide-open beaks, the two chattered loudly at one another; the grosbeak had the oriel leaning back away from him.
A red-headed woodpecker landed on the end of the step between the two birds. It looked as if the third bird had taken his place, seated at the head of the table. The woodpecker listened to the two other birds present their case like an arbitrator. He'd soon had enough of them squabbling over the buffet and began squawking angrily at both. "Enough! I've heard enough!" Finally, the orange oriel and the rose-breasted grosbeak gave heed to the wood pecker's warning and flew away.
Now alone on the ladder, the woodpecker inspected the offerings for himself. "No insects? What kind of restaurant is this?" Then, he, too, flew away, allowing the oriel and grosbeak to return.
The bird feeder that sits on the deck was low on seeds. A hungry red squirrel climbed the wooden pillar that supported the house's roof. He was making his way to another feeder hanging from the soffit. The squirrel jumped from the post onto the wind chimes; he was making his way to the hanging feeder. Unfortunately, the smooth metal tubes proved a little too slick for the squirrel, not to mention the vibrations as the clangor struck them again. Sliding down the pipe, the little trapeze artist quickly retreated to the wood post.
Meanwhile, the oriel and grosbeak were again disputing rights to the feast on the ladder. The funny thing is each bird was after a different feed; the oriel wanted the strawberries while the grosbeak was after the seeds. The bickering birds were chased away again - this time by the red squirrel who climbed the ladder. The fluffy tail rodent made a quick meal of the sunflower seeds. The squirrel sat and ate them all, leaving empty shells scattered about. After sniffing the other entrees, the disinterested squirrel climbed down the ladder, looking for more seeds.
Once the sunflower seeds were gone, the grosbeak joined the other birds at the hanging feeder, leaving the oriel alone on the ladder's top step. But the oriel wasn't alone for long. Soon, he was joined by a female oriel, not as brilliant in color as the male, but still a beautiful bird. Hoping they will stay and nest in our yard, I bought some oranges (another fruit oriels enjoy), and we've kept oranges and strawberries for the birds since. It's a real treat to see so much wildlife gathering on our deck for us to view.
There's wildlife nearly everywhere. Sometimes, you have to look a little harder to see the critters.
Friday, I was at a Burger King restaurant enjoying a Whopper with my granddaughters. When we had finished our meal, a man in the dining room called us to see something he'd found. A baby turtle was on the quarry tile floor, no bigger around than a quarter.
I put the tiny reptile in a water cup. The turtle flipped over onto his back, exposing the beautiful red and black pattern on his tummy. "Cool," Addison exclaimed, "Can we keep him?"
Evelyn wanted to know, "Why is he in a Burger King?"
"Well," I began to expel my wealth of knowledge, "turtles will eat lettuce, and a Whopper has lettuce. Maybe he stopped in for a sandwich." We shared a good laugh over that.
"Papa, I hardly think that little thing could eat a Whopper," Addison said, then asked again, "Can we keep him?"
I explained, "The turtle would be a lot happier if we would help him back to the water rather than living in a water cup." So I dropped the girls off at their appointment, then took the turtle to the city park.
A man and his two young sons were fishing from the bank. I showed the dad the turtle; he, in turn, called his two young boys over to see the little guy. They were both amused and had a lot of questions. "Is that a snapping turtle? Will he bite me? Where's his mom?" I once again was able to share my vast knowledge of turtles. The boys were thrilled to watch as I released the small turtle at the water's edge. Soon the little fellow took to the water and swam in front of us. The older boy spoke up, "Could we use him for bait?"
I thought to myself, "Swim, little man, swim away!" Then said to the turtle, "You have no idea how lucky you are that I'm the one who brought you to the water."
This morning in my kitchen, I looked at photos of last night's lunar eclipse. "Boy, I wish the skies would have been clear. But it is what it is, and it was what is it was." I smiled, thinking about the bear that went over the mountain to see what he could see. I want to see as much as I can.
Maybe I didn't get to see this eclipse, but how many people get to see a Baltimore oriel, a rose-breasted grosbeak, and a red-headed woodpecker all sitting on the same ladder, having a discussion? When is the next time I'll get to save a baby turtle? There was certainly something spiritual in watching him swim freely away into the water. And who knows, maybe I'll get to watch baby Baltimore oriels in my yard this summer.
I decided I needed to be more thankful for what I get to see and not fret over what I don't. Besides, I read that there's supposed to be another lunar eclipse, visible from my neck of the woods, in 2025. Maybe next time.