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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Tomatillo Salad Dressing

Salad dressing?  Oh, much more than that!

First of all, I NEVER buy salad dressings.  Never say never?  Well this time I say it with fearsome pride.  If you’ve got a blender or a fork to stir oil and something acidic, you’re set to defy the limits of the salad dressing aisle and cast off that loathsome cloak of unhealthy serfdom.

This time my salad dressing adventure began with my curiosity over tomatillos. Don’t remember using them in a recipe.  Of course, copious quantities of fermented grape juice may have dulled the memories.  Or perhaps it was memories…..well, let’s leave it at that and just say it was memories I’ve learned to block out, as well as their names and how they cruelly broke my ever hopeful heart.

But, back to tomatillos.  Little green tomatoes, si?  Well, kinda.  Same family, but are all siblings the same? A solid no, and especially not in the nightshade family!  Tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, potatoes, petunias, chili peppers, paprika, tobacco, and even some deadly siblings, such as the belladonna, join together in one unhappy clan.

Tomatillos, also known as Mexican husk tomatoes, are native to Mexico and have been cultivated since the pre-Columbian era.  Pre-Columbian? you might well ask.  Yes, for engineers and math majors, pre-Columbian refers to the time before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.  We’re talking all the waaaaay back, into the deep pre-history of the B.C. days.

Yes, yes, I hear the complainers at the back of the room whining, so, leaving your knowledge incomplete, I’ll move on to the recipe.

Tonight, I wanted to make a tomatillo salad dressing, but found that I stuffed so much in the blender that I’d concocted a cross between a sauce and a salad dressing.  So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if you make this delicious…whatever you wish to call it…you’ll find it goes well on salad, or roasted vegetables, or roasted meat, or (depending on the consistency you desire), even makes a splendid dipping sauce for crisp tortillas.

Now we’ll really get down to it!

Tomatillo Dressing

Heat oven to 425ºF

3 Tomatillos, husk removed, then sliced in halves
1 Jalapeño, cut in half and seeds and stem removed
1 Poblano pepper, cut in half and seeds and stem removed
½  of a large, sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 heaping teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika 
Juice of 6 small tangerines (or more to taste)
½ Cup olive oil
One strong handful of fresh basil
One strong handful of fresh cilantro
1 level Tablespoon of salt (or more to taste)
4 Tablespoons honey (or more to taste)

Puttin’ it together:  Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  Place the first four ingredients on the sheet and sprinkle with paprika.  Roast for about 20-25 minutes (every oven is different) until the vegetables are beginning to char.

Put all the ingredients (including the charred vegetables) in a blender and puree.  Add more olive oil as needed to get the consistency you want.

Taste and add honey and salt as needed.

For the salad, mix several varieties of lettuce, cabbage, celery, bits of peeled tangerine, and anything else your heart desires.  I like to add a few cashews to give it some extra crunch.

This will make about 3 cups of salad dressing.  Put any remaining dressing in the frig.  Pat yourself on the back, grab another cup of vine juice … makes the heartbreak easier to live with!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Kingsley Plantation, Florida

Anna's house in the foreground, the main house behind.

The Kingsley Plantation

Closer to Jacksonville, but still not far from St Augustine, Kingsley Plantation, situated on Fort George Island, near the mouth of the Saint John’s River, is a fascinating place that in many ways represents the complexities of both slavery and the making of America.

When you drive down the two miles of dirt road, through the verdant forest, and approach the Kingsley Plantation, the first thing that catches your eye is a stark white, roofless building, no bigger than your bedroom, made from something you can’t quite put your finger on….Stone? Mud?  You don’t stop because you’ve almost there, but you wonder, What the heck was that?

Slave House with a reconstructed roof.

Then you park your car in the spacious parking area and can’t help but stare at the expansive openness of the grounds, with a semi-circle of those same white, roofless building behind you and several large, roofed, clapboard buildings that extend almost to the water’s edge.  Peacocks and peahens strut here and there.  You know from the start, exploring this wonder is going to take awhile and I assure you, it will be a pleasure every step of the way.  There’s a soft gentleness to the place. You’ve found a treasure, but not quite sure why you feel that way.

The wonder of it begins almost immediately.  When Zephaniah Kingsley first built this plantation in 1814, sea cotton and indigo were the cash crops.  Walk to the small white picket fence area close to the parking area.  You’ll see indigo plants and read the fascinating facts about this simple weed-like bush made famous in the modern era by the color of blue jeans.  The indigo plantings are only a first taste of what will be an eye-opening afternoon.

Harvesting and especially turning indigo plants into dye was smelly, hazardous work.

Entry to the plantation is free and offers the chance to step back into history that comes alive.  It’s the story of a planter and former slave dealer who cleared land to grow crops, with free men and slaves and a wife who was a former slave. All but the main house are open for you to explore, although the house is open at various times.. Towering, moss covered live oaks and tall palmettos dot the property, which spreads and extends to wide, gently flowing river.

For more information on celebrations and days with the main house will be open, click on:  Kingsley Plantation

Construction of the main house.

The Barn, mainly used for the tedious job of separating cotton from the seeds.  You can try your hand at it in the National Park store in the main house.

One small corner of the inside of the barn.
Another view inside the barn.

My parents were South Carolinians and I still have kin in that state, so I’m not a newcomer to plantations.  But all plantations are not alike, and depending on the location, they can be remarkably different.  Why different?  Mississippi became a state in 1817 and Alabama in 1819.  South Carolina and Virginia were two of the original colonies. What did that really mean to the history of American slavery?  The laws affecting the early states were United States laws and especially in the matter of slavery.  Strict.  Often harsh.  Spanish laws were more liberal when it came to race.  Kingsley Plantation swirled and prospered under the laws of both.

When the plantation began in 1814 planters came under the laws of Spain and then for a short while under British law, and then Spanish again. At various times Florida was fairly lawless, even after Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1821.  The territory became a state in 1845. Before then, even the boundary between Florida and Georgia was not clearly defined.  Not only turbulent times, but a turbulent area.

Now, the planation which was once a vast area of cotton fields, and indigo, where sugar cane fields spread before you, and expansive vegetable gardens served to feed both the free and slave families, is no more.

The plantation view from the St John's River. Note that the thick forest now begins almost beside the main house.
The once open fields today are thick with a forest of tall tree and underbrush and high, twisting vines.  However, much of the living area is as it was, with a plantation house, barn, and various other buildings, including a semi-circle of slave houses.  Remember that small, stark white roofless building you rushed past on the way to the plantation?  That was a slave house, as were those arrayed in a semi-circle.  Along with the barn, they are constructed of a material called Tabby, a kind of crude concrete, whose main ingredient is oyster shells.  Crude it may be, but it’s lasted for centuries.

The Tabby wall of a house.

Making Tabby

A whitewashed corner of the barn.

To truly appreciate the history of Kingsley Plantation, we need to once again step back into history.

As noted, under the Spanish, laws about slavery were less strict, recognizing free men regardless of race.  In fact, Kingsley’s wife, Anna was an Africa wife, whom he legally freed.  She became a slaveholder herself and played a great part in running the plantation, especially after Kingsley’s death.  In 1837, out of fear, during a period of almost constant conflict, she and her children fled to Haiti and acquired a new plantation, only to later return to Florida.  Then came the Civil War, which she and her children managed to survive. She last returned to Kingsley in 1870.

Of necessity, my summary has glossed over the richness and depth of the history of the Kingsley Plantation, and Zephaniah Kingsley and his remarkable wife, Anna.

There is so much more to see and learn, about this spectacular place and not just about the plantation, but the tumultuous story of northern Florida.

A visit to Kingsley Plantation will open your eyes wide, and expand what you thought you knew.  This is history as it should be seen and should be taught.  Personal. Searing. And as close as we can come to reliving the making of this part of America.

Another Link to the Plantation:  Kingsley Plantation

Kingsley Plantation, 11676 Palmetto Ave.     (904) 251-3537
Open 9:00 am – 5 pm, seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.  Audio tours available until 3:30 pm

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

State Line Barbecue Company

Barbeque!  Smokey, tender, unmistakable! It’s southern through and through.   I can hear you saying, you can get barbeque, or barbecue, or BBQ, or just plain Q all over the U.S., so it’s not just southern.  First of all, in many states below the Mason-Dixon Line it’s a felony to suggest such a thing.  Secondly, have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s drive up north and get some barbeque”?  I have to add that Kansas also has some excellent smoked meat, but it still counts because a big part of the Civil War was fought there.  End of discussion and no more nit-picking.

And another reason I say BBQ is a southern tradition is it’s found ALL ACROSS the south, from the Carolinas to Texas.   Now that’s not to say the barbeque is the same across that broad expanse.

In the east, the folks favor pork and as you travel west you get into cattle country.  And, as a general rule, the sauces follow the same trail, from vinegar and mustard based sauces in the Carolinas to the deep, smoky red sauces in Texas.   Anymore, there are no hard and fast rules and I for one am not too particular, but I am in a constant search for ‘the best.’

I’ve driven miles into deep forests and across wide-open spaces, just because a casual friend happened to mention there ‘might’ be a good Q shack somewhere.  Some places are deserted for miles, until you find yourself surrounded by open fields with a shack in the middle, billowing smoke and surrounded by pickups.

But, I never expected to find superb barbeque in northern Florida.  Surprised is not too strong a word.  Fernandina Beach, State Line Barbecue Company is a touch of BBQ heaven.  Run as a small mom and pop operation, in a former pizza joint, right next to a gas station, astonishes and delights in a number of ways.  Mike and Marci are the owners and Mike tells me he’s been smoking meat since he was a teenager.  His big grin when he talks about his barbecue tells you he knows what he’s saying.  And with each bite, you can taste the love he puts into his passion!

Marci kicks in with delicious homemade potato salad and slaw.  Here I have to emphasize, even if you’re a strict vegetarian it’s worth a trip just for Marci’s 

Marci at work.

But, of course the meat is the main event.  Mike tells me he smokes all the meats in his big smoker that sits right behind the counter.  Pork is smoked for up to 20 hours, the brisket for up to 30 and the ribs for about 6 hours.  Forgive me, Mike if I got those numbers wrong.  See, I just finished eating one of your barbeque pork sandwiches and my memory for anything else is awash in barbecue sauce.

Here's Mike, serving the best barbecue around!

So, what do I usually get?  All three.  Pulled pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich, and some ribs. At my house there are usually two hunger-tinged eaters, especially during football season.  Matter of fact, there are still more games to go…and I happen to be within a mile of State Line.

That’s my cue for Q!  Don’t forget the name.  State Line Barbecue Company, 2020 Sadler Road, Amelia Island, Florida 32034.
Open every day.  Call (904) 310-6652

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Yearnings: A Poem by William Stroud

Christmas Yearnings

I have lived a gypsy life
Of here and there and seldom twice.
Across high peaks and valleys wide
Over beaches washed by tides.
I’ve made fast friends in my sojourns
And for you all my heart still yearns.
With mellow yearnings, windy swirls
As the past around me curls.

And oh my family, oh my friends,
I long to find you once again
Across the oceans’ great divides
You come to me on rising tides
And whisper softly what was then
Of times and places that have been.
Though some have passed and some remain
All together once again.

                        ---William Stroud, Christmas 2019

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Maybe Murder! A New Novel from William Stroud

Maybe Murder picks up where the first John D “Jack” Hudson mystery novel, Lowdown. Dirty. Shame., left off.

This one is also set in Cassavora County, but this time Jack is not accused of murder, he’s being blackmailed to force him to commit murder! Meanwhile, former girlfriends and other women are running rampant over Jack’s quiet social life with plans and dire difficulties of their own.  Twists and turns confront even the most stouthearted, and Jack is never sure he’s up to the task.  The hours and days are ticking away, along with his chances of survival.

Killers are tracking him, the police are suspicious and his life is unraveling.  He’s a writer for god’s sake.  Can’t he plot his way out?

An excerpt from Maybe Murder…

Leo has a way with words, which is to say he can lie to your face and make you swallow it faster than an icy beer in July.  I hesitate to call him, for the simple reason that I can’t let this business of dispatching the Chief Deputy get out and about. For reasons of self-preservation, I want to take care of everything myself.  As the saying goes, the only way for three men to keep a secret is to kill two of them.  

As a lawyer, Leo Sporata was in and out of dusty courtrooms for almost twenty years.  The last one saw him in the dock for contempt and impeding a federal investigation.  He managed to scamper away only because he was the man who knew too much.  Deal cut.  No jail, but disbarment.  Now he pedals information to whomever has the right amount of cash and can do him the most good. That includes customers across the spectrum, such as companies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, anyone whose work takes them into the legal shadows.  Excellent business model.  He prospers to the tune of two shiny cars and an architect’s dream home on the 7th fairway of a primo golf course, right outside this state’s major city.  Tell me crime doesn’t pay.

Leo meets me now and again, just to down a few and pass the time.  We’re friends and that’s a mystery to both of us.  He’s a weasel with a cast iron heart, while I wear my thumper on my sleeve so everyone can watch me bleed.

I swallow my reservations and call Leo.  We meet at Norway’s Wayside, a tavern owned and run by Jimmy Norway.  Quiet place in the afternoon. Classy.  Long mahogany bar that’s well stocked, dimmed lighting, and bar food that’s more than acceptable.  Another thing that makes Leo and me both favor this place is the lack of screechy music, with King Kong pounding the drums.  Right now, coming out of hidden speakers, there’s a subdued sax and the tinkle of the ivories, backed by the light brushes of a careful drummer.

Leo is in a relaxed slouch, in a booth and already sipping some microbrewery concoction I know he’s going to tell me about.  “You see Jack, there’s a lot more to beer than just hops, malt, and water.  Take this Red River Pilsner,” he says, holding up his glass and peering at it like it’s the last will and testament of Jesus of Nazareth, “It’s full bodied, yet has hints of ripe plums, with a leathery finish.  You can’t find beer like this very often.”

“I’d say the word beer pretty much sums it up.”

“That’s because your taste buds are shot and your education is lacking.”  He grins, showing teeth big enough to make a thoroughbred envious.  “But I know a fine brew is lost on you, so I ordered you…” he stops as a white shirted waiter approaches with a silver tray.  Resting on top is my liquor on the rocks, in a crystal whisky tumbler, plus a redolent pile of crisp and salty chips and beside them, a small silver bowl of oil cured olives.

I take a sip.  “Kentucky’s finest, with hints of horseshit and a finish of blue grass.”

Leo shakes his head sadly.  “When it comes to culture, you’re a lost cause.”

“I was just teasing.  There’s not even a hint of horseshit in this Jim Beam.  It’s the regular kind, not the funny label kind, with hints of this and that.  It’s to drink, not to chat about.”

“Well, you do know your whiskey.”

We banter on for a while.  Recent trips.  Women, of which neither of us have a soupçon of understanding.  Leo’s been married twice, with a matching number of divorces and I am girlfriendless.

Leo breaks the ice.  “So Jack, what the hell kind of trouble are you in now?”  He holds up a hand and slowly shakes his head. “Don’t tell me,” he says in a tired voice.  “Let me guess. It has something to do with those we used to call ‘the mob,’ but now refer to as crime without borders.”  He shakes his head again.  “Didn’t you learn anything from my bad example?”

I’m going to have to explain all of it, but I follow Leo’s lead and leave out the specifics, at least at first.  Leo is one of those guys who can empty your bag of marbles with just one pull of a thread. That’s why he thrives in the information business.  I heave a sigh, while Leo downs a full swallow of ripe plums with a leathery finish.  My drawstring pouch of scurrilous information begs to overflow, but I do my best to keep the cord cinched.  The oracle of unsavory knowledge is sitting right in front of me.  He’s been time tested through the pain of disbarment and knows to keep his mouth shut, if you pay him well.  There’s the rub. Leo and I have exchanged a lot of things, but money isn’t one of them.

“What do you know about Harry Simpson?”

The mug is halfway to his mouth and he sees it’s empty.  He raises two fingers to signal for another before he answers.  “Who’s Harry Simpson?”  His look tells me this is an honest question, possibly the only honesty I’ll find this afternoon.

Enjoy the excerpt?  Find the book on Amazon:  Maybe Murder

And enjoy my other two novels, including the first adventures of Jack Hudson:  Lowdown. Dirty. Shame.

All three are on Amazon, in both Kindle and Paperback editions.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Dickens on Centre Street

Dickens on Centre Street

Fernandina Beach, Florida is the biggest city on Amelia Island and seems to offer one festival after another.  There’s the Concours d’Elegance (March 5-8, 2020), and the Shrimp Festival (May 1-3, 2020) and then comes the  Christmas season.  For a week, the historic city of Fernandina Beach goes literary and steps back into the time of Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870), the most celebrated novelist of the Victorian Age. 

During the week of Dickens on Centre Street, costumed characters stroll the sidewalks and streets blocked off for pedestrians.  Vendors are often costumed, too, selling everything imaginable.  I learned first hand that with a slight chill in the air, hot chocolate is a wonderful warmer!

As night descended, you suddenly passed with men in top hats and beards and ladies in hoop skirts.  It really was like stepping back in time.

And it’s not just Dickens’ characters and not just Victorian!  I saw a beautiful Mary Poppins and a soot-faced chimney sweep, Bert, carrying a ladder.  We all remember the Disney film, staring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, but did you know Pamela Lyndon Travers (1899-1996) wrote dozens of Mary Poppins books?

It was all there on Centre Street!  And a snow bearded Santa Claus.  And musical entertainment that along with the booths of goodies and enticements, stretched down street after street, almost to the harbor.  Picture the romance of darkly silhouetted shrimp boats, framed by an orange sky. 

Fernandina Beach is a beautiful little city unblemished by time and still as gracious as any city in the south.  The old brick buildings and tall clapboard mansions stand proudly.  The Dickens on Centre Street festival is a wonderful, yearly accompaniment. 

 As you may know, Dickens is remembered for such titles as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and especially this time of year for his famous novella, A Christmas Carol.  Who hasn’t heard of Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit , Ebenezer Scrooge, and of course the ghosts of the past, present, and future!

Charles John Huffam Dickens
Some things you may not know about Charles Dickens:  He left school to go to work when his father was sent to debtors prison, so he never had a formal education.  Nevertheless, he published 15 novels and several novellas. Most of his novels were serialized in weekly, or monthly publications.  When he got comments from readers, he frequently made changes before the next serialized chapter came out.

Yes, he was a writer of the genius variety and would have felt right at home in Fernandina Beach during his namesake week.