Monday, October 20, 2014

Cousin John's Mac & Cheese

Our Beach Mice cousins, Cara and John, were wonderful hosts while we visited their coastal home.  Early in the week, we cooked lasagna for them at the Aloha Cottage.  It got us talking about recipes, and John described his mother's mac and cheese recipe.  He was kind enough to show me how to cook it on our last night at the beach, and it was delicious!  We had a houseful of cousins, including Cara's sister Andrea, who came to the reunion last year, and no one went away hungry since we also had plenty of chicken and shrimp to go with the mac and cheese.  Here's John's recipe:


2 lbs. Ziti pasta (Mueller's)
1 tbsp. salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. pepper
4 tbsp. parsley
corn starch
2 lbs. white American cheese (Land o' Lakes or Boar's Head)
1/2 gal. whole milk
1.5 to 1.75 sticks butter
Bread crumbs (Vigo)

Cook pasta al dente and let rest at least 15 minutes in casserole dish(es).  The disposable aluminum ones from the grocery store work nicely. 

Heat milk on low (between 2 and 3) in large sauce pan on the stove.  Do not scald milk.  Begin adding cheese a slice or two at a time once milk is hot.  Once you add cheese stir continually with slotted spoon so cheese will not stick to bottom of pan.  When it starts to melt more quickly, you can increase the amount of cheese you add.

Make a solution of starch and water.  You will use two cups or so, and it should be a thin paste.  It will look like milk, only thicker.  Turn heat above medium as you add starch to evaporate liquid and help thicken cheese sauce.  When thickness is achieved so that it will not run quickly through slotted spoon, pour over ziti noodles so that they are covered.  Add about 4 oz. bread crumbs, which should be enough to thinly cover the casserole(s).  Cook at 350 degrees until brown and bubbling.  Let sit another 15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Restaurant Review -- P.J.'s Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

Another fun restaurant we dined at in Florida on fall break was P.J.'s Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant, 415 Second Street, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida.  The place is named for its resident parrot, and it featured Jake and Elwood in front of the building.  It was very festive inside as well, as you can see below.  I arrived in my beach hat boasting Skippy the rat on my shoulder, which got a few bemused looks.  Cara's mom asked her, "Where do you come up with these people?"
We had a variety of fried seafood, including alligator bites, which I ordered in retaliation for the Florida Gators having beaten our Tennessee Volunteers the Saturday that we arrived in town. 
 P.J.'s was pretty crowded when we were there, but it was a fun crowd.  Nevertheless, the service was good, and the food was excellent.  It was touristy but fun.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Manning the Pneumonia Ward

Sarah developed a cough over fall break.  She coughed a lot, but did not feel bad or have a temperature, so we just went along with our vacation.  When she got home after her first day back at school, which was on Tuesday, she fell asleep before supper, and when we took her temperature it was 100.4 degrees, so we scheduled an appointment with her pediatrician for the next morning.

The next morning her temperature was down to 98.7, but the doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia and directed us to come back Friday morning.  Yesterday's appointment confirmed a diagnoses of mycoplasma pneumonia, which we all grew up knowing as walking pneumonia.  It is in both lungs, and he prescribed an antibiotic, a steroid and an inhaler.  She can return to school Monday, but must refrain from sports next week.  He said he had it recently and coughed for five months, so she's got a long way to go.  Overall, though, she's doing okay, although I suspect she'll be pretty bored with me by the time her mom gets home from Nashville on Sunday.  Her appetite is back, so that's a good sign.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Visit to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

As we were exploring the area near our beach house on our fall break trip we paid a visit to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores, Florida.  It was just down Gulf Boulevard from the house, and admission is free, although they do request donations.  We enjoyed our visit and learned how many waterfowl get injured.  Fishing line and hooks injure some of the birds that wind up in the center.  I like to try and identify sea birds at the beach, and I usually pack my Audubon field guide when we go on vacation.  The sanctuary gave me a chance to view some coastal birds up close.
Pelicans rest in their enclosure.
Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, donated a bird enclosure in honor of Jim Backus, who played Mr. Howell.
Also not far from our house was a small park with a boardwalk through the mangroves to the intercoastal waterway.  We saw a couple of fiddler crabs as we walked.
We got to the end of the boardwalk in time to see the drawbridge raised for a passing vessel.

We fed seagulls every day, much to the embarrassment of our Florida cousins.  We noticed this bird was missing a foot, but he seemed to be getting along well enough.  I wondered if he might have been treated and released from the sanctuary.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention the remarkable blue jay we saw at the seabird sanctuary.  Blue jays are quite common here in East Tennessee, and they basically screech.  The one at the seabird sanctuary sounded like a cat meowing.  It was surreal.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Caladesi Island State Park

One of our first outings in Florida was a ferry boat ride from Honeymoon Island State Park to Caladesi Island State Park.  As we waited to board the ferry we were entertained by drum and flute music emanating from a nearby houseboat.

There were several gopher tortoise holes on Caladesi Island, and we were disappointed not to get to see one.  Sarah and I attempted the nature trail, but it was too wet from recent rains for the wimpy sneakers I was wearing.  We spent most of our time on the island's beach.
I took this picture because this kind of cactus grew in Grandmother and Grandpa Isenhour's neighborhood in Hickory, North Carolina, when I was a kid.  Sherry made the mistake of touching one and picked up some of the tiny spines it deploys for protection.  There were sea shells in piles on the Caladesi Island beach.  You could scoop them up by the double handful.  Jellyfish were plentiful that day, so we didn't spend much time in the water.
This is a view looking into the island from the beach.
The ferry navigates a canal through mangroves to get to the dock at the island.  We saw osprey on the way in and out.

When we got back to Honeymoon Island we encountered this armadillo on the lawn.  I was surprised at how fast he could move, once he made a break for the bushes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Aloha Cottage

At our family reunion in August we started discussing the idea of traveling to see our Beach Mice cousins, Cara and John, where they live in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, for fall break.  They were in New York when we arrived, so we had a couple of days to rest up at our beach house and explore the immediate neighborhood.
We rented this two-bedroom beach house known as the Aloha Cottage.  It was only $710.00 for the week, which was better than any of the one-bedroom condos we looked at.  It was a short walk to the beach out the back door, and the intercoastal waterway, seen below, was right across the street.  We were just outside the city limits of Indian Rocks Beach in its neighbor municipality of Indian Shores.

There were wooden docks all along the waterway there, and we spent some time enjoying the sun and observing the wildlife.  We spotted one dolphin, and a lot of seabirds, like this heron.

I had never visited the western side of the Florida peninsula before last week.  Because we customarily vacation on the panhandle, I am used to watching the sun set down the beach toward Destin from where we stay in Seagrove Beach.  The sun setting beyond the horizon on the Gulf of Mexico is a marvel to behold!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tennis Girls

Auntie Les decided that she and Sarah should play some tennis together, and so far they are both enjoying it a lot.  They plan to play again after school Wednesday.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Joey and Jake!

I wish a Happy Birthday to my stepsons, Jake and Joey, who celebrate their 19th birthday today.  They were just little kids when I started dating their mom, and now they are college students at Austin Peay State University.  Time flies!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Country Mice Visit Beach Mice

We traveled to the Tampa Bay area for fall break last week, and we saw cousins,
 an armadillo,
rats (including young Scooter),
more birds,
more cousins (Cara and Sarah),
 and finally, Cousin John, with an alligator as evidence that we were really in Florida.  It was a busy and fun week, and we are very grateful to our beach mice cousins for having us down to their little corner of paradise!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Restaurant Review -- Michelle's Restaurant, Dickson, Tennessee

When I was in Middle Tennessee last month for clerks conference, I had lunch at Michelle's Restaurant in Dickson.  It is in the space where Ace Diner was last year at 104 North Main Street, and the menu features Italian food, hamburgers, sandwiches and salads.  I had one of the daily specials, a pork tenderloin sandwich, with fries.  The sandwich was good, but the fries were limp and weren't hot.  I took a piece of cheese cake back to my room at the inn, and it was very good.  My tab was around $17.00, including tip, so they are a bit pricey for lunch, but the place had plenty of business.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Way Down South

One doesn't think about it much, but at any given time there is a small contingent of scientists stationed on Antarctica.  Over time, that community has developed traditions that are observed including unique sporting events, the Icestock music festival and Midwinter Day, which marks the middle of the four month night they weather each winter.

Monday, October 6, 2014