Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Traveling to Thailand Without Leaving the Table

The Colonel and I are blessed with thoughtful and loving children. Our daughter and son sent The Colonel a very unique gift for his birthday (and I got to enjoy it too).

Yam and Spud sent The Colonel a Destination Dinner. We packed our culinary bags for a tasty trip to Thailand.

Our family enjoys ethnic cuisine, so the kids knew we would love the Green Curry & Puffy Cups of Thailand.

The red box contained nearly all we would need to make this birthday meal. Enclosed was a shopping list of the few things we would need that were not in the box. We needed fresh chicken breasts, a can of coconut milk and a few potatoes.

The box also contained not only the directions on how to make the dishes, but also a little history lesson, tea trivia, Thai trivia, suggestions for the perfect beer to drink with the dinner (Singha), more information about Green Curry and suggestions for our table setting.

The Thai Green Curry dates back to the time of Siam's (now Thailand) ancient capital of Ayutthaya (1350-1767). There is a temple there that houses the largest bronze Buddha. Legend has it that the Buddha statue cried tears on the day the city was sacked by the Burmese.

Spud and I like Thai tea. It has a unique flavor. It is a blend of black tea leaves, star anise, cinnamon, clove and a touch of orange. It can be enjoyed hot or cold and is traditionally served sweet, with half & half or milk. Too bad Spud was not here to help me drink the Thai tea.

Originally green curries did not include coconut milk. It was only since the Ayutthaya period that it became part of the recipe. Indians and Moors traveled through Thailand during that time and they used cream or milk in their foods to make them richer; they suggested the Thai try it too. Now many other Thai dishes contain coconut milk.

A traditional Thai meal always consists of the five main flavors of the country: spicy, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. The Green Curry did this very nicely.

A Thai dinner place setting includes only a spoon and fork (napkins are optional). The fork is held in the left hand and is used to shovel the food onto the spoon (The Colonel and I ate like we normally do). Since knives are not placed on the table, all Thai recipes require the meats and vegetables be cut to bite-size pieces while still in the kitchen.

The Thai usually adorn their tables with carved fruit or vegetables. It is an art that dates back over 700 years. The Colonel and I opted out on that one, even though the steps to make a chili flower were provided.

The house smelled terrific as we cooked the Green Curry (and many hours after).

Our Puffy Cups did not look a thing like the ones in the picture on the recipe. I did not have the correct steaming equipment. After some trial and error they did get done. They were slightly sweet (they were made with Jasmine Water) and kind of spongy and sticky.

"Destination Dinners...More than a meal, it's a travel experience".

Thanks Yam and Spud for the culinary trip to Thailand!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hollywood History

Not too long ago The Colonel watched the movie, The African Queen. He had seen it years ago but wanted to see it again. After he watched the movie it got him wondering where the actual boat was currently. He had seen it many years ago in a Key West parking lot looking very weathered and dilapidated.

His Internet investigations lead him to the fact that The African Queen is now located in Key Largo, Florida around mile marker 100. It has been lovingly brought back to life by Captain Lance Holmquist and his wife Suzanne just in time for the boat's 100th anniversary (the boat was built in England in 1912).

Captain Lance has made the boat available for rides. He has daily cruises and dinner cruises.

The Colonel said he would take me to Key Largo and book one of the daily cruises but I would have to do a little homework first...I would have to watch the 1951 Bogart and Hepburn movie.

I watched the movie, paying particular attention to the boat. I am not a big fan of Bogart or Hepburn but I found Bogart rather funny as Mr. Allnut and Hepburn did play the unattractive spinster, Rosie, very well. Bogart got an Oscar for his performance as Mr. Allnut.

After watching the movie I was excited and eager to see and take a ride in the African Queen. It is a little bit of a drive to Key Largo from my house but definitely day trip doable.

As we were making our way to Key Largo on Alligator Alley the skies looked ominous. I kept praying for the rain, rain, to stay away, come again another day. The closer we got to Key Largo the better the sky became. By the time we had our very delicious lunch at Hobo's  restaurant in Key Largo, the skies were clear and sunny.

The African Queen is docked near the Holiday Inn.

I was excited and giddy just looking at The African Queen from dockside. I could not wait to go aboard this great piece of Hollywood history. There were three other passengers who would be joining us on our 90-minute ride; another couple and an elderly man who had been watching what was happening to the boat for many years and was finally going to get a ride in her.

I was the first passenger to board the boat and I made my way towards the front. When all of us were seated, Capt. Lance and his crew member began to get the boiler and engine ready for the trip. The boiler was all new but the stack on top is the original one.

Our ride began at the Marina Del Mar and traveled along the Port Largo Canals to the Atlantic Ocean. We passed many big, beautiful homes on our way to the ocean (and a cute, little houseboat).

Before we could make it all the way to the ocean, we had to get more fuel. Captain Lance pulled The African Queen alongside a boat next to his huge house and had a large, red container handed down to us. The Colonel jumped up to help bring the heavy container on board. He then helped to refuel The African Queen. He  was officially a working hand on The African cool was that? 


During the ride The Colonel pointed out a tree that was growing on a house.

The Colonel and I got to handle the tiller. All I could think of was that Katherine Hepburn sat where I was sitting and worked the tiller too.

Captain Lance would toot the steam whistle every time we passed another boat and when our ride was over he let me toot it too. I tooted it twice; once for each of my children. 

I had an excellent time aboard The African Queen (I think I was smiling the whole time). I would recommend a cruise to everyone and I would recommend they watch the movie first to really appreciate the experience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

America's Stonehenge

How did a five-foot tall, 100-pound man from Latvia named Edward Leedskalnin build The Coral Castle (originally called Rock Gate Park) all by himself? This question has baffled scientists, engineers and scholars (and The Colonel and I) since its opening in 1923.

It is said that Ed was spurned by the love of his life, Agnes Scuffs, who was 10 years younger that he was. Ed called Agnes his "Sweet Sixteen". On the day before they were to wed, Agnes told Ed she did not want to marry him because he was too old for her. Could it also be because Ed had little or no money and only a fourth grade education? Ed later believed that Agnes' main reason for calling off the wedding was that she was in love with someone else.

Ed left Latvia broken-hearted. He wandered for many years and eventually made his way to Canada and then down into California and Texas. He worked in lumber camps and cattle drives. During his wanderings, Ed developed tuberculosis. He was told by a friend that Southern Florida had a good climate for a possible cure for the disease.

Ed arrived in Southern Florida sometime during the 1918-1920 periods. He first started building the castle, a monument to his lost love, in Florida City. He used simple tools to excavate, carve and move tons of coral rock.

Ed was a private person and built the castle at night and when those around him began to spy upon him and a subdivision was planned to be built near him, he decided to move his castle 10 miles south. He hired a friend and his trailer to help move the castle, stone by stone down the old Dixie Highway. No one ever saw Ed loading or unloading the trailer because he did this by lantern light at night.

When Ed relocated his castle to Homestead, he continued further construction on it. He cut coral from a quarry next to the castle.

Around 1940 Ed finished erecting the walls (the largest weighing 29 tons) of his coral castle. The gates to the castle were locked at all times but Ed would give tours of his home for a nominal fee (10 and 25 cents) and those who wanted to have a tour had to ring the bell twice to summon Ed. The sign on the wall says "Ring Twice" and if your rang less or more than two times Ed would not open the gate to let you in.

The Colonel and I paid 15 dollars each for a tour of the castle (a bit of a price hike since Ed's days). The "Ring Twice" sign is the original sign Ed painted and the bell is still the one he made from junkyard car parts. It is made from the bell housing of the rear end of an old Ford and the clapper is part of the steering column.

When The Colonel and I first walked into the Coral Castle this is what we saw:

It was beautiful. It was also amazing to think little Ed Leedskalnin built it all by himself. Our tour guide Tom was very personable and knowledgeable. Tom told us about the Three Ton Gate. This was the original turn style gate Ed had his visitors use when they came for a tour. The gate is a 6,000 pound triangular piece of coral rock. Ed carved it and balanced it on an axle of a Model T Ford. He also put a Coca-Cola bottle neck on the end of the axle so he could lubricate the axle. There are no gears or bearings in the rotating mechanism. I could easily rotate the multi-thousand pound turn style with both hands.

Tom walked us all around the Coral Castle and told us many interesting facts about Ed and his castle. These are Ed's Reading Chairs. There was no electricity in the castle and Ed used the sunlight to read by. As the sun moved, Ed would move to another chair. I sat in what I called the "Lazy Boy Chair". It was really most comfortable even though it was made from coral rock (and it was made for someone who was five-feet tall and I am seven inches taller than Ed was).

The Florida Table was carved by Ed in the exact shape and direct proportion to the size of the State of Florida. He even put Lake Okeechobee, Florida's largest lake, right where it should be on the map. All the chairs are rocking chairs that weigh about 1,000 pounds each.

The Polaris Telescope is built in two pieces. The outer part is located 20 feet outside the walls of the castle. It is 25 feet tall and weighs about 40,000 pounds. In the opening of the upper part of the telescope are crossed wires.

The eyepiece or inner part of the telescope is located in the wall near an opening in the castle wall. There are crossed wires within the eyepiece and at night when both sets of crossed wires are aligned, The North Star, or Polaris will be seen.

Ed's observations through his telescope helped him obtain data to build his sun dial. He numbered the sun dial from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. Ed said those were the hours a man should work. Using this sun dial it is possible to determine Standard time within one to two minutes year round. This may be the only sun dial of its kind in the world.

Here is the beautiful Moon Fountain. It is carved from three pieces of coral rock. The quarter moon is on the left and represents the first quarter of the moon. The quarter moon on the right represents the last quarter of the moon. The fountain itself represents the full moon. The first and last quarter moons weigh 18 tons each. The full moon weighs 23 tons. When Ed was alive he used the full moon as a fish pond.

This is the North Wall. It is made up of three separate blocks of coral. The center block is the heaviest piece in the castle. It weighs about 60,000 pounds. Ed was so proud of having cut and moved so great a weight, he placed a monument on top of it. He called it the "Crown".

Next to the North Wall are the planets Ed carved. The corner is Mars. Ed believed that there was life on Mars. Ed's Mars weighs about 36,000 pounds. Next to Mars is Saturn and it too weighs about 36,000 pounds. The moon crescent next to Saturn weighs about 46,000 pounds. Mars and Saturn are part of the wall upon which they sit. Amazing that a five-foot, 100-pound man carved and moved them all by himself and at night!

Ed built a Throne Room in his castle. His throne weighs 5,000 pounds. The Colonel and I both sat in Ed's throne. It was quite comfy.

Ed's most outstanding achievement was his 9 Ton Gate. It is about 80 inches wide by 92 inches tall by 21 inches thick. What makes this gate so remarkable is that Ed found the exact center of balance. The gate was moved by using just one finger to move it. The gate fits within a quarter of an inch of the walls on both sides of it. It pivots on a rod and is uneven in its dimensions. That is what makes Ed's finding the exact center of balance so remarkable. The gate has been probed, measured, and X-rayed by many engineers and scientists and to date no one knows how Ed did it. The gate no longer is easily turned as the rod has rusted with time.

Ed did not have running water so he dug a well. He stored his food in glass jars which he placed in the cool water. He would bring his drinking water up by means of a rope and bucket tied to an old tree trunk.

Ed's bathtub is near the well. He would fill the lower part of the tub with water each morning and by mid-afternoon the sun would warm the water enough for Ed to take his bath. The tub is just big enough for a man of 5-feet and 100 pounds. When Ed sat in the tub his body would displace the water so that the tub was full. He plugged the tub with wood. Ed also made a wash basin and mirror. The mirror is a piece of slate covered by water.  Ed claimed to see his reflection well enough to shave and comb his hair. I looked at my reflection in the mirror...I could see myself...but I wouldn't trust Ed's mirror to apply eyeliner while using.

Remember, Ed was building his castle with his lost love, "Sweet Sixteen" always on his mind. He carved out a bedroom for the family he never had. He carved twin beds for himself and his lost love. On the level above their beds he carved beds for two children and close to his love's bed he carved a 155 pound rocking cradle and a child's rocker weighing 85 pounds.

Near the bedroom is the Obelisk. It weighs about 57,000 pounds and is 40 above the ground. It rests in a six foot deep hole. The hole near the top is carved in the shape of the Latvian star.

How did Ed cook his dinners? He built a Bar-B-Que pit out of the coral rock. He hung a cooking pot made out of the rear end housing of an old Ford. It hangs on a pulley that rides on a rail. The food was placed inside the housing, which sealed itself. The sealed cooker acted like a pressure cooker. Ed used to cook hot dogs (a dozen at a time) and sell them to the children who came to the castle for tours.

Ed being a romantic, carved the Feast of Love Table. It is a heart shaped table that has a heart shaped centerpiece for flowers. The table weighs about 5,000 pounds.

Ed also carved a playground for children. He called it "Grotto of the Three Bears". He carved three beds, three chairs and a heart shaped one for Goldilocks. He also carved a 6-pointed Latvian star porridge bowl for Goldilocks. I failed to get a good picture of the playground. You will just have to visit Coral Castle and see it for yourself.

The Tower housed Ed's living quarter upstairs and his tool room on the bottom floor. The Tower contains about 243 tons of coral. The blocks weigh from 4 to 9 tons each. The roof is composed of 30 blocks, each about one ton.

Ed's tools were kept in the lower floor of the tower. All of the tools were home-made. Ed experimented with electricity and magnetic current in this part of the tower.

There are 16 (Ed still honoring his "Sweet Sixteen"?) steps going up to the living quarters of the tower. Ed's bed and chair are suspended by chains. They could be raised out of the way during the day. The bed is made of a few boards wrapped in burlap sacking. The chair is made from scrap metal and bicycle parts.

Ed's kerosene stove is in the corner. Above it is a screened-in food box. The box is suspended from the ceiling on a rod. The rod passes through a funnel and Ed filled this funnel with kerosene so that any insect crawling down the rod drowned in the kerosene. The glass jars are what Ed used to store his food in and then put the jars in the cool water of the well.

This is a life-sized photo of Edward Leedskalnin. What a somber looking little fellow.

As stated earlier, Ed was from Latvia. He carved his immigration and naturalization numbers on the lintel of the door to his living quarters.

Ed died in December of 1951. He did not die from complications of tuberculosis. Ed's friend had been correct in saying the Florida climate could cure him. Ed used to sun himself on a big slab of coral he carved and moved especially for that purpose. Ed died from cancer of the stomach. He was 64.

The visit to the Coral Castle was very interesting. It boggles the mind as to how little Ed Leedskalnin carved and then moved each and every one of these massive chunks of coral rock. When asked how he moved the blocks of coral he would say only that he understood the laws of weight and leverage and the secrets used to build the ancient pyramids.