Jerseygator's Blog


Denver Airport is a WEIRD place…

Posted in Uncategorized by jerseygator on May 29, 2015

Imagine being on a long flight (and honestly, what flight doesn’t seem long these days, what with over-booked flights, TSA lines and all). Finally, you disembark your plane. Whilst strolling through the airport on your way to Baggage Claim, you see a brightly colored mural. Hoping it’s scene will cheer you up, you stop for a few seconds and see this…(click on the pix to get the full effect).

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Yes, that’s Tracey in the lower left-hand corner frantically doing a Google search on what has to be the most bizarre piece of public art we have ever seen. Para-military, gas-mask wearing, armed with an AK-47 complete with bayonet, gutting the Dove of Peace with a huge scimitar wielding soldier that is centerpiece of a scene of dead babies in their mothers arms stretching past the horizon on one side and bombed-out buildings on the other side.  If I were just ‘talking’ about this mural in the security line, I’d be in a private room, stripped naked, with TSA agents climbing up my…well, you get the idea. Oh, wait, there’s more…

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Don’t let the bright colors fool you. Look at the images…Dead mothers and babies (again)…Actively burning buildings…Well, you can see as well as I can, just plain weird.

So let’s move on past the murals (and there ARE more). Perhaps the sculptures aren’t nearly so dark…

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Okay, I was wrong. Yes, that’s a gargoyle sitting in a piece of open luggage. I don’t even know where to start with this one. The plaque says that it was modeled to the size of a ‘…fifth-grade boy…’ Kinda specific, ain’t it? That’s REALLY creepy.

Let’s move on to the iconic sculpture outside on the main road in and out of the airport …

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(picture courtesy of : airport.blogspot.com)

Looks cool, right?  Hard to see the glowing/lighted red eyes in this pic (yes, I’m being serious, they glow). But suffice it to say that the sculptor, Luis Jimenez died in 2006 when a piece of the sculpture’s head broke off and severed an artery in his leg.

Next, we have the five huge buildings that were somehow ‘not built correctly’, so instead of correcting the issues or tearing them down and starting again, they buried the buildings and the connecting tunnels. I’m not going to write about the conspiracy theories of Denver International Airport, as there are plenty of websites devoted to the subject.

In spite of a rather inauspicious start, our trip to Colorado was *AMAZING*!!!  Taylor is ecstatic about living near the mountains and hiking. The views are indescribably beautiful. In the next blog, I’ll describe our first foray into the Rocky Mountain’s, 65 degree weather at the start, lunch at “You Need Pie” and snow & hail to round off day one!

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We’re back!

Posted in Uncategorized by jerseygator on May 19, 2015

After a long hiatus, we have returned.  We love food, travel, gardens, family, books, movies and more…

Hello Colorado!

Andrea and Tracey in the Rocky Mountain Nation Forest.

Andrea and Tracey in the Rocky Mountain Nation Forest.

More pix and posts to follow.

Posted in Uncategorized by jerseygator on August 22, 2012

How many times in life are you up to the challenge of an adventure? Follow Fran’s adventure as an ESL teacher in China for one year!

Teaching ESL in China

Why not?

I moved to New Jersey from my native Vermont in January, 2012 to be nearer to my family. I found a job right away, but three months later found myself unemployed in a tough economy.

I have been, having started work at the age of 15, a camp counselor, a delicatessen sandwich maker, a diner waitress, a janitor, an actor doing children’s theatre, a house parent in a school for the deaf, a UPS driver, a mathematical quotations clerk for a large insurance company, an insurance clerk in a small insurance company, an elementary school teacher, dairy farmer, a baker/owner of a home bakery, owner of a rototilling business, a substitute teacher, a special needs advocate, an EMT with a non profit ambulance, a telephone receptionist, an Executive with a direct selling company, a newspaper columnist, a freelance writer for a newspaper and magazines, an…

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I liked it so much I bought the store.

Posted in Uncategorized by jerseygator on November 6, 2011
Tags: ,

Our family has been working toward eating in a healthy fashion for a long time. As noted in my last (long ago…sorry) post, we recently changed to eating using a paleo template. I’m fairly strict, Darrol not as much, and the kids are 50/50, as they eat what we cook but are old enough to knosh on whatever they want. Since going paleo I’ve lost almost 30 pounds, getting back down to my college weight; however, I’m a significantly smaller size. Despite not being overweight, I’ve always been a size 6 or so (although I’d gone up to a size 10 pre-paleo). Now I’m a size 2, as most of my weight loss occurred in my middle area (from back-boobs to muffin top, hehe). I look and feel much better, and the inflammation that had flared up in the form of arthritis is gone.

I had been shopping at a small, local natural foods market about 1/2 mile from our house. It was nice to be able to stop in there and get some organic foods or try new things. In early September I stopped in and the owner informed me she was moving out of state and selling the store, which had only been open for just shy a year. We were heading out of town for a family event and we spent much of the drive discussing what we would do if we were to own such a store.

I have an excellent job at Target, which I love. It offers a good salary, good benefits and professional satisfaction. However, it also has its frustrations. I see people at a certain point in their healthcare continuum, usually when they’ve already been diagnosed with an issue and put on medication. At this point, many of the patients are overwhelmed with their diagnosis and my job is to help them understand their medications and how to get the best results from them with the fewest adverse effects. Patients who have been on medications for a while are often unwilling to make lifestyle or dietary changes which can change the need for medication. I thought it would be great to talk to people who were interested in their health before it became an issue. For Darrol’s part he was working at a job which he wasn’t as happy with. He is an excellent cook and would be able to talk passionately about preparing healthy, delicious foods.

It was decided. We were becoming small business owners. Yikes!

The stars aligned and financing quickly came together. Two weeks later we owned Natural Harvest Food Market in Mullica Hill, NJ! Now I spend 4 days a week as a pharmacist, talking to people about their health conditions and 3 days a week as a business owner, talking to people about how to avoid dangerous health conditions! I’m loving it. Darrol talks to people about how to best cook wild caught fish, game and grass-fed meats. We’re both learning the ins and outs of inventory control with perishable products and how to balance our time. We’re making mistakes, but we’re learning. And we’re having fun.

We’re currently in the process of updating the markets webpage, so stay tuned. We’ll be blogging over there, Darrol on cooking and me on health. We’re excited to have you follow us on Facebook and on twitter, if you’re so inclined. Mostly, we’re excited to be on this journey together, as a couple. Wish us luck!!

Moving toward Meatless? A semi-vegetarian goes Paleo

Posted in food politics,locavore,Primal,Uncategorized,vegetarian by jerseygator on September 6, 2011

Earlier this year a friend of ours lost a tremendous amount of weight following “the caveman diet.”  I had never heard of it, but it didn’t sound healthy.  It is, however, hard to argue with success,and I reserved judgement until learning more.

If you’ve been reading this blog you know that we’ve been trying to decrease the amount of meat we eat, both for health and ethical reasons.  But have our “healthy” changes met with success?  Over the last few years both Darrol and I have had difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, despite eating a diet that is pretty consistent with the government’s food pyramid (or the new MyPlate).

October 2010

In addition, we cooked most of our meals at home using good ingredients: olive oil, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, organic/local vegetables and pastured meat from a local farmer.  Despite this, we were both overweight and on various medications.  Something wasn’t working!

I started researching the Paleo or Primal way of eating, first by asking our friends how they ate and what the rational for the diet was.  They were very helpful and pointed us to a few websites.  In college, my initial degree program was biochemistry and I was fascinated by evolutionary biology (total Stephen Jay Gould fangirl).  So when I began to understand that the underlying science of this way of eating was based on the evolution of the human species, I really got interested.

The basic premise of this eating lifestyle is that humans evolved for the vast majority of their time on earth as hunter-gatherers, not agrarians.  The introduction of grains, in the grand scheme of time, is very recent.  In addition, the last 100 years or so have seen a rapid manipulation of our foods, moving us farther away from “whole” foods to manufactured, processed food-like substances.  So to adapt to this lifestyle, one moves back to the initial way of eating to which our bodies evolved.

In addition to that basic premise, the role of insulin and other hormones and how they have evolved to work with our physiology is critical.  By eliminating grains, one is eliminating massive amounts of carbohydrates from the diet.  As insulin responds to carbohydrates, and insulin also promotes fat storage, the amount of fat stored decreases.  (I will blog on all these points soon, but just want to hit the basics today).

So what changes have we made? Surprisingly few.  The basics of the diet are grass fed/pastured meats (already doing),  vegetables (which have increased exponentially), some fruits, and healthy fats, such as coconut oil and avocado.  We eat a lot more eggs (pastured, from a local farmer) and no processed foods.  We seldom eat out, but when we do we avoid grains, breads, and starchy foods.  I’ve eliminated most dairy (no big deal for me), and Darrol’s moved to 2% or whole milk instead of skim.  We eat some cheese, mostly as garnish.  No breads, pastries, rice, pasta, etc.

Well, the proof is in the paleo pudding.  I had my lab work done and a doctor’s appointment today.  I have lost 14 pounds (just shy of 10% of my initial weight) and am in the healthy weight range for my height.  I’ve also lost 4 inches (!!) off my waist.  More importantly, my doctor looked at my lab work and stated “Wow!  Whatever you’re doing keep it up!”

Fasting glucose 67 (down from 87)

Total Cholesterol 148 (relatively unchanged…I was still on pravastatin)

HDL 63 (up from 54)

LDL 70 (down from 112)

VLDL 15 (down from 26)

Triglycerides 76 (down from 132!)

My vitamin D level went from 14 to 28 (still low but doubled from last time), so I’ll continue supplementation for a while, plus get my 30 minutes of sunshine daily at lunch (and much more when I’m not at work).  My thyroid level has been low off and on, so we’ll continue to monitor (I have no metabolic symptoms so am not overly concerned).  I’m off all medications and don’t have a follow up for 6 months!

So, I’m retiring the “Moving Toward Meatless” posts.  I’m excited to learn more about eating this way, and can’t see ANY reason to go back to the conventionally taught nutrition (eg, MyPlate).  I think one of the reasons it’s working is the focus on whole foods; removing the processed garbage removes so many non-food, potentially toxic things from the diet. I’ll be blogging about the science behind some of the ideas, as well as recipes we try.   Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll research what I can, or link you to some great sites.  I’m off to make some guacamole!

Darrol and I celebrate his recent birthday at Fogo de Chau

The Great Western Train Trek: Day 3

Posted in travel,Uncategorized by jerseygator on October 21, 2010

The Great Plains

I woke up this morning just before sunset and lay in the bunk looking at the stars.  Suddenly the train jerked a few times before coming to a stop.  I didn’t think much of it, as the train made numerous stops for any variety of reasons.  I got up as the sun was coming up and quietly dressed before checking on my Mom.  As she was awake, we had an early breakfast and let Kenzie sleep in.

At breakfast I commented that we had been stopped for a quite a while, and we weren’t at a station.  Turns out the train had hit a pick up truck crossing the tracks!  Two people in the truck were hurt and the delay was to check the engine and tracks for damage and debris.  I’m glad Kenz had been strapped in!  Ultimately, the train took off, but we were now three hours behind schedule.  When I later went onto the internet to find out what happened, the two men had been heading out on a hunting trip and the driver said he “didn’t see the train.”  Hmmm, wonder how he manages to hunt with that perception problem.  http://tinyurl.com/23cxkpb

Mom and I sat with an older Canadian couple at breakfast.  They had already had an eventful trip, as, on the way down the man had had a heart attack on the train!  He, obviously was ok and they were on their way home to Vancouver after touring the southern US, visiting Kansas City, Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville.  I didn’t say anything about his ordering sausage and hash browns at breakfast.  What’s the point?  I was also excited to see that they had grits on the menu and, upon ordering, that they were pretty good.  It’s the little things…

The small sleeper car seen from the hallway

After breakfast I went back to the car and read a little until Kenz woke up an hour later.  I caught her up on the excitement of the morning (we were still stalled at that time) then joined her at breakfast to keep her company.  Mom wasn’t in her car, but I saw her still sitting and chatting with the Canadian couple when we went through the dining car.  I really envy her ability to make instant friends.  At breakfast a young Canadian woman names Lauren joined us.  Lauren had traveled down to Kentucky to support some friends in an equestrian competition.  She had traveled pretty extensively for someone who was 22 and regaled us with interesting stories from Thailand, Italy and Australia and her preparations to go to Egypt next month.  We talked of trying regional foods and how it really helped you to understand a culture.  Then we discovered she had never tried grits!  Needless to say, when Kenz received our breakfast she immediately added some butter and crumbled bacon to her grits and offered a spoonful to Lauren.  After a moments hesitation Lauren took a taste and found she really liked them.  Her mother walked by a few moments later and Lauren informed her that tomorrow morning she would be ordering grits and showing her family and friends how good they were.  Another southern conquest!

I think the thing I’m really enjoying about the train travel is the people you meet.  I’m not gregarious, but when you’re sitting at a meal with folks you just can’t help but talk.  At lunch today we met an older couple that had met 14 years ago because they were pen pals—the old fashion, snail mail kind!  They were self-professed “bookaphiles” and we spent lunch comparing favorite authors and stories, writing down some suggestions from each other about new authors to try.  Turns out the woman and McKenzie had very similar taste in books, so we’re going to go online with our Nooks to check out some of these ideas.

A brief history of Amtrak:  A question we discussed on the train was why, if all the trains we were rode were representative of the company, was the business always on the brink of bankruptcy?  I asked our car steward and he explained that Amtrak is a government-subsidized company; some of their support comes from the same tax pool that pays for roads and other transportation infrastructure.  However, Congress often looks at cutting Amtrak when budget time comes around because there is a perception that the taxpayers are funding “tourists.”  There doesn’t seem to be much concern around the local Amtrak runs, but the long distance runs rile people up.  Of course Amtrak does provide economic dollars, as does most tourism driven business, but most drive those dollars without tax help.  The steward felt that, even if Warren Buffet were to buy the company, there’s no way a private company could keep it afloat.  Here is a link to the Congressional Budget Office which explains this to some degree: http://tinyurl.com/27rqqyw

This afternoon the stewards hosted a Wine & Cheese Tasting Party for the sleeper cars.  They had set up in the dining car and Mom and I sat down to a platter of Minnesota cheeses (swiss, white cheddar and blue) and little plastic cups.  The steward gave us a little talk about each of the wines before we tried them; all four were from the west coast-Oregon, Washington state or California.  While trying the wines they had a little trivia contest to give away a bottle of each type and I won a Cabernet!  I’m not a red wine drinker, so I’m sure Darrol will enjoy this one.  At lunch we met two women from Seattle and got a lot of great tips about where to go and what to do in Seattle.

Dinner that night was a repeat menu from the night before.  We shared our meal with a retired English teacher from Portland who was a fan of classic movies.  He and Mom put my old movie knowledge to shame discussing movies from the black-and-white era.  Then we discussed literature from William Shakespeare to  Robert Heinlen.  I must say, I’m enjoying the mix and meet mealtimes!

Boys night out in New York City – part 1 of 2

Posted in Uncategorized by jerseygator on April 9, 2010

Single Malt Scotch – Admittedly, Scotch is an acquired taste.  But once you do acquire it, it’s with you for life.  Many years ago, I had a penchant for single malt scotch. However, the desire to stay married and avoid financial ruin (yes, they can be expensive) caused me to give up regular drinking of SMS’s. Fast forward 25 years or so & enter stage right, two of my best friends, Bob and Tim (whose last names shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty).  Bob runs an Internet business and through one of his contacts, was offered attendance to a SMS tasting in New York City.  Needless to say, when asked if we would like to attend with him, both Tim and I took scant nanoseconds to reply in the affirmative (I believe, ‘HELL yes!’ was my reply).   On to April 8, 2010.  I offered to drive and stay reasonable sober, so my two compadres could enjoy the evening to it’s fullest.  Keep in mind that Bob grew up in NYC & knows most of the where’s & when’s of the Big Apple.  With Bob & Tim navigating, we make it into the city with plenty of time to spare and so decide to park the car in a garage (yeah, I know) so we could enjoy the evening.  First on the agenda?  A haberdashery for yours truly (okay, my penchant is now for hats). With Tim and his Iphone’s help, we located a place near the garment district and I score, big-time (you’ll see pix of that later).

Tim lending a hand

Next it was on to a private club nearby and the Tasting. Let me just state for the record, Estonians are cool.  Here we met Ross Hendry, a true and wonderful Scotsman, of BB&R Spirits representing Glenrothes distillery in Scotland.  Despite Tim’s attempted computer intervention, the Powerpoint presentation was a bust; However, Ross was unperturbed and went right ahead with a very nice presentation of the distillery & how scotch is made and how Glenrothes does it differently than other larger distilleries.

Bob & Tim

We had six different scotches to try, ranging from the Select Reserve to a 1975 scotch (Yes, distilled when Gerald R. Ford was in office and I’m pretty sure, before Ross was born). I won’t describe each various vintage here (if you’re really interested, all three of us took notes on each sampling and we’d love to share that with you off-line) but suffice it to say that it was 90 minutes of pure Scottish pleasure.  The 1985 was our favorite and the overall winner by the majority attending.  Just for your edification, the 1985 runs about $125 a bottle and the 1975 about $500 (refer to sentence 4 above).  With the evening still young, it was now off to dinner, but where to eat?  Dear God, this is New York City.  The diversity of culture and food is like nowhere else in the world.  Virtually anything you might want in a 10 mile radius, within reason.  A quick hop onto the subway and we were ready to eat.  Where, you ask, did we choose?  The answer to that and more in part two of  ‘Boys night out in New York City’.

The Empire State Building

Pressure Cookin’ Soup

Posted in Uncategorized by jerseygator on October 17, 2009

Our newest kitchen gadget, the pressure cooker, has had one trial run and I was pretty impressed.  My goal is to learn to modify recipes to the pressure cooker, not to look for “pressure cooker recipes” per se.  So I thought about soups as a good place to start.

Our oldest son, Stephen, owns The Sweet Life Bakery with his wife, Jill McClennan.  Every week Steve does an article for a local newspaper, The Grapevine, on a culinary topic, ranging from the local food scene to festivals.  This week Stephen blogged about “Poor Soup,” a potato soup with collard greens added at the end.  It sounded so good, I had to give it a try.

I’m not a cook… I admit it.  I don’t have the flair that Darrol does, or the basic understanding of what goes with what.  Normally I follow recipes, as they give me a comfort level.  But today I thought, what the heck.  The potatoes and collards cost less than $5 at the local farmer’s stand so it wouldn’t be a financial disaster if the dish didn’t turn out!

I started simply… 3 slices of bacon from Mr. Pig went into the cooker over medium heat.  While the fat rendered I cut up some onions, garlic and potatoes and pulled some homemade chicken stock out of the freezer.  I pulled the bacon out of the pot and put the onions in to sweat, adding the garlic a few minutes later for just a minute or two, then adding the stock, potatoes and salt/pepper.  I put the lid on and brought it to high pressure.

After 6 minutes I turned the burner off and let the pot cool down.  After cooling, I opened the pot and found the potatoes had cooked to perfection!  It took me longer to peel and cut the potatoes than to cook them… I am so loving this pressure cooker.  I used the immersion blender to make the soup creamy, then added some cleaned collards that I had removed the stems from and cut into a chiffonade.  I stirred the green strips into the soup, put the lid back on and let it just stew for a few minutes to soften the collards.

Once the soup had cooled down, I ladled it into bowls, put a little olive oil drizzle on the top and crumbled up the bacon I had cooked earlier.  I also snipped some fresh chives from the garden into the bowl.  Darrol opted for sour cream instead of olive oil, giving the soup a creamy consistency.  Overall, a very quick, very satisfying soup for a chilly, rainy night.   Next up for the pressure cooker… beans!

Zen and the Art of Garden Maintenance

Posted in Uncategorized by jerseygator on September 3, 2009

When I was a teenager, my father would make my sisters and I weed the front flower beds.  This is not one of my happier memories.  I saw absolutely no point in spending my Saturdays cleaning up a yard I took no interest in, and merely viewed the weeding as an onerous chore.  Keep in mind that we grew up in Florida, so not only was it oppressively hot, the humidity was in the 90’s.

Fast forward to today, where I spent an hour or so happily weeding my garden.  Wait a minute…happily?

Our back garden, fairly weed free

Our back garden, fairly weed free

If you live in South Jersey, you know that we’ve had an amazingly wet spring and summer; unsurprisingly, the weeds have not only gained a foothold but, because many of my days off from work were rainy, I could not go out to tackle them.  I kept looking out the kitchen window at my gardens and seeing, not beautifully maintained beds but messy, grassy plots.  However, I’ve learned something since those odious Saturday’s in Florida.

The weeds aren’t going anywhere.  There is no better time than weeding to get to know your plants, examine your soil, or just watch a ladybug.  I don’t garden with an iPod on, or a radio in the background.  I like the sound of my neighborhood, low flying planes and all.  I enjoy pulling up the occasional vegetable to see how they’re progressing or find a hidden ripe pepper amongst the leaves.  As a fairly new gardener, I can still marvel at how a few scattered seeds in May can turn into leeks, peppers, and carrots in September.

I don’t ask my kids to help me in the garden.  My husband sometimes gets on me about having them come outside and lend a hand, but I manage people in my job all week.  I don’t want to tamper my enjoyment by having someone out there who’s performing tasks grudgingly and who I have to supervise.  Perhaps those hot Saturdays in Florida are still a part of my memory.  Whatever the reason, I’ll happily handle the weeding myself.

And Daddy, I forgive you.