Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rainy Day Apples

The finished product!  Yummm!
I was given a gift of four beautiful apples from up North.  Suddenly I found myself with apples and a rainy day on my hands.  This is what happened!


1/2 Stick of Butter
4 Nice Sized Apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
Dash of Salt (optional)
1 c. Craisins
1 1/2 c. Granulated Sugar

1 1/2 c. Brown Sugar
1 Stick of Butter
1/2 c. Walnut Pieces
1/4 c. Shredded Coconut (optional)
1 c. Dry Oats

Apple mixture in melted butter
Heat oven to 325°
Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a 13 x 9 baking dish
Place the next five ingredients into the mixing bowl and toss to coat apples and Craisins.  Pour the apple mixture into the pan on top of the melted butter and place it into the oven to get started while you mix the next batch of ingredients.

Mix dry ingredients until blended

Wash and dry the bowl for the next steps.  Add Brown Sugar and butter to the bowl and cut in the butter using a pastry blender or large fork until it is thoroughly mixed and pilly.  Add Walnuts, coconut and oats then cut with a fork until well blended.

Dry ingredients spread on top
Spoon the oat mixture evenly onto the top of the apples and bake uncovered for one hour or until it's kind of crusty and apples are the desired tenderness.  Oven temperatures and cooking times may vary.

This recipe served just the two of us.  Sadly there was not enough to share.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Little Bit of Caribbean In Texas

Years ago I picked up "Rum" as a hobby.  I know... rum can't be a hobby!  It isn't a "thing"!  But collecting rum can be a very GOOD hobby.  I began to collect bottles of different types of rum.  I bought a guide book about the many wonderful kinds of rum and where to buy them.  I found them in our travels all over the Caribbean and I would pack home as many bottles as the law would allow.

New Cane Grinder - still in the testing phase
Imagine my surprise when our friends Katie and Dean volunteered to take us to visit the Railean Handmade Rum Distillery... right up the street in the neighboring town of San Leon, TX.  I had heard about this small Texas distillery on Facebook (of all places) but didn't make the connection that they were near us here in Kemah.

We headed out for a fun day starting with a distillery tour by the founder of Railean Texas Rum - Kelly Railean herself!

Our tour started at noon and began with a look at the new (to them) sugar cane grinder.  It isn't something they are using now, but they are toying with the idea of making a product from the cane juice.  They currently use Molasses to make their rums.  The smell in the building was deliciously subtle and sweet with it.

Fermentation tank and distillery
Kelly was very proud of the "Made In America" mark on all of their boxes.  She began her business as a hobby, much like mine.  But with her background in the wine business, and her husband's in chemical engineering, her hobby took on a life of it's own.

She took us through the entire process, starting with fermentation and moving on to the distillation.  The company makes several types of Rum and have recently added a Vodka and a Blue Agave (like Tequila) to their label.

She explained their aging process and how the different products remain casked for different lengths of time.  The barrels infuse color and flavors depending upon how long the product is aged. They have stacks of barrels just waiting for their time to come.

The bung was removed and the alcohol dipped out.
The distillery was quiet while we were there.  The business of making liquor is heavily regulated and Kelly was in the middle of a recertification process that required her to shut down the distillery so that her equipment could be inspected.  For us... this meant that we were in for a special treat!  They don't usually give out samples directly from the barrels... but for US, they made an exception.

They used a special glass tool to retrieve sips of the pure alcohol, full of oaky particles and whatnot...  It was an eye opening experience!  This was the straight stuff!  100% alcohol!  Uncut!  The flavor was marvelous!

We were each given souvenir shot glasses to sample the many products made here.

We got to see the vats in which the distilled alcohol was cut with purified water and mixed to create the finished products.

We saw the bottling and labeling process.  Each batch undergoes many testing and regulatory steps before it goes into the bottle.  The final step is to test the alcohol level using this hygrometer.  It's all very scientific and I was impressed by the fact that Kelly takes the process and the regulations very seriously in every step along the way.

I asked about the difference between "alcohol content" and "proof" - 40% alcohol by volume is said to be "80 proof".  Kelly told us a little bit of history.

She said that early British sailors, suspecting that their alcohol was being watered down, began to test the amount of alcohol by adding gunpowder and lighting it on fire.  The watered down alcohol would not ignite.  When it did ignite, this was "proof" that the level of alcohol in their bottles was correct.

I'm sure I've botched the story but if you go to visit the distillery, be sure to ask Kelly to tell it to you...

Thank you Kelly for the tour and Katie and Dean for this day!

We were given samples of each and every product made here and I will tell you that I'm not accustomed to drinking my rum straight!  I normally require fruity accompaniments to tone down the strong taste of the liquor.  I was amazed to find all of the Rums, and even the Vodka and the Blue Agave to be quite pleasant upon the palate.  They were smooth and each one had a very distinctive flavor with beautiful aftertaste...  They even smelled divine... scrumptiously sweet and warm.  To say that this day was a treat would be a vast understatement!  I can't believe the incredible luck we had in finding this little known gem.  We each took home two bottles, only because that's all we were allowed!

So, if you're ever in the Kemah area... hop on over and check out Railean Handmade American Rum. And tell Kelly that Dos Libras sent you!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Putting The Nerves To Bed

Back when I held a job... my nerves got a workout almost every day.  It was a common occurrence.  I would get frustrated over something that was out of my control or a wrong that I could not right.  I was wound up almost all of the time, but I was used to it.

Since retiring to Sail-Off-Into-The-Sunset... I can say that my nerves have become lazy.  But every now and then, they do get dusted off and frazzled anew.  Our first jaunt without a Buddy Boat, from Offatt's Bayou to Kemah, was one of those days.

Going under the Railroad Bridge
First, it started as a tiny minor little annoyance...  The Galveston Causeway Railroad Bridge tender had "tone" in his voice when he answered my inquiry.  He might as well have told me " the bridge is obviously UP you d*#mb a$$, why are you bothering me?"  I felt my flaccid nerves start to stir. (Snap, crackle)  Well, in my defense, I could hear a train whistle in the distance... how do I know how long ahead he lowers the bridge?

Ok, I shook it off, maybe he was in the bathroom when I called!  It's a beautiful day and we're FREE! And, we're headed for the land of endless showers and wi-fi!  Woo Hoo!

Our route in red from the bottom - Pelican Island Cut in the circle
The next ripple in my nerve pool was caused by a barge nearly running us down in the Pelican Island Cut.

Previously, we have had nothing but pleasant experiences with the working traffic along the way.  Coming into the Cut, we were asked to wait up while a barge repositioned his load, which we did... and pleasantries were exchanged.

It looked a lot closer at the time...
We were given the "all clear" and proceeded through the cut.  As we were bounced around by the propwash of half a dozen banked barges, we suddenly saw a fully loaded barge bearing down hard upon us. (Snip-snap, SNAP)

We had nowhere to go, with the line of barges on our Starboard side, the Dredge taking up the Port side...  We couldn't get any closer to the barges without the propwash spinning us like a top.

The guy never said a word, just buzzed on by us leaving my nerves popping and jumping with the injustice of it.  HOW RUDE! (snap, pop)

I tried to brush it off and get over it, but the next bit of entertainment was just getting started.  The winds had suddenly increased and we began to feel the effects of the strong outgoing tide.  We bounced out into the Houston Ship Channel and began to slog our way amidst the real contenders... SHIPS!

Bruce hurried to get sails up to ease our motion while I fought the 2 knot opposing current with it's associated chop.  I listened to the radio traffic as we were derisively mentioned... " Yeah that SAILboat is making, like, 2 miles per hour".  Hey!  We're going 3.9 knots, I'll have you know...(snap, pop)

I guess I should give our AIS credit at this point for bringing a welcome bit of comfort.  The information it provided was my lifeline to sanity.  It made sense of what would otherwise have been a confusing situation.  I watched the ship traffic on the screen as Bruce raised the sails, our ride became more smooth and order returned to our world.

Sailboats on Galveston Bay
Soon, the nerves were once again returning to normal as the sail became very much like just another afternoon on the water.

Yeah, this is NICE!  A beautiful day for a sailboat ride.  I was comfortable with the charts and knew we were in good water.  The waves came down and it was just perfect.  I was surprised to feel my nerves folding themselves back into their beds... nighty night, nerves!

What was I all fired up about?  This is no biggie.  If we're going to survive this "Cruiser" thing, we'll have to be ready for more than THIS!  No worries, I've GOT this!  We pointed our nose towards the bridge and very soon we were entering the channel that is the final approach to the Kemah area.

I enjoyed the reverse parade... us watching the Boardwalk people, watching US...

And then the nerves were jerked back out of their beds for another round!  (Squawk, snapple/snap pop!)

I could handle the dropping depth readings as we turned into the Portofino Harbour Marina.  I was confident that there would be enough depth for us... they wouldn't tell us to come here if there wasn't enough water for us, right? (ahem)  I brought the boat in as far away from the bank on our Port side as I could squeak by.  I brushed past the sailboat docked on the outside of the pier... hugging his gunwales as the depth gauge dropped and dropped.  Finally, I just quit looking at it!

The slip we're supposed to be in!  We are now in the next slip to the left.
I can DO THIS!  The winds are a concern, but not a huge one... I spot our slip, K10 and I've got us lined up.  The area is tight for a 45 ft boat (plus another 5 for the dinghy), but I'm good... easy does it now, adjust for the wind...  reverse a bit to slow our progress, turn the wheel hard to Starboard and we're in...  BUT WAIT!  What the &%$! is THAT in our slip!!!!????

ABORT!  ABORT!!!  Holy CRAP!  There's a stupid little fishing boat in our slip!  So I throw it into reverse and wrangle the nose around, then the stern... forward, back, port, starboard - it's a blur!  Somehow I got the boat backed over and into the slip on the other side of the finger pier. (without hitting anything)  A nice couple came out to help handle the lines.  If not for their help, we might have had the opportunity to meet the owners of boat next to us.

When everything was done and we were tied up snugly in our slip, my legs began to shake.  I think this took two years off my life!  But, we got it done.  Again, I thought to myself, "If we can't handle a little thing like THIS, we have no business being out here!".  And I guess we did handle it... it was just irritating! (snap, pop, fizzle...)

Fast-forward an hour and now we sit beside the pool having a beverage.  We watch the sailboats go by and we remember how lucky we are to be doing this.  How lucky I am for the opportunity to quit my job and leave that world where problems are beyond my control.  Here... things may not always be within my control, but, if we're lucky... they'll be manageable.  And my nerves?  They've gone back to bed.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cruisers For A Week

The excitement hasn't worn off but a sense of calm has taken over.  We have broken the dock glue grip and are on our way.  My mind is a bit fuzzy, the days run together.  The places, although few, have begun to get jumbled.  I guess Cruiser brain has kicked in. 

I had worried that I would not be able to "do nothing".  Well, that seems to not be a problem.  I've finished one book and am halfway though a second.  I'm definitely letting go.

Carrot Cake - Bruce's Choice this year!
Bruce and I celebrated my 50th birthday and his 71st, quietly with the folks from our  Buddy Boat here in Offatt's Bayou.  It was a lazy day and the only thing we did of interest was to visit Phantom for brownies and coffee, then make personal pizza dinner for the four of us.  We have been pinned in by the winds, which have mostly been blustery since our arrival here.  

So far, we've cruised 174 miles.  Not so much really.  We haven't even made it past Galveston, TX., which is the furthest up the coast I've been in a boat.  But in my mind, we're already worlds away.  We have been so lucky… charmed even.  The weather has been cooperative and the waterways have been smooth.  Bruce has been able to get some sailing in, although motor-sailing mostly, or just motoring.  He just can't seem to sit still and wants to SAIL!

Phantom leads the way through the Brazos River Lock system
I can't say enough about how much we've enjoyed our new friends from Phantom.  They have taken us under their wing and have shown us the way to get started.  I mean, we KNOW how to sail and to get from here to there… but just the ways of the waterway, dealing with the locks and the rivers…  They have been just wonderful!

Fishing in the Colorado River

I've never anchored in a river before.  I wouldn't know the first thing about it… but wait.  That's not true…  I do NOW!  We spent the first night after Lighthouse Cove in the Colorado River.  It was such a thrill.  We followed Phantom through the Lock, listening to Jimmy and the Lockmaster talk back and forth.  We kind of got the feel for it.  We turned down into the river and Jimmy told us to drop the hook anywhere past the last green channel marker.  Once we were "outside" the marked waterway, we were free to anchor anywhere.  

We turned up into the current coming downstream and dropped the anchor.  We set it, and with the exception of the trip line float we had rigged being pulled under by the current… everything went fine.  We had rain most of the day, but once we got settled in, the sky cleared and we were able to get out on deck and see our new surroundings.  It made us feel almost giddy!  We spent a quiet night in the river and were up early the next morning to get ready for our next leg.  We didn't want to hold things up as there was another lock to go through.

We were first through the East Colorado Lock at 9am
Phantom contacted the Colorado lock and was given the go-ahead to lead us out of the East lock before other traffic could pass.  We hurried to exit the lock so as not to keep the other boaters waiting.

Hi Camille!!!
We met a group of pleasure craft waiting to enter the East Lock on their way to Port Aransas to attend the Harvest Moon Regatta.  Among them was More Good Timin'... one of my Facebook friends!

Passing beneath bridges becomes commonplace
The day on the ICW was uneventful… maybe TOO uneventful, but we were both so excited it didn't matter.

Do I look fat in this picture?
Even the kitties are becoming comfortable with this routine.  Jetsam has surprised us by becoming so outgoing.  She even came up into the cockpit while under way for a look around.

 I am always on the lookout for critters to photograph and was surprised that we didn't' see more birds.  Any time I wasn't on the helm, you can bet there was a camera in my hand.

The land alongside the ICW is mostly marshy and empty of civilization.  There was the occasional small fishing town that looked like someone may have built a shack, then a few more people, and a few more… and then a bait stand, maybe a boat ramp, followed by a small store…

They just spring out of nowhere.  Some were actually quite nice with green launs and brightly colored houses on stilts.  All very quaint, but I can't imagine living there…

One such small town spilled across to the island 0n the other side of the ICW ,causing the need for a cute little bridge... the Caney Creek Swing Bridge.  It wasn't a problem, but just swung right open as we approached.

The color of the water and decreasing depths made me nervous.

Our next stop for the night was the San Bernard River.  This was a little more difficult than the Colorado, because the depths weren't as good and we had less room to swing.  We set the anchor and I went below to begin dinner, we were hosting Phantom… Bruce donned swim trunks and jumped into the river to check the depths.  Suddenly, I heard him calling me to look out!  I glanced out the galley port and saw him standing on the bottom in chest deep water, just a few feet from the boat.  "I guess this means you want to move the boat, don't you?" I said.  That would be affirmative…

We reset the anchor to keep us in the deeper water towards the center and give us a bit more room to swing, then had a great evening enjoying brisk conversation with our new friends.  It seems that we NEVER run out of things to talk about with these people and find them endlessly pleasant.  This is such a relief because we had actually never met them before.  We hooked up with them via Active Captain's new eBoatCard website.  This could have gone horribly wrong, but like I said… we're Charmed!

We stayed two nights in the San Bernard.  The river had a kinder current and hardly any traffic due to the fact that there is no outlet into the Gulf of Mexico.  Bruce and I went exploring early afternoon of our second day there, after doing some kind of boat chores… I don't remember what… We took the kayak off the bow and set off like Pro's!  There was a small tributary off to our left.  We paddled into it amidst multitudes of splashing fish.  Bruce threw a lure, while I guided the kayak along.  

We crept along and finally saw some birds hanging out in their natural habitat.  One small bird was not in the least bothered by our presence.

Others took flight when we got too close.  We could look overland to see our masts back in the river proper.  It was so quiet and peaceful and the air smelled so sweet.  

We went as far as we could until we began to bump the oyster shell bottom, so we turned back and continued towards the beach at the "mouth" of the river.

We found a flock of 30 or more roseate spoonbills… my FAVorite bird! I took hundreds of pictures as I crept closer and closer.  I finally stopped, thinking I was close enough.  I didn't want to disturb them.  

They were hanging out with a bunch of pellicans and other birds, just doin' their thing.  They were so funny to watch as they all warily strutted along in the opposite direction from where I stood.

Suddenly, they all got spooked and took flight!  It was amazing to see their nearly white backs going away, then they all banked and I got the full glory of their pink undersides as the circled back around and landed back where they were.  It was awesome!

Conquered the Blue Crab!
I left the birds alone and explored a huge fallen tree.  I went over to climb up on it for a photo op, but found that it was snuggled in the sand with a moat filled with blue crab protecting it.  I leapt aboard and did my climbing, then jumped off barely missing the opportunity to fall on my ass in the water.  I had made an unfortunate shoe choice today…

We continued on until we could no longer paddle the kayak.  We pulled it along to the end of the road, where we beached it and headed for the beach on foot.  There wasn't another person for MILES!

Contemplating Life

The beach was littered with driftwood logs and seaweed but we took a quick dip anyway.  We whiled away the afternoon lying on the sand contemplating life.  We watched the baitfish surf the waves for nearly an hour before we headed back to the boat to clean ourselves up for dinner aboard Phantom.

The next morning, we needed to be on our way a little earlier as we were to be the first out of the lock when it opened.  We radioed the Lockmaster and he opened the lock just as we approached. 

Following Phantom through the Brazos River Lock

We had to dodge a lot of floating driftwood logs on this stretch of ICW.  I assume they were coming from the Brazos river up ahead.  There was some question as to whether or not the recent rain up North would have any effect on us, but we were, once again… lucky.  We breezed through the lock, no problem.  I know that eventually our luck will turn, but for now… I'm thankful that we're getting an easy start.  

We motored through the Freeport TX area where there is an inlet to the Gulf.  This is a part of the ICW we've travelled many times participating in the Harvest Moon Regatta.  It was funny how little of this territory we remembered seeing before.  We must have slept through this part!  There were two bridges that we had to go under... No more butterflies, but there's always that one moment of uncertainty looking up at the mast as it slides beneath the bridge. 

We were joined by a fellow BYC'er, Windswept, who were on their way to participate in the Annual Harvest Moon Regatta, which would begin two days from now.

They followed us all the way into Offatt's Bayou, then headed for the South side of the basin to join other CC boats, Bumboat and La Vie Dansante.  We were thrilled to find familiar friends here and took the dinghy across to hang out with them for the evening.

 It was a lot of fun and great to see some friends who hadn't made it to our bon voyage party.  We made our way back to Dos Libras before dark and dined alone that evening and had an early night. 

This brings you up to date, dear reader.  The wifi is highly questionable here, so it's difficult to get a post published.  The weather has been cool, rainy and windy… keeping us holed up onboard.  We've been somewhat productive.  I got that birthday cake made only one day after the fact.

Shuttling the boys back to shore, Rub-A-Dub-Dub
We had a visit from Chuck and his friends as they were passing through on their way to Port A for the HMR party.  We begged off going to Phantom for dinner tonight as the weather wasn't good and we've been taken over by a laziness that has been long in coming.  

We've been "UP" for so long… it's time to come back down.  We are content to just lie around in our jammies with a run drink for the evening, contemplating our future good times.  And that… is how I will end this post one week after our departure as Cruisers!