Friday, 31 October 2014

October - the winter begins

The winter begins  .... well, technically it is still autumn, but having our life split in two we seem to the miss the mid-seasons and go from Summer to Winter overnight - Summer in Bury, UK, Winter in Naples, Florida.  To confuse us even more, our Summer is cooler than our winter!!  You think you are muddled - try living it.  Yes, I know, almost without exception, you would sell your soul to trade places. Beware what you wish for.

Indeed the Florida tropical summer is staying late this year so we had a very wet journey down from Orlando and arrived in Naples in dark in torrential rain - this photo is taken as we arrived in Naples at lunch time.  It was gloomy and very, very wet.  Over here it is very wet in Summer and very dry in winter - see what I mean about confusing to the body and the brain - nothing is 'normal' for an English psyche.


Florida rain knocks ours into a cocked hat


Start as you mean to go on - our first morning in Naples and the two cleaners arrived.  They go through the place like a dose of salts and in one hour you are scrubbed to perfection.  Deep joy not having to clean all that tile, especially the lanai, not to mention wiping down all the kitchen cupboard doors.  I LOVE cleaners. Seriously, I would economise on food or whatever it took to get cleaned now and then.  It is easy for the two of us just to keep tidy and keep bits and bobs clean as we go along but that huge 'bottoming' as they call it up North is just a miserable flog and neither of us want to do it.

We do have to clean down outside and one thing which always needs sorting is all the poop left behind, on and around our outside light, by our resident frog.

I googled them as I thought it odd that we always seem to have a frog every year that looks just like the one we had last year.  Guess what, frogs can live about 15 years!!  He/she is truly our resident frog.  As you can see - totally unabashed by being unscrewed and cleaned up.  Love the little sucker toes for climbing trees (and walls!).


our resident frog

This is a picture of our commonest bird.   There is also a very teeny tiny one about the size of our wren and just as fast and elusive and, of course, our annual woodpecker family.  I think this (blue) bird is very pretty but it is probably their equivalent of our magpie or pigeon and is to be disparaged.  It does have a very unattractive call - more a screech.  I think it is a Blue Jay.




sorry for the not great picture, they refuse to pose


On day two we have to do the BIG grocery trawl.  We quite literally don't have a crumb in the house.  Talk about Mother Hubbard.  A half and half life means EVERYTHING gets dumped and you start again.  It isn't as easy as it sounds and we always spend the first week or two on each side of the transition saying stuff like - ''I thought we had some horseradish!' along with the other three hundred things we 'thought we had'.

The other thing which accompanies the first shop on this side of the water is me 'having a grocery shopping glum'.  This time, one item on my extensive it's-not-like-Tesco's  moan list was  ...... I had stuff for a Cherry Bakewell pudding: this came about because last time I was here I got wound up about not being able to get ground almonds (I know, get a life!) so I had flown here, accompanied by Ken and a packet of ground almonds, hence my having put the rest of the ingredients for the pudding on my shopping list.

Publix do not sell tinned cherries or cherry jam - neither creature exists here - already a bit peeved I mentally switched to - hey ho it will have to be a cherry cake before remembering they have not even heard of glace cherries.   Now before you read this as a chauvinistic tirade against 'foreigners who have no idea of what proper food is' - it isn't - it is actually the opposite - it is the realisation of how foreign I am.  I am in another culture and I don't fit.  Who but me could turn a shopping trip into a philosophical debate about differing cultures evolving from the same roots and language. 

I then went to pick up some Dijon mustard and discovered they have thirty (yes, thirty!) different brands of Dijon mustard - mostly, of course in giant squeezy bottles and very few relating to actual Dijon.

To cheer myself up (already) I hunted through the ethnic section where the British foods are stored (rightly so) primarily for pickled cabbage - no joy.  Sadly, this section does represent pretty much the worst of UK eating - Bisto, stuffing and cheap curry sauce so there isn't much for me here either.

Day two and I am already sliding into my ''I want to go home'' frame of mind.  On this day my (poor Ken!) husband had to listen to one of my usual rants about how I can't cook the simplest thing like a roast dinner because the oven is in effect an open fire in a box and I can't get basics like ........... (long list follows).  Being the sweetie he is, he then (unknown to me) tried to find several of the items I was already missing and he ended up ordering a jar of goose fat online - at $39 it will be my first and last.  For those who don't know, this is the only stuff to roast potatoes in!!!!!  Not that I am a foodie nit-picker or anything.

All that rant is just the tip of the ice-berg when you are a foreigner and not prepared to go native - I would have made a great colonial! Victorian corset, petticoat and bloomers in India.

That said - such a joy to shop here - if food shopping can ever be that.  Where in the UK would you find a virtually empty supermarket and car park and virtually empty roads.  Admittedly this place triples its population in season.  This did lead to a conversation that's worth remembering; we decided that when we give up on this place we will only come back to Naples out of season.  We had thought we might do six weeks here over the February part of our winter.  That is such a lovely idea weather-wise but it is sooooo much nicer to be here without the crowds.

Every year, when we get back - and I mean every year (all 15 of them) - our TV and wi-fi don't work.  It always takes a phone call and, often, a visit from a techie to sort it.  A phone call sorted the wi-fi but we had to wait on a techie for the TV.  Not a problem as thanks to my iPad and airplay TV we had a lovely couple of days immersed in good TV from the UK.

Just did a read through and realised, so far, you are ploughing through grump after grump - so I might as well get them all over in one go.

I have been selling all my 1/12ths in the UK and a lady wanted a lot but was concerned about postage from UK to USA so I said I would bring it with me and mail from here.  What a total nightmare.

Took the stuff up to the Post Office and discovered the Priority box might be a bit skimpy and would cost $17.90.

Off to UPS who agreed it was a good idea to pack my box within a larger box surrounded by peanuts (packing noodles to us) and this would cost $20.83.  Told my lady who sensibly opted for the UPS delivery.

Back to UPS who then tells me the packing costs $15 on top of the $20.83 but he would do it for $10.  So I am now ten bucks out of pocket.  He then looked at the address which was a PO Box address and tells us UPS don't deliver to PO boxes and if he put it through the mail it would cost more than the post office charge so it would best take it to them, assuring me it would be around the original $20 something dollars he'd first quoted me.

Off to the Post Office.  They say all that was rubbish UPS do deliver to PO boxes and the parcel is oversized and will cost $38.21.   I am now $27.38 out of pocket!!! not to mention packing and carrying a large box across the Atlantic.  Indeed one of our very large suitcases just came with the bear (remember him?) a pillow and this box.   

Note:  never, never complain about UK postage again.

We seemed to be trying to tick all the back in Naples boxes in week one and so we actually managed to get to the beach on Saturday.  Again, it was delightfully empty - for those of you who have been here let me just say we drove to Lowdermilk and just picked a parking place right at the front.  The sea is still 84 degrees at this time of the year, so Ken really enjoyed his swim - another reason to come here out of season.

Obviously we had to swing by Reginas (ice cream!) on Fifth (parked right outside!!!) but were too early - they don't open until 11.30 am.  Poor Ken.

I was luckier with my crab legs check-in at Grand Buffet on Sunday but I confess they were disappointingly pretty tasteless so I may try to resist that particular eatery during our stay.  All-you-can-eat shrimp at Red Lobster is calling me though.  Whilst on fishiness - during our grocery trip I bought a new to me fish called Swai - you know me try anything once. I bread-crumbed and Parmesan cheesed it and drizzled a little melted butter over it, popped in the oven and it was delicious.

The reason to relate all this was that it only cost $3.99 a pound.  Incredible.  Our North Atlantic fish and their own tuna and swordfish can come in at $20 a pound - breathtaking. 

Me, being me, will spend an arm and a leg on things that Ken likes but will scrimp when it comes to things I enjoy - why is that?  Love being a martyr?  No,  just left over pecuniary habits habits of a lifetime - 'dad always gets the biggest and best chop'

So, week two and we decided we needed to work on getting rid of all our leftover restaurant Groupons, coupons, gift cards etc from last year and we, being us, assiduously planned how and when.

We decided to work our way up the value scale and so began with a ten dollar Domino's coupon.  This gets a mention because - talk about cute - we ordered it on line and when Ken set off to pick it up I followed the cartoon of Pete the Pizza Man making our order - real time - I knew the second Ken had it in his mitts.  I have no idea why this amused me but marketing people know how to push your button.  Must check if Domino's at home has it.  Mind you we don't eat take-out pizza at home.

..... and that's pretty much it for week one: as far as week two goes - I was felled with a seven day 'headache'.  No kidding, three of the days I was pretty much useless.  I can only think it was because I had a week of steroids in the weeks before I left the UK and stopped them progressively the first week here???  I don't really have a better theory than that but I live in hope it was a one off.  My last day of, "OK I am probably better now", Ken came down with a stinky cold!!  Those of you who don't know Ken won't appreciate the significance - he NEVER but NEVER gets ill and the nearest he has ever been are the two or three colds he's had during our 20 years together and generally, even then,  I have to tell him he is ill because he hasn't noticed!  This time he took to flopping about in and on a bed for a couple of days.  Even more astonishingly not eating and .... wait for it ...... even refused pudding!!  I was getting seriously worried.

So, between us, we pretty much lost weeks two and three of October.

At the end of the poorly-bad stint, to celebrate wellness, avoid cooking and use another deal we opted for lunch at Carrabas for their special three course $12 deal.  Arrived at 1 pm to be told the offer only kicks in after 3pm.  Ate there any way and picked up a $50 tab.  Typical of the companies over here by the time we got home there was an email asking Ken to rate the meal. Ken commented (nicely not moaning) about their online advert not saying anything about their offer applying only after 3 pm.  Within half an hour after that he gets a phone message from the manager of the restaurant asking him to ring.  Half an hour later, an email arrives from her expressing her apologies, saying she will 'escalate it up to the powers that be' and giving him a free starter or dessert next time he is in there.  All this is not that unusual for customer service over here, though we remain impressed every time.  The clincher to this is, the next day, their email 'flyer' has 'after 3pm' added to it!!  We have a lot to learn in the UK about the customer being the reason for your business even existing.

Next food and customer service example comes from Ken's regular ice creamery.  He was on duty as a bucketeer for an orchestra at the park (free concerts in the sunshine on Sundays) and was passed by the lady who has the ice cream truck which Regina's sets up in the park that day.  She not only remembers him but remembers what he orders and that he has to go to the shop to get it (limited flavours on the truck) so she tells him she will bring his order back for him and it will be on the truck when he wants it.

When this began you must have thought it was to be one long moan about how dreadful it is for me being locked up in permanent sunshine in a beautiful coastal location for the winter but like most of life it is a two-sided coin and there will be much to miss about this place when we don't do it any more.

What could be nicer than riding your bike (for Ken) trike (for me) (yes a trike is not a jokey item over here) in the eighties sunshine with a slight breeze on empty flat roads at the end of October.....  oooh, I almost forgot.... then there is the Cracker Barrel Sunday fried chicken and 360's best lobster ravioli I have ever eaten and .......!


Lobster ravioli


Sorry about the dreadful photo but it is all I have except for my memories of the thinnest al dente pasta I have ever eaten, packed full of lumps of lobster meat - slight lemony, buttery creamy sauce to moisten it but not change the flavour - so delicate, so delicious and with Groupon (!) so cheap.  Glorious.  Do I love food or what?

The place also has a clever way of selling their wine - every bottle is at cost price plus their name 360. ($3.60)  











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