The calendar says Spring has arrived!

According to the calendar, spring officially arrived this past Monday! It seems to me that we have had spring most of the time since January, with only that one freeze that lasted a couple of days, however, the season begins. Now we can wear shorts and go barefoot without people treating us as if we’ve lost our minds. I’ve been seeing young ladies with their short shorts and jackets on in the morning for weeks already, and it did look weird.
Spring break at my house was fantastic as my oldest granddaughter and her twin girls came in on Wednesday and stayed until Saturday. She came in laden with seafood in case I didn’t have any, and the stuff she brought was stuff I didn’t have. Thursday evening, we feasted on crawdads, boiled shrimp and crab legs with trimmings of corn and potatoes and it was totally delicious. Those two little girls know how to peel shrimp and crawdads with the best of them and didn’t miss a bite. We did a lot of fishing, not so much catching and when we did catch they were practically minnows, but everyone had a wonderful time. The last time we went, on Friday evening, the girls ended up in the water and that was a special treat for them while they’re here. The tank is muddy so you can imagine what they looked like. We teased them about there being an octopus in the water and the one informed me that an octopus didn’t live in a tank, so there!
They had come in with lots of bubble blowing items and every time we sat down outside, someone had a bubble wand out and the bubbles were going everywhere as it was pretty windy, and once they pulled the wand out of the bottle…don’t be downwind of anyone!
This week, it was hard to find something to write about, it’s too early for coloring Easter eggs, and my mind was blank, until I found this old article about hot air balloons in my files. Several years ago, there was a display about the balloons and a chance to perhaps ride up in one in Castroville. One of the other employees at the paper wanted to go see them and go up if possible, so I went with her and even though the weather was too windy for the balloons to go up, it made for an interesting day and lots of great information.
According to the information from Wikipedia, unmanned hot air balloons are mentioned far back in Chinese history. Airborne lanterns were used for military signaling by Zhuge Liang in the Three Kingdom era. They are known as Kongming lanterns. Also, it is speculated that hot air balloons were used by the Nazca Indians of Peru over 1,500 years ago! So, they indeed have been around for a very long time.
Josef and Etienne Montgolfier of Annonay, France, built the first balloons capable of carrying passengers and used hot air to obtain buoyancy. They first experimented with unmanned balloons and flights with animals. The first flight with humans on board was on October 19, 1783. On board were a young physicist Pilâtre de Rozier; the manufacture manager, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon Giroud de Villette, at the Folie Titon in actual Paris. It had originally been decreed by King Louis XVI, that condemned criminals would be the first pilots; however, the young physicist Pilâtre Rozier and the Marquis Francios d’Arlander were granted the honor, after successfully petitioning the King for permission.
The first hot air balloons were cloth bags, sometimes lined with paper using a smoky fire built on a grill attached to the bottom. They frequently caught fire and were destroyed on landing.
A hot air balloon consists of several parts; a bag, called the envelope that is capable of containing hot air, and the gondola or wicker basket containing a source of heat.
Modern balloons are generally made of lightweight but strong, synthetic fabrics, such as ripstop nylon, or Dacron, which is polyester. The fabric is cut into panels and sewn together, along with structural load tapes that carry the weight of the gondola or basket. (The mouth of the balloon, the part closest to the flame is generally made of a fire resistant material.)
The panels are called gores, due to their triangular shape. There can be as few as 16 or as many as 24. The larger amount of gores used means a smoother shape.
The fabric or at least the top part of it is generally coated with a sealer, such as silicone or polyurethane, to make it impermeable to air. It is frequently the degradation of this coating that ends the life of an envelope. Mechanical wear and tear during set up and packing up, as well as heat and moisture are the primary causes of degradation, making an envelope too porous to fly. Once this happens, the envelope may be retired and used as a “rag bag”, which means cold inflated and opened for children to run through.
The source of heat must be capable of producing a sufficient temperature gradient between the air inside the bag and the surrounding air mass to give enough lift to keep the balloon and passengers airborne.
The French used tethered hydrogen balloons during the French Revolutionary Wars to observe the movements of the Austrian Army in 1794 during the Battle of Fleures. Balloons were also employed during the American Civil War. Under the command of Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, the balloons used by the Union Army Balloon Corps were limp silk envelopes inflated with coke gas or hydrogen. Attempts by the Confederate Army to use a rigid Montgolfier type hot air balloon were soon thwarted. Captain John R. Bryant inflated this cotton balloon with a fire of oil-soaked pine cones. The techniques of balloon handling by the Confederates were poor and the Union forces soon captured the balloon.
In 1960, Ed Yost designed and built the first modern hot air balloon. The first free flight of this type aircraft was in Bruning, Nebraska on October 22, 1960. It was originally equipped with a plastic envelope and kerosene fuel. Mr. Yosts design rapidly moved to using a lightweight nylon for the envelope and modified propane “weed burner” for the heat.
At the present time, there are approximately 7,500 hot air balloons operating in the United States. They are capable of flying to extremely high altitudes. The record altitude, set on November 26, 2005, by Vijaypat Singhania is 69,852 feet. He took off from downtown Bombay, India and landed 150 miles away in Panchale.
The longest distance flown in a hot air balloon is 7,671.91 km on January 15, 1991, by Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson, in the Virgen Pacific Flyer, when they flew from Japan to northern Canada.
Fried Shrimp
2 pounds large shrimp*
Salt and pepper as desired
2 or 3 sleeves saltine crackers
1 to 1½ cups of milk
Peel the shrimp, butterfly by cutting almost thru where they were split to make them “easy peel” and flatten slightly, season lightly with salt and pepper. Crush about 1½ sleeves of the crackers in a blender or food processor until they are powdered, remove from blender and place in a bowl. Now, take the rest of the crackers and crush them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin so you have small pieces and mix into the other crackers, you should have a mixture that has chunks of crackers and meal both together. Season the flour with salt and pepper if desired and place in a bowl. Pour the milk into a bowl. Now, dip the seasoned shrimp into the flour, then into the milk and then into the crackers and set aside until all are breaded. At this point, you can either fry the shrimp immediately, or freeze them on a cookie sheet, and fry as many as you like at any time. My friend keeps a couple of bags of these shrimp in the freezer and then when she wants shrimp, she takes out as many as she wants and fries them. She told me this is how her mother did them in the café she ran. They are truly delicious and really crispy. *I use the easy-peel shrimp from the grocery store and don’t butterfly them…this way, they are a little larger than the so-called popcorn shrimp, but not quite as pretty as the butterflied ones.
While in Devine last time, someone told me that they would like more dessert recipes, so here you are!
Lemon Meringue Pie
(1 baked 9-inch pie shell)
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups water
3 eggs separated
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
¼ cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon extract
6 tablespoons sugar
Combine sugar, salt, flour and cornstarch in a saucepan. Stir in water with a wire whisk and cook over moderate heat until mixture becomes thick and clear, stirring frequently. Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl; add a little of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks. Stir yolks into the hot mixture, and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. (If you want this filling to be a prettier yellow color, add a few drops of yellow food coloring). Remove from heat and blend in butter, lemon juice, zest (if used), and extract. Pour into baked pastry shell. Cool slightly, and top with meringue made by beating egg whites with 6 tablespoons sugar until stiff enough to hold in peaks. Begin beating the egg whites, and add sugar one tablespoon at a time until you have your stiff peaks. Brown in hot oven 425ºF about 5 minutes, cool thoroughly before serving.
Apple Cream Pie
(1 9-inch baked pie shell)
1 large can apple pie filling
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 box (small size) cook-with-milk type vanilla pudding mix
1½ cups milk
3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
Empty pie filling into bowl, add spices and stir to mix. Set aside. Cook pudding as directed on package, using directions for pie filling. Chill about 30 minutes. Pour apples into pie shell and top with pudding. Make meringue using 3 egg whites and beating until stiff peaks form. Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time as you are beating. Top pie with meringue, bake in hot oven 375ºF to 400ºF until golden brown. Chill before serving.