Adrift in St. Joe Bay

20141004-094659-35219463.jpgI need a sherpa! I must have said this fifty times as I loaded my car, readying for my departure from T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park this morning. While there was nothing in all of the piles and bags that we didn’t use, I did begin to wonder if Ed and I might need too much stuff. Let me tell you about our trip and then you decide.
On Monday Ed suggested that now that the crowds are gone and the weather is comfortable, we spend a day or two in Port St. Joe. The next few weeks are going to be incredibly busy with homeowners’ weekend, our sous chef’s wedding and Rosemary Beach Uncorked Wine Festival. I agreed that it would be good to get a bit of relaxation in before this next big push and immediately fired up VRBO.COM to find us a little vacation rental. If you haven’t tried this site, I highly recommend it. I have found us some wonderful houses, apartments, and cabins throughout Florida as well as in Charleston and Puerto Rico. I have never been disappointed. As I was looking this time though, I wandered over to the Florida State Park website on the off chance that one of the cabins at Peninsula park was available. These cabins book eleven months in advance and it is difficult to find last minute openings, but lo and behold, three nights starting Wednesday! I couldn’t believe my luck and immediately clicked BOOK NOW. I hit a roadblock when the notice popped up that I couldn’t book Wednesday on line as it was less than 24 hours away. I would have to be the first to show up at the park, money in hand to get that. I was determined to get there first, knowing that if I didn’t make it, we could always get a hotel room the first night.

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We had planned to pack the cars Wednesday morning, go do inventory, take care of the accounting and then cruise to St. Joe. As you might imagine, the rush to reserve our cabin turned things a bit more frantic. The plan had always been to take two cars as Ed had to go back a day ahead of me so the only changes to the plan, really were that I was throwing gear into my car, making lists of things for Ed to bring and leaving him on his own for inventory and all other business related matters. His name IS on the door after all. The rush paid off, I won the cabin. I unloaded the paddleboards, my camera gear and computer (I intended to write so this was necessary), snorkeling gear and our VRBO bag.
Let me explain this part. As I said, I have booked many of these vacation rentals by owner and they are wonderful and usually very well equipped with kitchen necessities that the average cook would use. My husband and I aren’t your average cooks though. We always find that cutting boards are either non-existent, inadequate or just gross. There is seldom a good knife either. Though tempted to bring every amenity we can think of, we have gotten this down to a few essentials.

If Ed is on the trip he brings his knife bag but my VRBO kit contains: One good all purpose knife, small solid wooden cutting board, citrus juicer or reamer, ziplock full of raw sugar packets, tea and emergency starbucks instant coffee packets, Jittery Joe’s coffee, coffee press, cinnamon, pepper and salt mills, Bragg’s vinegar, Agave, chopsticks, ramen noodles, asian soup spoons, a small bag of good rice, a small bag of some type of legume, olive oil, a couple of lemons and limes. That’s it. With this kit I can prepare healthy and delicious meals from whatever I might find at a local store. Add tequila and you have a perfect margarita!
We pack the cooler from the restaurant with beer, wine, bottled waters, arugula, prepared beets, a couple of soft boiled eggs, half and half for our coffee, a couple of carrots, onions, garlic, celery.
So this is what we had to start our trip. I got to the cabin, unloaded my car and assessed the cabin. The cabins at Peninsula State Park are what I consider luxury camping. Meaning the beds, sheets, and pillows are not the most comfortable but not too bad. That there is a nice hot shower, a good stove, a/c and heat, screen porch, private boardwalk leading to a private deck and fire pit right on the bay makes it positively perfect. ( I did call Ed and tell him to bring pillows and a good quilt though.)
After assessing I ran back to town for a few more supplies. Usually I would have everything before arriving but I had to beat the rush to reserve the cabin, remember. At the Piggly Wiggly I grabbed a couple of steaks, firewood, jugs of water for coffee and drinking, and charcoal.
By the time Ed arrived we were set up. It was time to paddle. Thanks to the guys at YOLO boards + bike, our inflatable paddle boards were ready to go, just add air. We have rigid boards too, but the inflatables are great for traveling. They are easy to toss in the back of the car, easy to store and I think they work just as well as the rigid boards. Plus, when you finish pumping them up, your biceps look incredible.1460047_10152721187949906_235070841398863433_n
The weather was perfect, the bay flat calm with great visibility. We paddled out on our boards but then just lay down on them and floated along the peninsula, paddled back and did it again. And that is how we spent the rest of the day and into the night. With the cabin just steps away, we never wanted for anything. After sunset we fired up the grill for the steaks, enjoying them with a bottle of wine around the fire on the beach. The moon was bright and we paddled under its beams with a little Marvin Gaye playing from the deck. There was even enough breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay and the temperature was just cool enough. We could have stayed there all night, and very nearly did.10474737_10152720777824906_4647272478652691038_n

On Thursday we were up at 5:30 (4:30 in our time zone). Ed to go fishing and me to catch the light with my camera. We were actually up too early and sat on the deck waiting for the light to come up. We were rewarded with a fantastic sunrise and another day of flat calm water and brilliant weather. Paddle, float, repeat. Hike the park, walk the beach, paddle, float, repeat. We walked along the beach watching an eagle and an osprey battle for territory. I think the osprey won, actually. In the sand we found footprints that perplexed us a bit. The feet were small and narrow, bringing to mind a dainty little woman. However, where the big toes should have been there were instead spoons. And not just your standard run of the mill teaspoons either, these things had beaks at the ends suitable for eating grapefruit or gouging out someone’s eyes. 20141004-100900-36540867.jpg20141004-100901-36541822.jpg

We had fun making up stories about how Spoontoe had come to live there on the peninsula, combing the beach at night, hunting with her talon and eating her prey with her spoony toes. When our bottle of bugspray came up missing, we immediately blamed Spoontoe. What other explanation could there be?

Ed left me to fend for myself, giving me a kitchen fork to use in case I encountered Spoontoe while he ran over to Apalachicola. I stayed and stalked the dunes with my camera hoping to get a shot at her but never could track her down. I was unscathed when Ed came back with a couple of freshly gigged flounder from 13 Mile Seafood. Good thing too since his fishing efforts only brought in one jack.
1471928_10152721263024906_5965657558738745201_nThere is nothing so peaceful as quiet beach on the bay, no sounds but the water and the birds. My husband generally cannot sit still and always has music or tv on. I think he was pleasantly surprised by how wonderful the silence is and how easy it is to sit still and look at the stars and the water and a fire, just to sit without even saying a word. And when he got too bored, he grabbed his fishing pole or paddle board for a little while. As his mind wandered he put together a plan for our dinner using the ingredients he knew we had in the cabin. When he needed to get out of the sun for a bit, he went in and cooked the lentils and diced the mirepoix for his recipe. When he got hungry, he left the campfire and put together this little flounder dish, simple and perfect.10408732_10152722532069906_8555735138057041737_n

Friday morning was the end of Ed’s weekend so he packed up the paddleboards and fishing poles, leaving me with the cooler, camera, computer, suitcase, pillows and quilt. I spent Friday on the screened porch watching it storm while I wrote. I walked the park’s trails for an hour and half. I lugged my camera and lenses but didn’t really shoot any pictures. I was content to just be alone in the silence of the off season. The rain had drenched my firewood so I sat on the boardwalk in the breeze under the light of the half moon and listened to the little fish splash in the bay before falling into bed exhausted at 9:00. I woke just as dawn was breaking on perfectly clear day. The wind was up and the temperature was down to 65 degrees which is cold for this Florida girl. I tried to make my coffee and enjoy the sunrise before letting reality smack me in the head. I had to pack, load all of this stuff and leave this sanctuary today. I loaded our little suitcase, the bags of snorkeling gear and beach towels, the VRBO kit, beach chair, tripod, a bag of dirty clothes and extra shoes. I pulled all of the veggies out of the fridge, drained the Yeti cooler. Still four beers and two waters left, not bad. As I tromped up and down the steps to the car with all of this gear I took a mental inventory of what we had used. Other than having too many eggs and carrots. I didn’t put one thing in the car that we had not used. I did ponder whether we could do this trip with only the things we could carry in one small bag. Perhaps we will take on the challenge someday but for now I’m happy to be my own sherpa and take away wonderful memories and pictures of a perfect “weekend” in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.

The recipe:

1-Pre cook lentils (we like French lentils) e with onion quarter, carrot and celery rib. Garlic bottom and thyme and a little sea salt until just done. Remove the large cut vegetables and discard.

2- fine dice of mirepoix ( onion celery carrot) sauté and added to the lentils and chill

Before serving or adding to the fish, dress the lentils with sherry vinager, olive oil, picked herbs, salt and pepper.

On sheet pan place two butterflied flounder, fill them with lentil salad and close the butterflies around the salad. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Toss arugula and thinly sliced mushrooms with sherry vinegar, diced garlic, shallot, olive oil, and pepper.

Plate and enjoy.

Freshly gigged flounder on our little wooden cutting board.

Freshly gigged flounder on our little wooden cutting board.

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Bait Shop Boys and the Creature from the Black Lagoon

It is difficult in July for me to sneak away for any kind of extended adventures. July 4th week brings with it SUV loads of hungry visitors so there is more for me to attend to at Edward’s, not to mention tending to a stressed out Chef Ed. I had a new Nikon D7100 and an 18-140 lens that I was dying to break in, so in the midst of the madness I did manage a 5 a.m. escape. I tooled up highway 79 meandering my way around the perimeter of Deer Point Lake for a morning. I came back with a disk full of photos but no time to develop all of them or to write about my short jaunt.

 

 

 

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20140707_7602 as Smart Object-1The highlight of the day was the alligator at Cherokee Landing. As I crossed the bridge on highway 2301, I spotted her, a big and beautiful gator, gliding along with obvious purpose. I got to the other side as fast as I could, pulled my Mini onto the shoulder, grabbed my gear and ran back to the middle of the bridge. She was gone. As I ran to the other side to see if she had gone under a familiar voice hollered, “M’am, here ya go.” The man who runs Cherokee Landing Bait Store and Boat Launch was standing on the seawall below, dangling a chicken carcass out over the water. Any time I stop to photograph at this spot, I am greeted by this guy. He always asks if I’m ok or if I need anything. I’m sure that as a lone woman carrying a camera instead of a fishing pole, I am an oddity out here. My husband is certain that I am going to one day leave him for one of these “bait shop boys.” I grew up in a bait shop and will always have a soft spot in my heart for the fishermen (and the beer drinking non-fishermen) who hang out in them. I am always quick to point out to Ed that if I was going to run off with a bait shop boy, I would have done it a long time ago. But I digress. This particular bait shop boy was calling out in a soft, southern voice to the gator. She sidled up and caught the chicken as he tossed it high in the air. I figured she would take it under and disappear but she didn’t. He told me that she had babies that she would take it to. She carried the chicken back under the bridge and out to her nest as casually as if she had just gone to the market for groceries.

Cherokee Landing

 

This short tour close to home quenched my thirst for a couple of days but by Friday I was climbing the walls. I thought that a short hop to Port St. Joe would do wonders for my soul. I tossed my inflatable YOLO board, the cooler and cameras in my car and headed out Friday morning.

My Mini, my camera, my cooler, my paddle board, and this thermos and that's all I need!

My Mini, my camera, my cooler, my paddle board, and this thermos and that’s all I need!

When I got to St. Joe I remembered that it is scallop season and knew that there would not be a room available anywhere in town. The town and bay were bustling with scallop hunters. Since I can enjoy the Forgotten Coast anytime I want, I chose to leave Port St. Joe to them and head for some place less populated. Sticking to the Coastal Highway, I spent the morning making my way to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. As I drove I mapped out a plan to shoot there until dark, find lodging nearby and get back to the refuge for sunrise. I had to be back home by Sunday so I wanted to make the most of my time.

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St. Marks encompasses about 70,000 acres and is home to an amazing array of birds, animals, fish and plants. On this visit I saw alligators, moorhens, cormorants, manatees, raccoons, egrets, herons, mosquitos and YELLOW FLIES!

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Cormorants, the biggest, loudest birds around.

Seeing kids fishing is so good for my soul.

Seeing kids fishing is so good for my soul.

 

St. Marks Lighthouse

St. Marks Lighthouse

 

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During the 6 hours I spent hiking all over, other than a close encounter involving a yellow fly and my eyeball, I came out of the adventure unscathed. As the sunset and the super moon rose, I wanted to stay and get night shots. I applied copious amounts of Cactus Juice bug spray hoping it would protect me from the mosquitos that swarmed as darkness fell. The mosquitos slurped up the bug spray as if it were ketchup accompanying their human hot dog. I tossed my gear in the car and fled in search of a hotel.

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On a whim I cruised up Wakulla Springs Road in hopes of getting a room at the Wakulla Springs Lodge located inside Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Since the 1850‘s the park has been a site for archaeological discovery. Mastadon, Saber-toothed Tiger, Ice Age Camel are just some of the animal remains found there. Several films were shot at this location, including Tarzan, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Airport ’77.  Now days the park is a place to cool off, watch manatees and cruise on glass bottom boats.

The lodge was hosting a wedding on Saturday and all of the rooms had been reserved but as luck would have it, my late (10pm) arrival came just as one reservation was being cancelled. I lugged my gear up the 80 year old marble stairs, tossed it onto the twin bed and sprawled across the other full sized bed. I was exhausted, sweaty, bug bit, and very pleased with myself. I popped open a cold beer from my cooler, luxuriated under a powerful shower, and dined on some rice and veggies while I leafed through the comments in the guestbook on the nightstand. Though some guests had remarked that the old lodge is musty and in need of modernizing and some new beds, I fell asleep immediately and slept soundly all night. Not once was I awakened by ghosts, Tarzan yells or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In the morning I poured a cup of coffee and wandered the grounds around the lodge. The springs are fenced off and do not open until 8:00 so I couldn’t get to the water for the early morning shots I wanted. I was so relaxed wandering around that I lost track of time.

The swimming hole at Edward Ball enjoying stillness before the onslaught of kids arrives for the day.

The swimming hole at Edward Ball enjoying stillness before the onslaught of kids arrives for the day.

 

By the time I got back down the road to St. Marks, the sun was high in the sky, there would be no pictures in that light. Midday can be a photographers curse. My best trips are when I stay several days in a place so I can get up early to shoot, retreat to the cabin, house, loft, or room and write/nap throughout the middle of the day and then get back out in the late afternoon to shoot until dark. Not having that luxury on this trip, I hit the road again to explore and make notes for future trips.

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Idyllic lodgings at Natural Bridge State Park

From the Heart Recording Studios, Sopchoppy, Fl

From the Heart Recording Studios, Sopchoppy, Fl

 

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This deserves further investigation

This deserves further investigation

 

Crooked River Lighthouse

Crooked River Lighthouse

I eventually wound up back in Port St. Joe where the sun was refusing to set and the tide was impossibly low. There would be few pictures and no snorkeling for me on this day so I headed home.

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I was able to find a little light in St Joe

 

 

I hoped that if I timed it just right I could catch the sunset at Tyndall Air Force Base. Boy did I ever!

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Clams and Linguine Vintage Florida Girl Style

It has been a very long time since we have posted a recipe but after Ed made clams and linguine for me, I had to share. Of course it is a very simple and clean recipe with the best ingredients. By now you know that Ed and I are spoiled by our access to the freshest produce and seafood and we wanted perfect tiny clams for this recipe.  At Edward’s we use only fresh clams from Cedar Key, Fl because they are the best. Ed and I are always intent on seeing where all of our ingredients come from so off we went.

From VRBO I rented Eagle View, a two bedroom Rye Key house on the water. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon to find a breathtaking view, so many birds right off the deck, no lights around to ruin the night sky. There were amenities that we never expected and will probably never find in any other vacation house. The only flaw was that we were only staying two nights. I could have stayed right there forever.

 

 

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Ed had never been to Cedar Key so we walked through the historic downtown, explored the pier and waterfront shops which hang out over the water looking very much like Popeye’s Sweet Haven. Being June the air was so hot and still that it took several ice cold beers from our Yeti cooler to get us through our tour and back to Eagle View. We enjoyed a wine and cheese dinner while watching the Roseate Spoonbills feed in the low tide at sunset. After dark the breeze was divine, blowing away the heat and the no-see-ums, allowing us to lie back in deck chairs and count stars until we fell asleep.

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Thursday I awoke at 5am to the smell of coffee (I had set the coffeemaker’s auto timer the night before, what a great idea), the screeing sound of osprey and some darn near perfect light. My eyes were barely open yet I was able to grab a cup of joe and my camera and get to the deck where the osprey were flying right over head.20140625_7135280614

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Out on the dock was a little boy of about 8 working hard to get fishing poles and net into a canoe. He struggled to get the little anchor out of the low tide muck, careful to rinse it before hoisting it into the stern. As I shot pictures of birds, he kept looking back up the long dock to his house. I figured he was either hoping his folks were not going to wake up and stop him, or he was waiting for an older person to come out and take him fishing. Eventually he made the long run back to the house and came back with his older brother. They loaded up and paddled away. I love kids who will get up at dawn and go out fishing.20140626_6826010714

 

It was time for us to be on our way as well as we had a  lot of  little keys, mangroves, and history to explore. We spent our morning walking the boardwalk around the old cemetery (we are fascinated by historic cemeteries and the stories they can tell.), fighting the mosquitos and yellow flies on the Railroad Trestle Nature Trail, and touring the Cedar Key Historical Museum. We learned about the history of pencil production and of the fiber industry which used young cabbage palms to make brooms and brushes.20140626_6900280614

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We stopped and bought fresh clams for our dinner and made a quick run to the Market at Cedar Key, a small grocery store but it had everything we needed. Well, everything but fresh thyme. While Ed contemplated what to do if he couldn’t find thyme, we ventured off the key toward The Shell Mound Unit of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. It was on this long road in the middle of nowhere that he saw the sign: POTTERY. We followed the bright orange signs down a long dirt road, into a grassy drive and past a greenhouse. “I bet they have thyme!” Ed shouted. We parked and, as directed by another sign, we honked. From out of the stilted house came Henry Gernhardt, potter and all around nice guy. When we asked how he was doing Henry smiled and told us he had finally gotten his new glasses after weeks without them so he was doing great and was very happy to be able to see us. We browsed through the beautiful plates and bowls, buying several to use at the restaurant. Henry’s Wave Series, sculptural pieces that did in fact bring our minds to the Gulf, were amazing. After taking care of business Ed asked if Henry might have some thyme in his greenhouse. He took us over to meet his wife Amy, a potter who also grows some beautiful plants and herbs. She very graciously beheaded a little thyme plant for us. So with our new pottery safely tucked in the backseat, a plan for Amy to make wine chillers for Edward’s, and a fistful of fresh thyme, we headed back to the Rye Key.

We did not make it to Rye Key at this time, though. We needed to stop off at the Low Key Hideaway Tiki Bar to find out what the fuss was all about. It turns out that the fuss was completely warranted. Low Key Hideaway is a fun and funky 5 room motel, 3 site RV park and perfect little tiki bar right on the water. Our drinks were served up by Pat Bonish who, along with his wife Cindy, owns the place. That they are both photographers and had spent several years traveling, photographing and writing about the backroads and natural beauty of the US drew me in even more. Ed and I enjoyed some icy beverages and great conversation, a few minutes relaxing on the dock out back and a visit from a baby cardinal, a regular at the bar. Low Key Hideaway will definitely be our home away from home during our next visit to Cedar Key. After we had sufficiently whet our whistles, we got back to Eagle View where Ed went to work on our dinner and I went to work on my pictures.

 

Finally we were getting our clams and linguine and finally I am giving the basic recipe to you. If you can’t make it to Cedar Key for fresh clams, get the freshest tiny clams you can get your hands on. Smaller claims are more tender and better tasting. We used about 20 clams for the two of us and had leftovers. Make sure the clam shells are nice and clean, no sand or mud on them and that they are dry.20140701-100105.jpg

Heat 3 oz olive oil in a heavy bottom pot. Once the oil is hot, throw in half a clove of garlic. Slowly toast that garlic so that it is golden color (not black) Throw in a chili just so it blooms, (don’t let it get dark as this causes the chili to become bitter).

Throw clean dry clams on top and add 2 minced shallots, a sprig of thyme (grown by a local potter if possible), bay leaf and then about 1/2 cup white wine. Keep this over high heat, cover and steam until the claims open.20140701-100121.jpg

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Once the clams open add 2 TBL softened butter(not melted), the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper, freshly grated parmesan, chopped parsley and capers .  20140701-100134.jpg

*Please note that as the chef gave me the recipe he specifically said TWO TABLESPOONS BUTTER, I believe that the photo tells a different story.

“Fat is flavor” ~ Chef Edward Reese

Once the butter is melted toss in the cooked linguine, plate and eat with a Sauvignon blanc or French Sancerre, fresh baked crusty bread, and your best friend.20140701-100040.jpg

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Recipe Modification:  If you simply want Edward’s famous Steamed Clams, once the clams open, move only the clams to a nice bowl from Cedar Key Pottery, leaving the liquor in the pan. Add “2 Tablespoons butter,” the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper. Once the butter melts, pour over the clams and enjoy with Sauvignon blanc or French Sancerre, fresh baked crusty bread, and your best friend.

Some useful links

http://www.cedarkeypottery.com/

http://www.lowkeyhideaway.com/the_hideaway_tiki_bar.htm

Cane Pole

I set up my camera on its tripod and fixed the lens to it. From my perch amongst the riff raff boulders I could see the entire grassland, the point that went into the bay, the patches of bog and the small pools of brackish water. I had been trying to get this shot for months, coming here every chance I could in the early morning, late in the afternoon, chasing the perfect light. I had scrambled over the thousands of rocks that were poured out under the bridge to protect it from washing away in storms. Somehow I had not yet broken an ankle or a camera lens.

I focused in on the emerald and amber stripes the marsh grasses made, like a 20 acre flag covering the land. Finally the light was right and I could capture the very essence of this sacred place, seemingly silent but vibrant with bird calls, with the grasses swishing in the wind, nature untouched by humans.

Something caught my eye then and I tried to zoom in on where I had seen the movement. I saw a tree in the middle of the marsh that had not been there before. Pulling away from my viewfinder I looked out with the naked eye and found that it definitely was not a tree. Whatever it was, it was moving. I switched lenses so that I could zoom in and searched again for the tall moving mass. It was a man, well over 6 feet tall and skinny as a cane pole. Carrying a fishing pole and a small tackle box, he was out in the middle of that impenetrable marsh, sauntering along as if on a sidewalk. I shaded my eyes against the blaring sun rays to get a better look. No shirt, long pants, no hat or sunglasses, nothing to protect him from the intense heat of the sun.

How in the hell did he get out there to the middle of the marsh. I saw no boats or kayaks at the shore and even if he had paddled across the bay to the beach, he would have to wade through the salt bog that separated the bay and the marsh’s high ground. The mud in these bogs is so thick and deep, bears and wild hogs have been known to get sucked down in it and never come up.

On the north side of the marsh was a forest thick with palmettos, bayonet plants, razor grass, thorny vines as thick as a boa constrictor. It is teeming with snakes and alligators. Probably black bears too. No one could make it through that, let alone an impossibly skinny guy wearing nothing but pants. And yet, there he was strolling through grasses that were sometimes so tall he disappeared from my view.

He reached a rise in the marsh and stood there like a pitcher on the mound sizing up the batter. He looked around to check the runners at the bases and then just stood, staring out over the bay. He seemed a man at perfect peace. I felt guilty for spying, for intruding on his perfect world. I decided to leave him be and get back to my work. I hit the button to release my zoom lens when I saw his head snap around to look over his left shoulder. He immediately crouched down low.  I put my eye to the viewfinder and refocused. I scanned the marsh to find what had startled him. At first everything looked as pleasant as ever, the grasses waving in the breeze, birds alight on single blades. But then I saw a movement. A three foot wide swath of grass bending, snaking across the marsh. Whatever was in there was big, on the move and coming closer to the cane pole man on the mound. The birds took off.

I scanned again with my lens until I found him, still crouched down on the mound. He was digging in his tackle box and working his hands quickly around his fishing pole. What the hell is this guy doing, I thought. My husband’s constant reminder “bring your pepper spray” echoing in my brain.  I wondered if this guy had any.  I wondered if pepper spray would be of any help in this situation. What was coming at him? I had no idea. I did know that it was big though.

This guy had walked across the marsh as if it were a Sunday stroll in the park, but could he run for his life through the grasses and bog? My stomach turned as I imagined the worst. This guy was toast. There was not one thing I could do to help him either. I  wanted to turn away so I didn’t have to watch him be dismembered but I looked on thinking that at the very least I could tell fish and wildlife officers or the local police where to find the body. If there was anything left of him down there.

It took a full three seconds for this entire scenario to play through my head. And during that three seconds Mr. Cane Pole stowed his tackle box and stood to his full height. His left arm shot up above his head, wielding his fishing pole.

What the hell did he expect to do with that?

What he did was start running TOWARD the massive creature. There was a flash as sunlight hit something on the end of his fishing pole. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, was that a pocket knife? He had lashed a pocket knife to the handle of the fishing pole. This guy was obviously nuts and he was about to die as a result. He ran across the mound and down into the tall grass towards the mass. The creature never slowed, whatever it was down there was heading straight toward Cane Pole.

Suddenly the grass wall broke open into a clearing and a wild boar exploded into view. It was huge and moving fast on short legs. Cane Pole broke through the grass on the other side of the clearing. Neither slowed, they ran headlong towards each other. The boar lowering his head to prepare for ramming, Cane Pole raising his spear high above his head. He shrieked a long, high pitched war cry as he closed in on the boar. The boar’s snorts sent chills up my back. Cane Pole jumped, putting every ounce of his 120 pounds into the thrust of the spear. The boar squealed in pain. I gasped in disbelief as I watched the spear pierce the boar. It was an impossible shot and yet, Cane Pole had hit his mark. As the knife blade went in, the boar turned its head to the right to defend itself.  Cane Pole jumped left, landing on the boar’s unprotected side. As the boar tried to counter, I saw the blade flash again in the blinding sun before disappearing into the neck of the boar. The huge animal fell immediately, squealing one last time and then all was silent.

Cane Pole stood up tall, stretched his back, and surveyed the marsh around him. He didn’t seem winded or shaken. He sauntered back to the mound to retrieve his little tackle box then returned to the boar. He bent over the huge body, grabbed up the legs and with considerable effort hoisted the dead boar onto his shoulders.  Wearing the boar across his shoulders like a superhero cape, Cane Pole sauntered back across the marsh and disappeared into the forest.

I watched all of this through my lens, completely paralyzed. As he walked off I shook myself back into reality. I pulled my eye from the viewfinder and became aware of my legs cramping from the effort of balancing so long on the rocks.  I shifted, holding the tripod to keep the camera from falling. And then it hit me all at once, the realization took my legs out from under me. I sat down hard on a boulder staring straight up at my camera. I released a war cry of my own but then I had to laugh. I had witnessed first hand the ultimate struggle of man versus beast, of survival of the fittest and I had not taken one picture. All I had was a perfect picture in my head and I had to live with that. I shrugged to myself, stood tall, stretched my back, surveyed the world around me and sauntered back over the boulders to my car.

 

Cane Pole is based on a real man and actual events. There are no pictures to prove it.

Vintage Florida Girl

I can remember very clearly standing on a fishing pier in the middle of the night. My dad ties a line to his coleman lantern and lowers it over the side. With the lantern just inches from the water, he secures it to the rail. As I watch the current race past in the halo of lantern light, he extends the handle of his net to a towering 15 feet, wields it over the rail and balances the net just above the water. “There’s one!” I shout, and dad dips the net just under the surface to capture a shrimp coasting on the current. I spot a few more for him, certain he could not catch a shrimp without my help. The hunt is thrilling for about ten minutes and then I lose interest, focusing on everything else going on around me. I am outside under a million stars, on the water and it is after my bedtime. I run up and down the pier until my mom tells me that I’m scaring away all of the fish. She points at some fisherman on the other side of the pier who shoot me menacing looks and I turn to stare down at the needle fish gathering around our lantern light. When you are 5 or 6 and outside on the water in the middle of the night, you tend to behave lest someone decide to take you back to the cottage and off to bed. At that point I was sure that it was 3am but in reality it was probably closer to 10pm. I do know that the tide is running, our family is on vacation and I can’t imagine any place better to be in the whole world.Shrimp For me as a little kid, and probably for me now, the only thing better than late night shrimping is late night shrimp cooking. When the cooler was full, we packed up our lantern and net and headed back to our cottage at Angler’s Resort. This is the place we always stayed when we came down from Illinois for vacation. The terrazzo floors cold and gritty from our sandy feet were the best relief for sunburn. I’d lie down and let the cold suck away the burn from my face and the tops of my legs. When it got too warm from the heat of me, I’d roll over and over until I found another cold spot for my singed back. While I soaked up the coolness of the terrazzo and scratched my numerous mosquito bites, my parents went to work on the shrimp. First a few went in a pot to boil and were dumped onto newspaper. As soon as they hit the paper four kids and two parents were fighting like seagulls over the prize. Being the youngest, I couldn’t peel the shrimp as quickly as everyone else but I learned fast because there was no one in that flock that was going to spend a lot of time helping me out. It was every man for himself and it wasn’t long until the newspaper was a fishy smelling paper mache’ pulp covered in shells, heads, and spindly legs. Dad would start to get creative then, layering shrimp on sheet pan and pouring the remainder of his Pabst or Bud over them, adding some butter, lemon,salt and pepper before throwing them under the gas broiler. These were my favorites, already peeled and cooked until they just started to get that meaty chewiness. We’d sit around the table dipping the broiled shrimp in melted butter and play Pokeno into the night.These nights and those long days in the Gulf on rafts or under water with a leaky mask, of leaning over the bow of dad’s Aquasport or mom’s pontoon boat watching the stingrays, dolphins, snook, trout, sea anenomies, are what made me a Florida girl.Florida family dadLuckily, dad’s heart was in Florida too and he moved us down permanently when I was eight. He took over a bait shop right across the street from that fishing pier and I grew up barefoot, running on the docks, jumping off of bridges, wading across sandbars and scuba diving in the Gulf. Older people would tell me I was brown as a berry. I don’t know what berries looked when Chaucer first coined that phrase because I’ve never seen a brown one. I do know that the freckles across my nose would disappear as my face tanned to a darker shade, or maybe my freckles just all grew together into one big freckle. I do know that my nose and shoulders were usually recovering from sunburn and my feet were tough as leather. If I wasn’t on my bike riding all over town, down dirt roads covered in thick pine needle carpets, studying the “old Florida” houses with wrap around porches and towering palm trees, exploring the cemetery or the Indian Mounds park, I was paddling a canoe in the bay or canals, sailing in a little sunfish boat or floating on an inner tube in the Gulf. How I didn’t wind up snake bit or alligator or shark bait, I do not know but I wouldn’t trade that childhood for anything.   HeronI’m still living it, actually. I’m more mindful of protecting my skin from sunburn, a bit more wary of snakes, and much less tolerant of mosquito bites but otherwise I’m still a Florida girl spending every possible moment wading in the mangroves, paddling in the dune lakes and Gulf, exploring “old Florida” towns and houses, state parks, and dives. Spencer WikevaSpencer st joe 20140520-_DSC4648 20140520-_DSC469820140531_St. Andrews State Park_0256010614 20140531_St. Andrews State Park_0286010614Last weekend I was out hiking through St. Andrews State Park. It was an epic day as I watched baby little blue herons fight over a frog and a ranger stop cars so a baby gator could cross the road. A deer walked right up to me and licked my camera, and an alligator croaked somewhere very close to me as I balanced at the edge of a bog trying to get a picture of an egret. I sent a text to my sister in Sarasota, a picture of the wiregrass field. She sent me a picture of her canoe fitted out with her painting easel. plein air canoe“Nature Girls” she called us. We are Florida girls, in love with everything about the place that is beautiful and wild (which also describes some of the people). Some call it old Florida but I call it vintage defined by Mirriam as – of the best or most characteristic. And as my sister and I are not kids anymore, I guess we are becoming that other vintage-of the past, classic. I don’t mind, so long as I can continue to age in the sun and the sand and the piney woods and wiregrasses. So long as every day my Florida shares something that is the best or most characteristic of itself, I am satisfied.DSCN5197     vin·tage :/ˈvintij/ representing the high quality of a past time. classic. old

Flor·i·da /flawr-i-duh/ A state in the SE United States between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. 58,560 sq mi

girl /gərl/ A young woman of a specified kind or having a specified job:

Vintage Florida Girl: A woman of a certain age and a specified kind who travels the 58,560 miles of a southeastern peninsular state writing about and photographing the beauty and character that make it a one of a kind place worthy of preserving.vintage wine

She’s a Little Runaway

Spring break is the one week a year for families to get away together, stay in a rental house on the beach and eat out every night. Unless, of course, you are a restaurant family. In restaurant families spring break is the time to work your butt off non-stop serving the families that are getting away. This year our remaining “at home kids” had their spring break in mid-March. I have to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. All three boys were on the schedule at the restaurant for many nights during the break so a trip was out of the question. I could picture the week of them sleeping until noon and then hanging out around the house engaged in texting, youtubing, eating and catching up on How I Met Your Mother episodes until it was time to go to work. All perfectly acceptable activities but ones that tend to unhinge me worse than nails on a chalkboard could ever do. After the most miserable winter in history had left us cooped up together for months on end we were all a little tired of being around one another. With the weather not getting any better, the Gulf getting no warmer, I knew that there would not be a lot of outdoor activity going on during the break. After some thinking and arranging of schedules I had a plan.

Ed came into the room and found me sitting on the bed texting my sister. I looked up and said, “I think that all of us will be a lot happier if I’m not around during spring break. If I’m not home the boys can do whatever they want, the house can get trashed (and cleaned by them later!), I can relax, they can enjoy their break. I’m going to see my sister, brother and Spencer for awhile.” He was a little stunned and worried, asked me how long I would be gone. I told him I didn’t know for sure but definitely for the week. I wanted to hit some state parks and take some photos, work on my book and generally get away by myself. We decided to have a date night before I left on my little excursion and headed to Old Florida Fishhouse for sushi a la James.

Over some sushi and sake Ed said, “I could tell by the expression on your face when I walked into the room today what was going on. You always have that look, your mouth gets drawn up like that. I knew you were about to ask me if you could go to your sister’s.” I swear to you that sake nearly came out of my nose as I laughed and laughed. Bless his heart. I poured us some more sake and said, “Honey, you are very cute and funny. Have we met before? Have you ever known a Mason girl to ask anyone permission? That look was not there because I was about to ask you anything. That look is the one I wear when I worry about how you are going to react to my telling you what it is I am about to do.” He is so cute. So we enjoyed our sushi and probably too much sake while we made a plan for how they would all survive without me for a few days.

I packed up my Mini Cooper with the essentials: Camera bag, computer, inflatable YOLO board (in case I found any warm weather anywhere), a suitcase filled with warm weather outfits, cold weather outfits, swim suits and foul weather gear. I love Florida in March! Early in the morning I set out down highway 98, taking the scenic route through old Florida and landing at my sister’s house that evening. I stayed for several days venturing out each day to explore my old hometown of Englewood, visit my baby brother, tour Boca Grande looking for pictures. The weather was not cooperating at all.

My sister was going out one morning to join her plein air painting group and suggested I try to catch the light at the Sarasota bayfront and meet up with her group later. I got there as the light should have been coming up, instead the fog rolled in. The shots just got better and better as the sun tried to beat through the ever thickening fog. I was having a great time shooting until the damp settled into my bones and my toes became numb with the cold. I decided to head back to the house for more clothes. Why had I taken my suitcase out of the car? I tried to find my sister to give her my one jacket while I went for more layers. I couldn’t find her but she texted back, “bring my Koi shoes, and my cornbread hat, and my sweatshirt with the paint on it.” I stopped by Morton’s Market for a hot chai, gathered up every article of warm clothing I could find, wrapped my shemagh around my neck and went in search of the plein airs. I found them all huddled together beside their easels. The trouble with painting is that it must be done from a spot in the shade so these ladies were suffering a double whammy of chilly. I unloaded all of the layers onto my sister, turned my shemagh over to her painting teacher and got out in the sun to take some pictures. It was actually warming up and the fog was burning off. I wound up with some good shots.

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The next phase of my odyssey was to visit Spencer in Winter Park. His courses are now really intense so he didn’t have a lot of time. I took the scenic route up the middle of the state and found myself at Bok Tower Gardens. Why not see everything I have not yet seen in Florida. I had done no research on the place so I really had no clue what to expect. Some flowers? A tower of some kind? I walked the paths of the gardens enjoying a comfortable day and the blooming flowers, planning on getting around to seeing the tower at some point. And then I started hearing bells. What I thought was the bell tower chiming the hour turned out to be a 60 bell carillon being played. I followed the sound to the top of the hill where the bells accompanied the sound of my breath escaping me. The huge tower sits high above the town. There were people everywhere, sitting in the shade of moss hung trees, feeding the koi in the pond surrounding the tower, watching a big screen projecting a live stream of the carillonneur as he played on the 7th level of the tower. I can’t remember ever being in a more tranquil place. Ed called me just then and I sent him a picture of the place and a video of the bells. Even over the phone it was stunningly beautiful.20140408-122159.jpg

It was difficult to leave such a peaceful place for the hustle and traffic of Orlando but I had to get on to Spencer’s. He only had a few hours that he could spare. Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle played through my head several times during our visit. Spencer told me that his friends had tried to make plans with him for that evening but he told them they were crazy. “My MOM is coming to town. Do you know what that means? Dinner! A real dinner!” We paddled around in the hotel pool and then went out for sushi. Afterwards we sat in the hotel room and he told me all about his sound and lighting classes. The boy talked pretty much non-stop for hours. It did my heart good to hear him so excited about his school. He told me that he had a break from 2-4 the next day if I was going to be in town. I decided that I needed to get out of the city and back to finding old Florida. Besides, my equilibrium gets off kilter the farther I am from the Gulf. I needed to get back to forgotten coast.

I went further up the center of the state to Silver Springs and then over in search of Rosewood. I have wanted to see this town that had been the site of such a horrible massacre in 1923. I had read that it was abandon and expected to find a ghost town. Instead I found a historical marker along Highway 24 and not much else. I explored a bit and then went on down the road toward Cedar Key. Ed called to check on my progress on location. I was telling him of my plan to explore Cedar Key when I came to the first bridge on the key. “I gotta go! Need to get my camera out!” I said as I tossed away my cell and looked for a place to pull off. On both sides of me there were shallow water flats, mangroves and grasses. Birds were everywhere, flying, nesting, wading, paddling. Of course the light sucked, as it had for most of the week. I went exploring, noting places to shoot when the light was right. The town of Cedar Key is tiny, a mix of local’s houses, rentals, old hotel buildings, clam harvesting operations, a pier, some bars and restaurants. I drove around and found NO VACANCY signs everywhere. I wound up down on the point staring up at a two story, pink and purple motel. They had a room for rent and I took it.20140408-122228.jpg

The owners of the Beach Front Motel were incredibly welcoming, walking me upstairs to my room which looked out over the water. I settled in, got a couple of beers iced down and went back to exploring. Several miles and dozens of shots later I decided that I needed to make a run to the store before the sidewalks of town were rolled up. At the little store I found cheese, crackers, apples, oj, La Croix, and Bustello instant coffee. Thinking about how I will be more prepared next time with some healthy food in a Yeti cooler, I went back to my little pastel motel, fixed a drink and sat down on the rocky seawall to watch the brilliant sunset.

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I wandered the little town after dark, opened my windows to listen to the water lap on the shore all night and fell into a deep sleep. I got up at 4:00 the next morning to get ready for the light to hit my new found paradise. Packed up and ready to go, I made coffee and waited. And waited. And waited. I wrote for a while as the morning came on, overcast and grey. Then I took the wait on the road.

20140408-122244.jpgThe sun never rose that morning. At 11:00 it just appeared high overhead, having broken out of the mist. This was becoming the story of my life. I stood at the side of highway 24 and I watched as a bird rush hour flew across the flats. The line of birds seemed to be never ending, streaming across my site path for at least five minutes. I walked along the marshes, trespassed down dirt driveways, followed long, deserted roads looking for the place they had landed. I went out to the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge. I could have stayed there for days, watching the birds fly and wade

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The stop just confirmed for me that I really have to get a teardrop camper to pull behind my Mini. Of course, if I had one I might never go home. I wouldn’t have been able to stay that day even if I did have a camper. I had a date that afternoon with my husband in Apalachicola. He had booked us a place, packed up some wine and was on his way over for a little weekend getaway. It turns out it was all part of his master plan to get me back home. Curses, foiled again.

I had to get on the road and get a few miles closer to going home. But first, a stop at Manatee Springs State Park where I found not manatees but buzzards. They were hanging out in a huge flock right next to the swimming area. Swimmers would climb up onto the shore and the birds just sat there mocking them. It kind of made me wonder what was in that water! I made it to Apalachicola just shortly after Ed had checked into the carriage house at Coombs House. We wandered the streets of our favorite little town making plans for an entire day of paddleboarding and picnicking in St. Joe. We thought we would spend a night out on the town. We wound up sound asleep by 8:30. When we woke up the next morning the fog was there, of course. There were precious few photo opportunities so we ate our complimentary blueberry french toast, loaded up and headed to St. Joe where it was pouring down rain, of course. We decided to give up and head for home. I was not surprised to find the house still standing, the restaurant still up and running and the boys happy and healthy, dreading the return to school next morning.

The Chef Comes Clean

When I mention that I am married to chef, I can expect 60% of people to come back with something like, “Oh you must never have to do the cooking.” Another 30% will just assume that we eat gourmet meals every night. Well friends let me tell you, nothing could be farther from the truth. My father used to say that the cobbler’s children have no shoes. Well, the chef’s children have no dinner…unless someone else in the house is willing to cook. This is not to say that Ed never cooks at home but he is usually at work around dinner time, for obvious reasons. When he is home, he is off work and doesn’t really feel like being in the kitchen. I get it. When I was a software tech the last thing I wanted to do during my off time was work on the family’s computers. When he does get a hankering to cook a family dinner it can be extremely elaborate while other times it is your basic spaghetti or tacos. As for me, I enjoy cooking quite a bit if I’m in the mood. I’m not the best at coming up with new and exciting dishes to please the tastebuds and satisfy the appetites of a bunch of teenagers though. Food for this group tends to be rather pedestrian with the goal being to pack as much nutrition as possible into something they will actually eat. So either I start a pot of stew or a casserole early in the day or if I’m home I cook stir fry. When I have two days, I make Pho.  Otherwise I’m living on smoothies or eating out with Ed while the kids fend for themselves.

Some husbands bring flowers. Mine brings organic sorrel and watercress.

Some husbands bring flowers. Mine brings organic sorrel and watercress.

Unlike people who are stuck in an office or who travel for work, we are fortunate that we have ready access to an array of organic vegetables and fresh seafood and farm eggs at the restaurant. It is common for us to make a beet salad for lunch and order a tuna tartar for dinner. When things are slow, we take time to sit down and eat a good meal at least one time a day. But as the season gets busier and busier, we skip meals more and more, eat later and later in the evening, and maybe drink a little more wine than we should. Our afternoon walks or bike rides dwindle to once or twice a week. By the time our season is in full swing, we find ourselves more and more grabbing a sandwich after work at midnight, getting to bed by 1 or 2 in the morning, up and at it by 7. This lifestyle takes its toll.

Edward's Beet Salad sans goat cheese, walnuts and grilled bread.

Edward’s Beet Salad sans goat cheese, walnuts and grilled bread.

It isn’t always easy to keep things in check but I want us to live long enough to see all of our hard work pay off.  And let’s be honest, it is hard to get a good life insurance policy on an unhealthy chef so it behooves me to keep him fit. So for the past two years I’ve taken proactive measures to put on the breaks when the nutrition train is careening off the tracks and try to get us back where we belong before things get too far gone. Right before spring break starts, with help from our chiropractor, Dr. Bart Precourt at Balance Health Studio, we do the Standard Process Cleanse. It is a commitment to eat healthy, unprocessed food, cut out sugar, dairy and starch for 21 days. It is a time to relearn how to eat right and to realize again how good we feel when we are nourishing our bodies. It is also about getting our exercise habits right again and learning how to minimize worry and stress. In our area there is very little business in February so the stress levels can run off the charts if we aren’t careful. With all that it involves, I prefer to call it a reset rather than a cleanse.  The chef finds it a challenge to limit his diet like this. For me, the challenge is not in having willpower to avoid the off limits items (though turning away from wine while serving it night after night brings a tear sometimes). For me the challenge is to keep a chef’s palate and belly satisfied without butter, cream, red meat, white rice, pasta,  and PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES.

Personal Chef to the Chef

If you give a chef dietary restrictions it can go one of two ways.  Either he will embrace the challenge and begin to create culinary delights that are so clean and healthy you can’t believe they or good for you.   OR?   Or he will resign himself to enduring the three weeks and walk around hungry, chomping on carrots and celery. Turns out I’m married to the latter. He tends to let his blood sugar bottom out and can become a bit of a diva. When he does, it is hard to resist the urge to just toss him a peanut butter sandwich. It takes a lot of planning to keep his inner diva where she belongs, buried deep, deep down inside. I become the chef’s personal chef, making sure that anytime we leave the house I have a bag filled with  lunches, snacks, water, and emergency apples and grilled chicken. The kicker is, he’s a chef. He is not going to be happy with anything that is bland or unimaginative. There better be some variety too.  I can eat the same thing three or four days in a row. Ed might be able to eat the same thing twice in a week, that is it.  And while most women I know can live happily on salads and soups, guys need hearty meals, at least the ones I know. So I have been collecting or modifying recipes that fit the guidelines of the cleanse.

Last year I came up with a really good spaghetti squash with tomato, mushroom, garlic sauce that we both loved. I also nailed a poblano pepper stuffed with lentils and other goodies. Salads become more than simply green lettuce and croutons. I pull out green onions, red onions, avocado, sorrel, carrots, spinach, watercress, mixed lettuces, berries, olive oil and aged balsamic. The weather was pleasant last year so we fired up the grill and piled on the zucchini, eggplant, portabellos, fresh deep water fish with grilled lemons to make it sing. We got several great recipes down to a delicious science and we continued our clean eating habits long after the 21 days were over. We repeated the cleanse in the fall before our trip to Montana in September. That time it was a pre-emptive strike because we knew we were going to be off the rails in a big way for a solid week. We felt pretty good all year until the November flu from the depths of hell was followed by the December respiratory virus that would not die. We muddled through the post Christmas upsurge in business and were drained by our busiest night of the year, New Year’s Eve.

On new year’s day we talked about resolutions and eating clean. Now that I have recovered from my little back surgery, I want to see if I can start running races again so an exercise routine is necessary. No better time to start training than right now. However,  Ed and I immediately agreed that January was no time to try a 21 day challenge. We had a restaurant to close down and clean from top to bottom, a food show to go to in Orlando and a new granddaughter on the way. The cleanse takes a lot of focus, planning and cooking time. February would be the right time. We committed to it and February first, with refrigerator packed with fresh veggies and almond milk, we kissed our wine goodbye and threw away a few half eaten bags of chips.

My first challenge was to find something for Ed to eat for breakfast. I have been drinking smoothies for breakfast for years, maybe decades by now. Spinach, strawberries, almond milk, whey protein and Standard Process Complete whirred together in a vitamix and I’m good to go. The chef, not so much. He turned to farm eggs, chicken breasts, spinach. For me this is a heavenly breakfast but for him, its just shy of tolerable. Poor guy would walk into the restaurant in the morning to find our prep cook making himself country fried steak and gravy. All he could do is sigh, drink some water and put his mind on his work.

With Ed off to the restaurant and the kids at school I had the quiet house to myself. Between trying to get the filing done and running back and forth to the restaurant, I would scour the internet for more recipe ideas. Not only did I need to add to our tried and true repertoire, but also needed to find some winter comfort food ideas. This year the weather has been ridiculously cold. When a Florida restaurant has to close one night due to ice on the roads, you know you are having a bad winter. There has been no grilling out during this year’s cleanse. We needed warm casseroles, creamy soups, gooey desserts.

For 21 days I have worked limited hours at the restaurant while working overtime in the kitchen at home. I have made stir fry with white rice for the boys, brown rice for us. A new recipe for Spaghetti Squash Taco Casserole was pretty good but I am still working to perfect it.

Spaghetti Squash Taco Casserole

Spaghetti Squash Taco Casserole

Tom Kha Gai (thai coconut soup) is one of my specialties and it fit right in to our cleanse. The coconut milk is loaded with fat and calories but damn it is so good.

Vegetarian Tom Kha Gai

Vegetarian Tom Kha Gai

I tackled Superbowl Sunday making an eggplant gratin and tacos that contained no meat, cheese, sour cream, tortilla shells. Our sous chef Angela laughed at me, “Ha, you’re having lettuce!” Actually I had Romaine leaves stuffed with a paste of sundried tomatoes, lime juice, jalapenos and cilantro and topped with chunky guacamole. They were so good even the boys ate them up.  I sent Angela a picture and she laughed again, “Ha, you are eating lettuce wraps.” We had beet and sweet potato chips which turned out be a hell of a lot better than the game was, that’s for sure.

We have eaten a lot of beet salads and grouper at the restaurant, while at home I have modified spaghetti night, taco night, and the biggest challenge that turned out be so easy, PHO NIGHT. We love pho, the kids love pho. I knew I could make a vegetable pho broth for chicken pho. Everything that goes in the Pho bowl (jalapeno, cilantro, green onion, lime, Thai basil, mushrooms, etc) is fresh and healthy except the fried garlic and onions, and the hosin sauce. But what about the noodles? You really can’t have Vietnamese Noodle Soup without the noodle. It would be downright unAmerican! I used cabbage cut into long strips. No, it wasn’t the same as slurping noodles, but it made for a really good soup. The boys cooked their pho noodles to order and were happy as can be.  Ed put mung bean sprouts in his and was happy to eat it again the next day.

Faux Pho

Faux Pho

One night I did not expect Ed to be home for dinner and had planned to just have a smoothie while he ate at the restaurant. But there he was and there seemed to be nothing in the house to eat. My chef pulled out a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and a can of chickpeas. Either he had learned nothing or the diva inside of him was rearing her ugly head. He put the cans back while I pulled out sweet potatoes and had him slice them thin for chips. We tossed cauliflower in olive oil and sea salt and roasted that with the sweet potatoes. Meanwhile we put together a salad of lettuces, watercress, carrots, avocado slices and sorrel. Topped it with the chips and cauliflower. The chef added some black beans and all was right with the world.

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After a day when the thermometer got nowhere near 40 I wanted something warm. I put apples, rhubarb and strawberries in a baking dish, sprinkled on some lemon juice and cinnamon. I put this over warm brown rice with a splash of almond milk and enjoyed a hot, gooey, satisfyingly sweet and tart dessert. Personally, I would rather eat that than a slice of cheesecake.

And here we are on day 22, healthier, thinner, and at least one of us is happier, though I think deep down Ed is happy too. The chef is off of self imposed restriction (well, wife imposed restriction which is pretty much the same thing). This morning he brought a tray with coffee, apple and orange slices up to our room. After the coffee though he headed out the door to the restaurant. I figured that while I was busy whirring together my breakfast smoothie, Chef Ed would be happily enjoying country fried something with gravy and BREAD. He called to report that he had grilled some chicken while watching Huck devour a couple of chili dogs all the way. He’s meeting me to go for a run while the sun is high and the sky is clear. It looks like his commitment is still strong! Time to figure out what I’m going to cook him for dinner.

Lentil and Sorrel Soup fixins

Lentil and Sorrel Soup fixins

Walking The Tightrope

And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

20140209-154317.jpgIt has been the longest, coldest winter I can remember in Florida. During our New Year’s Eve service I was dressed more like a Colorado skier than a Florida Restaurant owner in order to combat the cold of the courtyard and Main Street.  Temperatures had warmed up to the mid thirties which is still ridiculous for Florida.  Turns out I should have appreciated that balmy mid-thirty heat wave because in January it plummeted to 19 degrees! Our fountain froze, my car would not go into gear due to a temperature over-ride sensor. We had closed for one week to pressure wash inside and out but with water freezing as it left the hose, that wasn’t going to happen. Ed, Huck and I spent our first days of January bored out of our skulls. I almost wished The cat in the hat would walk through our door.

THING ONE AND THING TWO

I didn’t get the Cat, but I did wind up having some diversions come through my door when first my mom came to town for a couple of days, bringing rain and warmer temperatures with her. At the same time, our 19 month old grandson, Thing One, came to stay for a couple of days while my daughter was busy bringing Thing Two into the world. Mumsie was able to make it the hospital for the arrival or our beautiful Alice Raine Wilson on January 13th.

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Hey Grammy, are you gonna share that ice cream?

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Ed and I lost two night’s sleep wrangling Damon before returning him to his parents.  20140209-154409.jpg

We bade Mumsie goodbye as she headed back to Illinois. A hush fell over the house and sleep overtook us both for most of a day and a night. Next day it was back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Well, sort of regularly scheduled.  We shuffled the movie schedule after having to reschedule due to weather. The Maltese Falcon was cancelled. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was rescheduled.  That schedule got bumped when the roads froze and all of the bridges closed, Edward’s and most other restaurants and businesses had to shut down. School was cancelled for four days. As we approached February things did not improve much but we held out hope.

TRYING NOT TO FREEZE OUR ASSETS OFF

We had a number of tickets sold for Butch Cassidy take three. There were rumors of cold and rain but the day of we were all wearing shorts and standing in the sun. We set up the courtyard for the dinner and a movie. Ed made his mama’s now famous Chuckwagon Steak, Huck created the most amazing baked beans and pork bellies. From somewhere appeared quail fried in a cornmeal that knocked our socks off. Of course sous chef Angela had to steal the show with her rice pudding. As the courses progressed, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. We were willing the movie to run faster. Bring on the Bolivian Army! Credits rolled just as the thermometer approached that freezing mark AGAIN. Despite the cold everyone raved about everything being absolutely wonderful.

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Blue? Is blue allowed in Florida?

We decided to take a pass on My Cousin Vinny scheduled for Mid February because the weather is just too unpredictable right now. We are focusing all of our energy on planning the season finale, Godfather II. It will be an unforgettable three and half hour night of culinary and cinematic excellence under the stars. We are starting to feel like the commotion is behind us and we have nothing left to do but sweat our way into the upturn in business at the beginning of March. Come on March!  Some mornings we wake up in a panic and wonder why we do this. Some nights we come home and wonder if we should be doing something else. But we continue to do it because, as Hyman Roth says, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

The beach froze, for crying out loud!

The beach froze, for crying out loud!

WHAT NOW?

And what about the future of the chef’s wife and her professional aspirations? I’ve been asking myself that same question quite a bit lately. On March 8th Ed and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary.  On March 14th we will celebrate two years since opening the gates at Edward’s.  I’m going into my eighth year as a chef’s wife (I absolutely count the two long, hard years before the “I dos!”) and I am struck that the term chef’s wife might not be quite right in our case anymore.Much of life is still the same in terms of supporting my husband in his career as a chef. He is an artist in the medium of food and wine. He is a businessman who is constantly crunching numbers and worrying over the physical plant, the staff, the inventory, the customers. Before I supported him by listening, throwing out suggestions and waiting to hear what the owners of the restaurant decided to do. Now that I am one of the owners though, as well as being a manager and bookkeeper. I am bringing concerns as well as listening to them. Together we are banging out ideas to keep things running smoothly. I am no longer the best sounding board in all situations because I have veto power at this restaurant.

As a chef’s wife I was able to hang out at night while he worked. Other chef’s wives have lamented about the lonely nights, lost Valentine’s and New Year’s dinners. I never really minded the time that he was at work and I was not. I liked finishing my 7-5 (or 6 or 7 or 8)pm job and having some time to myself. I got a lot done on my photography, writing and various projects. I cooked, ran kids around, kept up with the bills and played the role of domestic goddess. When I was “just a chef’s wife,” I was focused on the dishes he created and the dishes that we tasted which were created by other chefs. I was blissfully oblivious to much of the behind the scenes drama. If I had started a blog before Edward’s, it would have been filled with pictures of food, descriptions of flavors and recipes. Now we seldom have time to get out at all and cooking in our house is virtually non-existent. The cupboards are bare and if not for their ability to drive to the store and some basic cooking skills, the kids would have starved by now. I have a different job but I’m still up early to run the business side the restaurant with him. But then I stay at the restaurant late for service. We are definitely together every Valentines’ and New Year’s Eve.  We may not see each other except at the pass, but we are together.20140209-163020.jpg

I don’t know how many chef owned restaurants there are in this world.  I wonder though how many spouses of those chefs are living the same life as when their significant other was working for the man. I do know some chef/owner’s wives who keep the home stock pots simmering while the chef is handling the business. I also know of many who are way more actively involved than I am.  Pardis Stitt has been a force at Botega, Highlands Bar and Grill, and Chez Fon Fon for decades. Idie Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club fame is a chef AND a chef’s wife AND a restaurant owner. That girl has some serious challenges and all of the skills to handle them swiftly. I’m torn between wanting to grow up to be just like these role models and running away, camera and computer in hand. I love my husband and my restaurant too much to leave them though. I no longer have the option to quit my day job, and I can’t quit my night job. I’ll just keep walking the tightrope between the things I love and the other things I love, trying to maintain my balance.

In trying to find the balance I have read blogs and googled the wives of other chefs.  I am struck by the number of us who pursue writing, photography, art, and cooking. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that artistic thinkers are drawn together. Culinary arts can be just as inspiring and beautiful as any media. It can be just as frustrating or just as motivating for the artist. While my husband does not write and can’t operate a camera more complicated than his iPhone, he understands me when I talk about my craft.  Sometimes I have to put it in terms he is more familiar with like “the ingredients for a great photo are…” or “This character is a bit tart but the sweetness she shows at times balances her out.”  For the most part he understands when I sit bolt upright out of a deep sleep and leave the room in search of my computer or a notebook. Or when he wakes up and finds me gone, chasing the dawn light with my camera. He does the same thing only he heads for the restaurant to create a new dish.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 11.20.38 AMBeing a photographer for me is about sharing the beauty that my eye finds with others.  Being a writer is about taking these characters and scenes that bang at my brain to be set free and putting them out there to make someone else smile. Artistic people have to have an outlet. Being a chef’s’ wife I did have time for my artistic endeavors. Being a chef’s wife and restaurant owner, that time is now frustratingly limited. But I am realizing that my artistic drive can often be satisfied by the work I do at the restaurant. Being a restaurant family is really all about bringing food and wine and atmosphere and joy to the lives of others.  That is what we thrive on, that is what sustains us.  We work with our team for weeks to come up with creative, delicious dishes and pair them with wines so that it all marries into a menu that leaves diners awestruck.  We set the dining room for hours, worry over how the guests will be received and seated.  We examine every plate to insure that each is as perfect as the others. We smile and shake hands as guests sashay out full and happy. We get ready to start the whole production again the next day. At the end of the night we sit down, pull off the clogs we have been standing on for 14 hours, sip a glass of wine and speak the collective, “I’m hungry!  Where can we get something to eat at this hour?”

RUNAWAYS

And of course when the restaurant isn’t enough for me, I do run away. I grab my camera and hit the road. Sometimes I can only fire off a few shots near my house. Other times I get to travel the Florida backroads. Most recently we were able to sneak over to Homasassa Springs on our way to a food show. The shots I got should tide me over for awhile.20140120-_DSC310320140120-_DSC3004 20140120-_DSC3031 20140120-_DSC3070 20140120-_DSC3104 20140120-_DSC3143

Excuses, Excuses

As a rule, a person should do one creative thing each day. It is pretty evident that I have not been using that creative spark for blog writing in the past few months. There is no excuse but here are my excuses.

1) Traveling Jones

In September I traveled first to see my college boy in Winter Park. I have been making him ludicrous birthday cakes for 18 years and I’m not about to stop now just because he lives 6 hours away. I loaded up my mini cooper with all of the crap that he left behind and took off across the love bug infested backroads of Florida. His birthday present was a day at Seaworld. He had chickened out on riding roller coasters on a school trip to Universal Studios and I was going to see to it that the boy got initiated properly! Seaworld doesn’t have many coasters but by God we were going to ride them all and ride them often. I splurged and got the express pass so we didn’t have to waste time waiting in line.

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His first trip around the boy looked a little green around the gills (aquatic life reference) but once he got his feet back on the ground he was running to get back in line for a second trip. We saw everything, rode all the rides, petted a dolphin, got my son’s girlfriend over her fear of feeding stingrays. We were there from the minute they opened until the minute they closed. As the day was coming to an end Rachel told us that she was not leaving until she had sat in the splash zone and watched the Shamu show. Spencer and I wanted to ride the Manta again though. Soooo, we got Rachel to save our splash zone seats while we sprinted across the park to the Manta. Clouds were gathering, it was going to start raining and probably lightening. Chances were good that we were going to be struck by lightening all because we chose to ride JUST ONE MORE TIME. We took the priority steps two at a time, got on the front of the coaster where we were buckled in, tipped forward to a face down position so our spines were against the rails and we were off! It was worth the risk. Once we landed we looked at the clock and realized that we would have to really run to make it back in time. Dodging strollers, and stuffed animals, turkey leg eating old men and photo taking tourists we jogged and weaved back across the park, up the steps to the theater, down the steps to our seats just as the first splash went up. Excellent timing.
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The next day was more relaxing floating around at Wekewa Springs State Park taking underwater pictures and then, of course, making a shamu cake for the birthday boy.

Birthday done, I hopped back in my little cruiser, hightailed it home, unpacked, refilled the suitcase with winter time clothes and Ed and I boarded a plane bound for Montana. We spent a week in Pray, Mt. with my sister and her husband. Between us we had 10 cameras. We piled into our rented mini van with its two sliding doors, Ed was at the wheel tasked with stopping anytime any of us shouted STOP! PICTURE! As it turns out, we were stopped more than we were going. I could spend a month in Yellowstone and still not see everything. Every second it is changing so you could actually stand in the same spot all day and shoot 1,000’s of very different photos. I spent hours on end just in the front yard of our cabin taking close ups and landscapes. My eyes have still not translated to my brain all of the beauty that we saw.20131114-092836.jpg20131114-092758.jpgYellowstone-1

2) The Broken Chef’s Wife

For nearly a year I have been dealing with some pretty intense sciatic pain. I tried chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, yoga, Egoscue, Lortab, sports medicine. Nothing was going to get this herniated disc back where it belonged. The pain was becoming debilitating and my quality of life (not to mention the quality of life for the people around me) was getting very bad. So I found a neurosurgeon at the Andrew’s Institute who confirmed that while surgery was no guarantee that the sciatic pain would go away, it did seem to be the only possible option left. I would be out of commission for at least two weeks after the surgery so I had to be strategic. I scheduled the surgery for late October after our first dinner and a movie. The day before the surgery Ed and I drove to Pensacola, got a room, went out for a last meal and spent a fitful night waiting for the alarm to go off. We got to the hospital for our 5am check in and by 7:00 I was given some great drugs and wheeled away. When I woke up the first thing I noticed was that the pain was still shooting down my leg. I knew that it might take time for the nerves to recover so I tried to stay positive. I also noticed that there was none of the usual post surgery commotion going on. I looked up at the anesthesiologist and wanted to ask a question but my throat was too raw and sore from the intubation tube. I started to use sign language but quickly realized that this just made him think I was still drugged up. Finally I squeaked out, “how’d it go?” “It didn’t.” he told me with a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment. “The doctor explained it to your husband. We had the wrong MRI.” Needless to say I was angry, confused, frustrated, more confused. I went through a whirlwind of emotions. They brought Ed back and he was livid. He explained that after they took me back he went out to truck to try to grab a nap while he waited. He had barely gotten in there when his cell rang. The doctor wanted to see him. The poor guy was already in a state of panic over my having surgery, let alone spinal surgery. This call just about pushed him over the edge. The doc pulled him in, showed him the MRI and said, is this your wife? At first Ed was not sure what he was getting at but then he pointed out the name. Erin C Mason, birthdate 1974. They had the wrong girl? The surgeon was 99.9% certain that he did in fact have the correct MRI, just one that had been scanned to the wrong chart before being sent up to him. He was not taking any chances though. So, I was sent off for another MRI just to be sure and scheduled for surgery take two.

TAKE TWO: The next Friday we slept in our own bed, woke up after a better half night’s sleep, drove the hour and a half to Pensacola, checked into the hospital. Verified the name and birthdate on every slip of paper, bracelet, vial, and package that came through the door. I asked the anesthesiologist to take it easy on my vocal cords this time and the happy juice was administered. This time when I woke up I didn’t need to ask if they had done the surgery. The first thing I noticed was there was absolutely no pain whatsoever anywhere from my butt all the way down to my toes. I was overjoyed. The second thing I noticed was a searing pain in the middle of my back where the knife had gone in. But with a little fussing over the IV, some tweaking here and there I was soon happily oblivious to any pain, or to reality for that matter. After about an hour they had me up, dressed and poured into the backseat of the truck. By that evening I was walking across the football field escorting our son to his place among the other senior players for South Walton High School. The next night I was working alongside Chef Ed putting on a private dinner for eight people. And then the drugs wore off. That is probably a good thing because when you have been ordered to not bend, lift, twist, sit or stretch, a little pain can go a long way in helping your memory. I tried to write some while I recovered but not being able to sit my ass in the chair kind of made it difficult. The lortab probably wasn’t helping either. I took advantage of the doctor’s orders to walk every day. I would grab my camera and set out in my little neighborhood, getting further from the house every day. It turns out that you don’t have to go far to find beautiful things to photograph.

20131114-093240.jpgThis gentleman was at the end of my driveway doing a plien air painting of the intriguing abandoned house on the hill.

And then there was the morning I was waiting for the light to hit some barbed wire just right when this wonderful family came walking up behind me. 20131114-093512.jpgSometimes you just have to look down your own street.

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3) Dinner and A Movie

Starting in October I had to plan first the movie list and then the individual events, four of them so far. (It should have been five but Fiddler on the Roof got bumped due to Thanksgiving/poor planning) When it comes to planning one of Edward’s dinner and a movie events, our crew packs a month’s worth of creative moments into each movie. First is the movie selection process. The criteria for dinner and a movie films is that they must be classics and they must have some element that lends itself to a menu. Pretty loose criteria, I know. As we start throwing titles around, the chef inevitably asks, “Is that really a classic?” Usually he asks this of movies he has never seen or he feels are more chick flicks (Princess Bride, Edward Scissorhands). Movie titles start pouring out, some make it to the list while others are dismissed immediately. We needed a good one for the Wednesday before Halloween, not too gory, definitely black and white, maybe a little bit funny. Young Frankenstein got inked onto the list. We knew that we are going to do the sequel to our very first dinner and a movie so Godfather II got added. And we know we will always do a Bogart film. I had to screen a couple of them before we landed on The Maltese Falcon. Bond? James Bond? Excellent idea, but which one? Ed picks Goldfinger because of the Auston Martin in it. I suspect that the character Pussy Galore played a role in making this movie a unanimous choice of the gentlemen in our crew.

When I am looking at movies for the event, I consider the food angle and also the visual impact of the movie, and how these can be translated from the screen to the table. My Cousin Vinny won hands down with the diner scene where Vinny and his girlfriend are looking at the menu which has the following choices

BREAKFAST

LUNCH

DINNER

There are several other great references including Grits, Chinese, Tuna and Beans. I will throw these references at the chef and his brain trust and they will come up with something incredible.

The first movie of the year was chosen by Angela our exceedingly talented sous chef. Neither Ed nor I had seen the movie or the play but what Angela wants, Angela gets. It didn’t hurt that it was a Cary Grant movie, which I was looking for. We screened the movie and decided the theme would be very loosely based on Panamanian food in honor of the uncle who is digging the Panama Canal in the cellar. The tables were covered in, you guessed it, Old Lace. The menu included Seafood Stew, Tostones, Pork Empanada, Black Bean Salsa, mama Marta’s Spanish Rice and Churros three ways. Of the 25 people who attended, most had never seen the movie. One of our friends who comes to nearly every dinner and a movie told us that he likes our events because he gets to see movies that he would probably never have seen otherwise. That was enough encouragement for us to keep digging deeper and pushing the envelope. Our list for next year started coming together after that statement but we didn’t have time to think about it long. We had Young Frankenstein to put together, a menu that would have everyone making “a yummy sound.”

Though I have seen it 100 times, I watched Young Frankenstein several more times with pen in hand. I took some notes: “Like a bunch of broccoli, “ “Vermicelli.” “Are you referring to the worm or the pasta” “Roll, roll, roll in the hay.” “Perhaps I can help you with that hump.” “Shwarzwalder Kirschtorte”

These I handed over to Ed, Angela and Huck. They whipped up a simple little menu that looked like this. 20131217-111945.jpgFREAKS! Ed and I found the greatest candelabra finally, after looking forever. And it was on SALE. We also scored tablecloths and napkins with great skeletons on them and some skull placecard holders. This was going to be great! The dry ice in the fountain was the perfect finishing touch.20131217-112140.jpg

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Goldfinger was not so easy to plan. I knew that there would be gold lame’ on the tables but other than that, I had nothing. I watched the movie only to learn that Bond does not eat. Sure he drinks martinis but we have no liquor license so that was out. I thought about the locations in the movie. South America, Miami, England, Kentucky. I turned it over to the kitchen. Of course they nailed it. The day of the movie arrived and the temperature outside plummeted. The flu had come to town and many people had to cancel. Ed and I scrambled to convert the dining room into a dinner theater. We hung fabric to project the movie on to, got some red fabric to set it off and block the audience from what was happening behind the scenes. The tables were all covered with the gold lame’ and it was beautiful. By the time 5:00 hit all but 8 people had cancelled. We decided since the movie was playing inside we would open the courtyard for regular service to anyone who wanted to sit outside under the heaters. It turned out to be a decent night for a cold mid November.

Edward Scissorhands is a quirky little movie which I learned appeals more to women than men. Being a Tim Burton fan I picked it because of the incredible use of colors and the 70’s nuclear family references. I envisioned the tables covered with pastel tablecloths and intricate topiaries. On the menu I wanted carrots and peas, some 70’s throwback cookout foods, and of course, Ambrosia Salad. Angela and Huck took over from there and we got Scissored Eggs with Caviar, Urban Crudite Platter with homemade Ranch Dressing (you may recall that the chef has banned Ranch from the restaurant but in this instance, it fit). Shake n Bake Chicken made with crushed Ruffles. Carrots and Peas with Spam (yes, SPAM) Risotto. For dessert I got my Ambrosia Salad but of course Angela took it up three levels. Homemade Marshmallows covered in toasted coconut, fresh kiwi, starfruit, grapes, orange segments, blueberries. Remember that in the 70’s there was always room for jello. Jello Edward’s style turns out to be Jello Shooter cubes with wine based vodka. The courtyard was covered in pink, purple, lime green, and yellow. And the topiaries? There were definitely some green creatures on the tables. Let’s just say that I learned that my creativity is best when the idea is conveyed to someone with talent who will do the actual execution.

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That’s it, those are my excuses for not sitting my ass in the chair and writing. Thankfully, I’m on the mend, Christmas is coming, business is very slow right now, the next dinner and a movie is not until mid-January. I’m sure I’ll come up with other excuses but for now, I’m optimistic that some creativity will result in writing this month.

Life Really Is a Rollercoaster Ride

MOVING PICTURES

It was finally time to accept the fact that Spencer is moving away to go to college.  He had told me that we needed to be on the campus of Full Sail University August 18th for the full tour after which he would go apartment hunting.  I needed to find a way to put it off just a little bit longer.  I knew we couldn’t miss our appointment and  truly I am very excited and proud that Spencer is going to Full Sail but I wanted to drag my feet a little getting there.  This is my third child to move away and it doesn’t get easier. Of course when people have asked me if I am sad to see them go, I tend to act cavalier  and relieved to be free.  But it is all an act intended to keep me from curling into the fetal position and panicking about their safety.   I started to plan some stops and detours between our house in the panhandle and the college in Winter Park in the middle of the state.  I asked Spencer if he wanted to go see his aunt and uncle in Sarasota “on our way” or if he wanted to go on an adventure or both.  Of course he wanted both.  A plan started to come together.  The chef was going with us but then he had something come up at the restaurant so he couldn’t go.  Since it was just going to be me and Spencer, I started mapping out a Mini Cooper route along old Florida backroads.  We had to be in Sarasota Saturday evening to go to dinner with my brother and sister so I  needed something interesting, fun and totally unexpected, not too far out of the way and that would not take all day to enjoy.  And that was when it hit me.  I would take Spencer to Weeki Wachee Springs!  Better yet, I would surprise him with it, I would just pull up to the gate of this oldest of Florida theme parks and his face would light up.  I told Ed my plan and his response was, “What’s a Weeky whoahachee?”  I explained Weeki Wachee is an original Florida roadside attraction that opened around the 50’s AND home to live mermaid shows.  That was it, Ed was in.  He shuffled his schedule and miracle of miracles, he found some time off so he would not miss the mermaids.  Now the plan was for the three of us to load into the big ole pickup truck and head across the panhandle following the coast highway and stay on the old Florida Highway 19 all the way to our secret destination. At 5am in a driving rain (because that’s all we see here lately) we loaded up and headed out.

IMG_0069As it began to get light out I pulled out my point and shoot camera and told Spencer that we were going to work on the Moving Pictures project that I started the week before.  The rules of the project are evolving but basically all photos must be taken either while in motion (using any camera available) or at a stop while on a trip (using only point and shoot cameras/iphones/ipads).  All photos must be developed using only ipad/iPhone apps.  The boy is going off to film school so I was not at all surprised that he was up for the project.  We sat on opposite sides of the truck, one of us in front, one in the backseat and were able to shoot whatever came up on either side.  We exhausted the batteries on the little Nikon and reloaded.

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We showed Spencer Port St. Joe and stopped at the boardwalk looking out over St. Joseph Bay.  As he walked away down the long boardwalk I was rocked a little by the image of my boy heading off on an adventure without me.  What could I do but suck it up, take the photo and keep on moving.

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As we made our way deeper into the no man’s land of the coastal highway there was not always a lot to see.  Tree, tree, tree, tree, intersection, tree, BRIDGE.  The bridges were usually over really cool rivers or marshes and a  new moving pictures rule emerged.  All bridge crossings must be photographed.  While Spencer wielded the camera I told him some facts that I knew about this part of Florida.  The one that piqued his interest most was that of Rosewood, where in 1923 a brutal massacre was set off when white men from nearby town lynched a man from Rosewood.  He looked it up on the internet and mapped it out, asking if we could detour and go through the now ghost town.  Somehow we missed the turn though and have put Rosewood on the route for our next adventure.  We did pull into Fanning Springs State Park which is in the same county.  The spring was closed for swimming but I thought we might see a manatee or a famous killer jumping Sturgeon.  Instead we found spiders, huge, cool, spiders.  Spencer ran for the “good camera” and got a hands on lesson in close up photography.  Ed got a lesson in not turning his back on his son when walking through spider filled woods when a spider sized leaf was dropped down the collar of his shirt. And then we were off again.  We were running out of time. Our dinner reservation was at 7:30est and we had not even gotten to our surprise mermaid adventure.

Old School Florida Attractions

Disclaimer:  Our personal experience at Weeki Wachee should in no way be construed as a bad review of the park or its attractions.  Weeki Wachee is beloved and I think it is a must see old Florida theme park

As we pulled into the parking lot of Weeki Wachee Springs Spencer still had no clue where we were or what this was all about.  I hadn’t been here in 30 years and my first impression was, of course, that it was smaller than I remembered.  Ed was mesmerized by the mermaid statues and posters.  We had to search for parking, surprisingly the lot was nearly full.  I had no idea it would be crowded like this.  As I presented my Florida State Park pass entitling me to two free admissions and paid the $15 for the third, Ed asked me again how old I had been when I was here last.  I told him I was about 10. “The mermaids are probably old and fat by now,” he laughed.  I assured him that there were always beautiful young mermaids at Weeki Wachee.  Once through the gates I realized that I had not planned this adventure out right.  There is now a swimming area with water slides into the springs.  We needed our swimsuits and more time and a picnic!  We looked at our park map.  “Man, this park gets smaller and smaller.”  The ticket lady had told us we needed to get in line at least 1/2 hour before the mermaid show started.  It stared at 3:00est, we had reservations at 7:30 and still had at least 2 1/2 hours to drive.  And it was hot!  And there was a line, I just didn’t really think there would be a line.  I looked up at Spencer to see how he was enjoying his nut-so mother’s surprise adventure.  He looked a little confused and I think he was laughing at me.  OK, no time to wait for the mermaid show, maybe we can see them swimming around in the spring above the underwater theater.  I led them around to the back of the theater and there were mermaids alright, you could see their tails flip as the dove under water.  IMG_0170But these could not be THE mermaids.  The mermaids we saw were probably the same mermaids that I had seen when I was 10 years old.  These mermaids were well, they were definitely mature and, how shall I say it, shapely.  Ed went through a wide range of emotions rather loudly and in a matter of seconds.  He was shocked, disappointed, disillusioned.  He laughed, he cried, he paced back and forth and looked over the rail again and again.  I could not convince him that these were not THE Weeki Wachee mermaids.  Spencer and I pulled him away and went in search of the glass bottom boats.  On the way I looked for the carts selling those cold and refreshing orange juice filled plastic oranges I remembered.  They were nowhere to be found.  I began to realize that this was not going to be the nostalgic adventure I had planned.

But then we found the MOLD-O-MATIC.  Yes!  Put in your quarter (now 2 bucks) and watch the hydraulic arms push the big metal mold together, smell the searing wax and retrieve your piping hot wax souvenir.  Spencer bounced his prize in his hand so as not get burned.  When it cooled I took a closer look.  I had just bought my son a naked girl riding a seahorse.  Well maybe she had a bathing suit on, it is difficult to tell with wax figures.  IMG_0152We soldiered on to the glass bottom boats.  Another line! Curses.  We took a stroll along the Tranquility path to gather ourselves.  Ed muttered something about the reggae music leading the mermaids to smoke pot which led to the munchies which led to, well you know.  “Those were NOT the mermaids!” I assured him once again.  We had to get out of here.  I could see that my beloved Weeki Wachee was going to have to be reserved for a trip when we had more time, or maybe when I am by myself.  This was not turning out the way I had hoped.  Spencer grabbed the camera and walked off to take a picture of a peacock, maybe THE only peacock on the grounds.  I think there used to be many more walking around the park.  As we caught up to Spencer I saw that the poor peacock was missing a foot!  Oh dear God, a peg leg peacock?  Things were becoming surreal.

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I convinced the guys to let me take their pictures in the mermaid and merman cutout thingies. I had to reprimand Spencer for staring at his breasts while posing.  And then Ed saw his chance to be a real live mermaid and literally ran to it.

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As he settled in to have his picture taken a woman on the path behind us commented, “I’ve never seen a mermaid in sunglasses!” Seriously?  Of all of the things that are wrong with this picture the fact that my husband is wearing sunglasses is what stands out to you?  Tears of laughter were rolling down my cheeks and I found myself very thirsty.  I needed a beer!  We exited the park, having spent 20 of the funniest minutes I can remember ever experiencing.  It may not have been the adventure I had been planning but it had definitely been a very unique experience.

Full Sail Ahead

After a wonderful dinner out with my sister, brother in law, brother, sister in law, Ed and Spencer we all fell asleep with visions of mermaids splashing in our heads.  We awoke to the delicious smells of Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) being cooked by my sister.  How could you not have a great day when you start it off with fresh Pho!  We hated to eat and run but we were going to be late if we didn’t get on the road.  Winter Park is in the middle of the state.  We made it just as the orientation was starting.  Whew, that was close.  Spencer’s girlfriend, who is also going to attend Full Sail, and her mother were already checked in and ready for the tour.  We were led up and down stairs and hallways, past banks of high tech audio and visual equipment and directed to take a seat in one of the sound stages.  Did I mention that Spencer is going to school to study film? We watched and listened to the broad overview of the school, the music, film and game departments.  After we split into groups by major, we were taken through the back lot and into the production areas where got a good look at the cameras, booms, green screens, prop shops, mixing equipment, editing equipment.  We got to hear the lectures, the information, the sales pitches.  I got to hear the mom voices in my head yelling at one another.  The mom protecting her son’s future, his education, his time and financial investment argued it out with the mom watching her son work passionately toward a life writing, directing and producing.  In the end, both of them walked away satisfied that Spencer has the drive and determination and the school has the structure, equipment and opportunities to make this a very worthwhile endeavor.  Next to me, the chef looked back at his own education in chef school and his time as an instructor at a culinary school.  He came away with the same conclusion.  Spencer leaned over and asked, “Are you impressed?”  I nodded Yes.  “Are you jealous?” I emphatically nodded yes and asked if I can come to school with him.  He told me that I can go to Full Sail but I can’t be in his class.  It wouldn’t be fair if I pulled the mom card on one of his productions.  Besides, we are still trying to figure out how to pay for him to go!

New School Florida Attractions

On Monday Spencer left with his girlfriend and her mom to go apartment hunting.  The three of them are going to be sharing an apartment so we left this to them and Ed and I went off to catch up with one of his old friends who is a chef at one of Universal Studios on site hotels.  He had surprised us with tickets to Universal and Islands of Adventure.  After our last theme park adventure we figured we would be fine with a half day to see and do everything in the parks so we started our day shopping at Ikea for restaurant stuff.  IMG_0136We got to the park, stood in line to ride the Hulk, determined that the 2 minute 15 second ride was so worth the 45 minute wait.  With our hair sticking out in all directions, we went off in search of more coasters and wished we had started out earlier in the day.  We had no map, no plan, no real mental image of the parks at all.  We just wandered until we found a line we thought we should get into and we did it.  While on the 3D Harry Potter  ride I saw all of the places a graduate of Full Sail might have contributed to the experience.  The videos in the waiting areas, the waiting areas themselves, the graphics in the ride, the special effects.  But as we entered the chamber I lost that train of thought and was focused instead on surviving the dive my 3D broomstick was making towards the rock cliffs.  Visual arts have definitely taken theme park rides to a whole other level.  We would need more time!  We made our way to the Universal park where Ed and I both stopped in our tracks and looked straight up 167 feet at the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.  IMG_0130I stowed my purse in a locker, shoved my sunglasses down into my shirt so they wouldn’t fly off and we went for it.  We got all locked into our seats, chose the music for our little one and half minute ride and our car inched its way under the control tower.  Next thing we know we are staring straight up at 167 feet of track that we are now going to the top of?  NO NO, Nevermind, seriously, I’m done now.  But there is no turning back and next thing you know we are at the top and then we are staring into oblivion and then staring straight down at the 167 feet we are going to careen down at 65 miles per hour. After that it was all upsided downs and corkscrews and loops and cussing and screaming and head pounding until we coasted to the end and had to figure out how to stand and maintain our balance on the moving sidewalk and exit down the stairs.

I got the feeling we weren’t at Weeki Wachee anymore. We were hooked.  We were disappointed that we had to leave the park, find a hotel and then leave in the morning.   But Ed’s friend called us and said he had gotten us a room at his hotel on the Universal grounds and we could stay and come back.  We could have all day Tuesday to do both parks and not miss a thing.   We decided to hit one last ride before going back to the hotel.  The Revenge of the Mummy was not the scariest, fastest, most intense ride at the park.  It didn’t go upside down, it only got to speeds of 45 mph.  But the Mummy is the one that launched my sunglasses into the air and out to the darkness below.  Why is alway the “one last time” that costs the most?IMG_0103 IMG_0110

On day two we not only had the benefit of knowing what to expect, what to leave behind in the room (everything but some cash and my spare sunglasses), and what rides to hit.  We also had the free express pass that allowed us to breeze past the long lines and get on the rides in a fraction of the time.  We could get maximum track time with minimal wait.  We did coasters where our feet hung down, 3D, 4D, a Dr. Suess train that hit top speeds of EIGHT MILES PER HOUR,  Minions, Shrek, The Rock It (again?  YES!).  Water rides?  We were all for it.  Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Doo Right, Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges:  YOU WILL GET WET!  We rode until our heads hurt and we were certain we had sustained traumatic brain injuries.  The kids were calling, their groceries were running out at home.  The restaurant staff was calling.  We had to go home.

We ended our trip much as it began on the old Florida back roads in the rain.  We forded the re-flooded road to our driveway and came back to the reality of family, work, and responsibility.  We unpacked our suitcases and put away our treasures from the weekend.  Among them, a season pass to Universal Studios.  I plan to visit Spencer at school often during the next year and since I’ll be there anyway, I should drop in for a quick trip on the Rock It.

By chefsmate66 Posted in Travels