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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Stop panicking, start planning

Everyone I know is freaking out over Hurricane Irma. As of Tuesday morning she was a strong Category 5 storm barreling toward the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Where it goes from there is still up in the air. Most models show it tracking toward Cuba and the Florida Straits. There are a few models that show Irma skirting up the East coast impacting all of Florida, the eastern coast of Georgia and South Carolina.
Which is correct?

WE DON’T KNOW YET PEOPLE because it is still way too early to tell people. SO STOP FREAKING the heck out.

The one advantage of hurricanes is that there are ways of tracking them and plenty of time to plan ahead. So instead of freaking out you should be planning.
First, secure all your important documents in one location and place them in zip lock bags to protect them from water. Have an evacuation plan in place. If you have pets they should be included in your plans as most shelters do not accept animals. Best place to stay is with family in another state if possible.
Of course you want to have plenty of food and water for you, your family and pets to cover 3-5 days post storm.

Some people already going crazy buying out cases and cases of water. QUIT BEING GREEDY MAN!

First of all if you are planning on evacuating and staying with family and you are planning appropriately, you aren’t going to need to take all that water with you.
For example, if you live in Georgia and plan to evacuate to Ohio, they do have grocery stores with food and water up there you know. So far none of the storm models indicate it will impact areas that far north. SO BUY YOUR WATER THERE and leave ours alone.

Also how about tapping into your own water resources instead of buying bottled water. Start filling up pitchers and if you aren’t sure about your water quality boil it first. This method will save you tons of money and get you through the first rough days. Plus you should fill your bath tubs with water and anything else you can find with water. You’ll need that to freshen up and be able to flush your toilets.
Another good idea is to start making your own bags of ice now. Each time your ice tray fills, dump the cubes into a plastic bag and tie it shut. This way if your power goes out you have ice already made for your coolers.

Always keep your car’s gas tank full, get cash out of the ATM and make sure all your flashlights and batteries are good to go.
But this is a foodie column so let’s get with the program here and talk about hurricane food.
The storm is about a week away so first things first – EAT UP ALL THE FOOD IN YOUR FRIDGE NOW!!
If the storm should come toward us, your fridge should be nearly devoid of anything that will spoil when the power go out. Don’t go out and buy a ton of stuff that needs refrigeration just before a storm because the power WILL go out. That is 100 percent guaranteed.
When planning for the storm, the canned food and chip section of the store are your best friends – DIET BE DAMNED.
Time to grab your favorite chips, crackers, cookies, cakes and of course the all-time classic protein of CANNED SPAM!

Yummy.

The main thing to remember is you need things that are non-perishable. There are healthy options. Granola bars are a good choice as are nuts and trail mix packages. There are many fruits that don’t require refrigeration. Bread and peanut butter can go a long way until things start to return to normal.
But, again, if you plan to evacuate don’t buy more than what you need to get to your destination and then do you’re shopping there. There is no need to have to lug all that extra stuff around if where you plan to go is safe from the storm.

In other words: LEAVE SOME STUFF FOR US STUPID PEOPLE WHO DON’T PLAN TO EVACUATE.

Leave some canned tuna and stuff on the shelves for those of us that, due to choice or job, need to hunker down in place. We need to eat too you know.
All kidding aside the best thing you can do now is to monitor the storm and plan accordingly and above all else – BE SAFE.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

BEER, BACON and BBQ

There is so many great foodie events coming up, two of which involve some of my most favorite things in the world – BEER and BACON.

We are just days away from the annual Savannah Craft Brew Fest. This year it will be held 2-6 p.m. Sept. 2 at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center.

Have you not been?


Well if you’re a beer lover, like me, YOU MUST GO AT LEAST ONCE.


Dude, I plan to sample every beer they have….all 150 (or more) of them!

I’ve got my ticket. Give me my two-ounce souvenir sampling mug and get the heck out of my way, please.

And the incredibly SMART folks of Savannah have one upped themselves by incorporating Bacon Fest into the same weekend. Well, Bacon Fest is actually Sept. 1-4, but they are smart to have them both on the same weekend.

Bacon Fest will be along River Street. Food vendors are encouraged to think outside the box and make bacon the center of all their appetizers, desserts, entrée and snacks.

Think about it!

Chocolate covered bacon. Shrimp wrapped in bacon. Bacon burgers and bacon wrapped hot dogs. Pork belly and bacon sandwich with ham, and more BACON.

I plan on eating my way through the vendors, then hopping on the ferry and drinking my way through the beer crafters.

It is a great plan, indeed. I should go ahead and book a hotel room for the night while I’m at it. I will likely need to sleep off the food coma and beer. Plus I can wake up the next day and head back for some eggs and BACON.

Then of course we have the 14th annual Blues, Brews and BBQ right here in Hinesville on Sept. 23. This event is free, but bring your cash to buy some of the best barbecue in the county.

GUESS WHAT? I was picked to be one of the judges for the bar-b-que competition this year!


I’m actually doing a little happy dance in my head. I do it every time I am reminded that I get to judge the ’que.

Y’all better bring it. I loves me some ’que and I get to sample all the entries (I’ll need some new stretchy pants for that).

The event starts at 1 p.m. and goes well into the evening. They offer a bottomless glass of beer (another GREAT idea) to help wash down the food (and other beverages too of course, but BEER and BBQ, yep). There will be plenty of fun activities for the kids and a lot of blues music from live bands.

I am excited about being a judge. I’ve been doing my research on it. Did you know there is an actual training course to become a certified BBQ judge for national and international events?

I’m glad it’s barbecue I’m judging. They make you spit out wine during those competitive tastings (wasting the wine, shameful).

Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to remind myself to not lick my fingers in between tastings.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Just another Meatless Monday

Trying to eat healthy, I joined a few of my friends in giving meatless Monday a go. Not a big deal in switching to a full veggie meal here and there.

Pizza can be meatless. In fact my all-time favorite is the primavera white they sell at That’s Italian. It’s mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, Ricotta cheese and spinach.

Completely delish! But maybe not a true healthy choice.


There are plenty of pasta dishes that can be made without meat. I like substituting eggplant, zucchini and squash for those dishes.

While shopping for options I picked up an item I have not used in a long time – Portobello mushrooms.

I thought I would try to make a traditional steak with black beans and rice dinner and use the large mushroom caps in place of the steak.

I am such a genius for thinking this. It was the BEST EVER and so simple to cook.

I got out my handy cooking pan, placed it on the stove top and turned the heat to medium-high. I used a teaspoon of olive oil and a sliver of butter in the pan. As the butter melted and mixed with the oil, I sprinkled a little salt and pepper over the sliced mushroom caps and tossed them into the pan.

That’s about it. Well, almost.

As the mushrooms became plump and soaked in the oil and butter, I added ¼ cup of red wine to deglaze the pan. (I measured out 2 cups of wine. I’m sure you can guess what I did with the extra).

IT WAS PHENOMENAL, juicy, tasty, thick portions of sliced caps. It even looked like a steak.

I always make my rice in a rice cooker so that is a no-brainer. As I’ve written before, I use canned black beans but make them my own with added spices and herbs. They end up tasting like my mom’s homemade black beans.

The mushrooms were so good I made them again. This time instead of rice and beans as my sides I made cauliflower rice (my own version) and roasted corn (again my own version).

For the cauliflower rice I simply tossed the cauliflower in Italian dressing and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I set the oven to 375 degrees and roasted it in a shallow pan for 30-40 minutes. Once roasted, the cauliflower was tossed into my food processor and I kept pulsing it down until it looked like rice grains.

I placed it in a bowl and added a little bit of butter and parmesan cheese and lightly mixed it.

For the corn, I removed the husk and slathered the corn with butter. Then I sprinkled it with parmesan cheese, Italian season blend herbs, a little garlic and pepper. I wrapped the corn in tinfoil and placed it in the oven at the same temperature I was using to roast the cauliflower. I left the corn in the oven while I finished my cauliflower rice so it likely stayed in for 45-50 minutes.

I served up my mushrooms, corn and cauliflower.

Meatless Monday second round success story. It was incredibly tasty and again so simple.


I eat a lot of cauliflower but that was the first time I made a rice version. It was fun to think of creative and tasty way to use ingredients. I have a friend who has a gluten allergy and he makes his pizza crust out of roasted cauliflower. Another friend makes creamy cauliflower grits.

YUM


Of course now I am on a mission to invent cool and succulent meals for meatless Mondays. I’ll keep you posted about the successes and failures.

My oven roasted mushrooms were disastrous…messed them up pretty bad. Well, truth be told, I FORGOT I was roasting them. Burned doesn’t even begin to describe them.


If you missed my tip for quick black beans here is a re-cap from a previous blog:

My mom would make the black beans from scratch which takes two days. I tend to cheat when making my black beans. But you can develop great black beans from canned options if you add the right spices. I’ve used the large can of Bush’s Black beans and have been successful in duplicating the flavor of mom’s real deal.

Add half a can of water in the pot, 2 bay leaves, cumin, salt, pepper, Badia complete seasoning (it’s like the powdered spice form of mojo), a little touch of red wine and a dash of red pepper flake. Bring it to a boil then turn the heat to medium-low or low to simmer. Let those flavors marry for at least 30 minutes.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry

A good way to blow your good eating habits and your pocket book is shopping for food when you’re hungry.
It’s just a bad idea folks, too much temptation while your tummy is rumbling saying, “Feed me.”
It’s something I tend to do far too often. I start off with the best intentions of getting healthy items but hunger has its own plan.

“Let’s see I need chicken for dinner tonight … oh wait this pizza will take only 15 minutes and has pepperoni and BACON. I should get the chicken to make ahead for tomorrow’s dinner, and get the pizza for tonight. YES. In the meantime let me snag this bag of chips and start on these now while shopping.”
Crunch, crunch, crunch crunch…YAY CHEETOS!


Of course then I need a soda to wash down the chips.

There were a few times where I grabbed a ready-made sandwich at the deli to go along with the chips and soda. And if the hunger lingers I may start going aisle by aisle, searching for the next quick grab and chew option.

OMG pickles, I need some for the house (I didn’t). Chocolate chip cookies. I haven’t had these in years (and should still stay away from them but too late I opened the box). It’s summer and it’s hot, so yes we have room for ice cream. (I don’t care what diet you’re on there is ALWAYS room for ice cream).
PEANUTS and DOUGHNUTS and CHEESEBALLS OH MY.


I blame it on the grocery stores. It’s their fault for not providing healthier on-the-go options.
You can grab a bag of chips or cookies or bag of candy and eat while you shop because you can still scan the EMPTY bag or container when you check out and pay for the goods.

Try doing that with fruit!

I’d love to see the look on a store manager’s face when you eat a banana or two and then try to weigh the peel to pay for it. Or grab a bag of grapes and start eating some so by the time you go to pay, it weighs half of what it used to.
Tempting but don’t do it, you might end up meeting security. Not that I tried or that I speak from experience. Okay I did it ONCE.

Yeah the store manager isn’t going to let you weigh just the banana peel or mango pit. So instead you find yourself grubbing through the chips, candy and quick snack aisles in an attempt to hush the roar emanating from your belly, which at this point, is so LOUD it’s scaring little children.

Grocery stores should have a special scale next to their fruits.
This would allow you to weigh your bananas or grapes or mangoes and produce a ticket with the price and weight on a barcode. You can then eat them to your heart’s content and pay for the full price at checkout.

SEE PROBLEM SOLVED…get with the program Wal-Mart, Kroger and Food Lion. This should be implemented ASAP so we the hungry can still eat and shop and NOT destroy our good eating habits. (Well, I guess allowing myself to get that hungry to begin with is a habit I may need to address).

All this talk about food is making me hungry. Time to make my list and head to the store.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tomatoes on the attack

In 1978, the low-budget science-fiction film “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” was a hit among young moviegoers. The film was a spoof on the horror and sci-fi genre movies of that time and featured monstrous tomatoes revolting against humans, killing them off one by one.

Today, however, tomatoes are highly regarded in helping humans in battling a barrage of diseases. Prostate and breast cancer, surprisingly, top the list.
Research indicates that tomatoes contain lycopene, which scientists consider to be a strong antioxidant.

“Several studies have shown that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, soy, fiber, lycopene — which you find in tomatoes — and the omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of both breast cancer and prostate cancer,” Dr. Dean Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, reported when speaking about the benefits of a more plant-based diet while in Savannah in November of 2016. “These diets contain a lot of naturally occurring antioxidants that, combined with physical activity, have been shown to reduce what is called oxidative stress.”

Ornish has spent decades researching the benefits of lifestyle changes, including a plant-based diet rich in foods that contain lycopene and other antioxidants, in reducing or completely eliminating chronic illnesses.

Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the lycopene found in tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables is a carotenoid, a family of pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright red, orange and yellow coloring.

In 2002, Giovannucci published his research findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute confirming that frequent tomato or lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. His research also found that lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer and that intake of tomato sauce, the primary source of bioavailable lycopene, was associated with an even greater reduction in prostate cancer risk.

More recently, a team of Finnish researchers published a report in the journal Neurology stating that lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men. The report was published in October 2012 and was based on research following more than 1,000 men over a period of 12 years.

Dr. Andrew Weil is an American physician, teacher and author on holistic health and the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. He spoke at the November lecture in Savannah. Weil reported that research shows lycopene may help prevent heart disease, atherosclerosis and breast and prostate cancers. He said it also may be the most powerful carotenoid against singlet oxygen, a highly reactive oxygen molecule and a primary cause of premature skin aging.

Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and frequent contributor to “The Dr. Oz Show,” said lycopene also is found in pink grapefruit, watermelon and guava. She agrees that it helps with premature skin aging and helps reduce the risk of sunburn.
“It helps protect the skin against the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn and premature aging,” she reported on doctoroz.com, adding that folks should still apply sunscreen.

Weil noted that despite being red, strawberries and cherries do not contain lycopene. It is found in watermelons and other fruits and vegetables, he said, just not in the amount found in tomatoes.

Like Giovannucci, Weil said the cooking process makes the lycopene more bio-available and accounts for 85 percent of how Americans take in lycopene in their diets.
Giovannucci recommends at least 10 milligrams of lycopene per day and said that because lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, it is best taken when combined with some form of healthy fat.

For example, he reported that when cooking a tomato sauce, adding a little oil adds flavor and the fat needed for the lycopene to be absorbed in the body. He added that getting the recommended amount is not that difficult. A one-cup can of pure tomato juice contains 21,960 micrograms — nearly 22 milligrams — of lycopene.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Yep I could eat this 30 days in a row

If you had to eat the same meal for 30 days what would you choose?

OMG; decisions, decisions.

See, I can actually do this. If I had to live on chicken soup, or say chili, or fried chicken for 30 days, no problem. Better yet tell me I can only eat ice cream and I’ll make it work for breakfast, lunch and dinner — EASY.

Oh, 30 days’ worth of Lowcountry boils. YES, please!


Wait! Pizza, yes by gosh. Pizza is definitely something I do for more than 30 days.

Let’s see, what else would I possibly consider? Hmm.

It would be easy to pick something like tacos (way too easy). As much as I like hot dogs I’m not sure I could commit to that for 30 days straight.

I think I would stick to something from my childhood. Something I asked my mom to make nearly every day.

Bistec de palomilla, con arroz y frijoles negros! (Palomilla steak with white rice and black beans).


Mouthwateringly delicious to even think about.

A palomilla steak is just top-round or a sirloin cut. The magic is that it is thinly sliced (or pounded thin, a quarter inch or less). It is marinated in lime, juice, garlic salt and pepper.

I let mine marinate overnight, but setting it aside for 30 minutes will do if you’re in a pinch. When it’s time to cook, you just need a little olive oil to pan fry the steak.

Traditionally a palomilla steak is served with finely minced raw onions and cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice (the flavor of the finely minced raw onion and cilantro adds a little texture and bite to the meal). I also like my steak topped off with caramelized grilled onions.

My mom would make the black beans from scratch which takes two days. I tend to cheat when making my black beans. But you can develop great black beans from canned options if you add the right spices. I’ve used the large can of Bush’s Black beans and have been successful in duplicating the flavor of mom’s real deal.

Add half a can of water in the pot, 2 bay leaves, cumin, salt, pepper, Badia complete seasoning (it’s like the powdered spice form of mojo), a little touch of red wine and a dash of red pepper flake. Bring it to a boil then turn the heat to medium-low or low to simmer. Let those flavors marry for at least 30 minutes.

I have my rice ready in my rice cooker.

The thin steak is tender and juicy. I plate up some rice and pour any remaining cooking oil over it. Then I pour a big scoop of black beans over my rice.

DINNER TIME!

Yes I could eat that every day!

Option B would be serving that Palomilla topped with a mountain of thinly cut fries (and I mean thin, think potato stick fries).

YES!

OMG, there used to be a restaurant in Miami that was famous for palomilla steak and fries. Lila’s steakhouse. The pile of fries was stacked so high you had to search for your steak underneath. The fries would soak up the luscious steak gravy. Ahhh, I can taste it now.

Okay I could eat my palomilla meals for 30 days, and plan to…starting TONIGHT!

What would you choose for your 30 day meal?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Daufuskie Island Rum Company

This story was originally printed in the Dec./Jan. 2015 edition of Liberty Life Magazine.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company will be celebrating their first year in business this December and owners Anthony Chase and his newlywed wife Kristi are still in awe of just how successful their little venture has become.
During a somewhat rainy October afternoon, Chase greets a group of visitors who came to tour his 1,500 square foot business and distillery. He glances at the large group gathered in the foyer and can barely contain his excitement.
“Those push pins represent where people live right now and we’ve had visitors from 48 different states already,” Chase says pointing to two different maps on the wall of his tasting room.

He says they are only missing guests from South Dakota and Alaska. “And we’ve already had visitors from 38 different countries as well,” he adds. “It’s been pretty remarkable to see the number of people who actually come to Daufuskie Island…we have about 300 people who live on the island full time but we get about 100,000 visitors a year.”
Many of those visitors have made their way to the distillery where Chase, a former Pharmacist and Hospice Program Manager, has turned his modest dream into a bursting reality.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company started out simple enough.
“We opened on Dec. 23, 2014 with the white rum. On April 11, 2015 we had a launch party for our spice rum, we called it our get spicy party and we had live music and about 300 people here. On the Fourth of July we released our gold rum and that is what is aging in these bourbon reserve barrels,” he says leading the group into the distillery.
Chase says he was happy managing hospice programs across the country. Leaving hospice behind to open a rum company wasn’t his original plan when he and his wife searched for an island home.
“Kristi and I started looking for a beach house and we were going to use it just intermittingly until it came time to retire,” Chase says adding they were both still quite happy with the Kentucky farm home they lived in for many years.

The couple searched for a place on Zillow and came across the listing for the Daufuskie Island property.
Chase laughs, his blue eyes sparkle and he strokes his short white beard commiserating on how neither of them had ever set foot on Daufuskie Island in their life. But, while looking at the property photos online, they decided to make an offer, sight unseen.
“And the offer was accepted,” he says with a smile admitting, at that moment, they weren’t quite sure what they were about to get themselves into. “We came down the following week on a Thursday and stayed until Monday.”
After a few more short visits the couple fell in love with Daufuskie, leased out their farm in Kentucky and became full time island residents.
“I am a bourbon guy,” Chase says about his Kentucky heritage. “And bourbon is meant to be made in Kentucky. But to me, rum is an island drink...so since I live on an island, and a somewhat remote island, I felt like making rum was the right thing to do,” he adds with a laugh and admits he thinks he is finally putting his Pharmacology degree to good use.

Between tours, Chase looks out the front porch across the pond at the open and welcoming setting he created. The rum distillery looks like a country store, meticulously decorated to include a tin roof and rocking chairs outside the front porch.
He says he purchased 12.4 acres. The wondrous scenery of the pond, ducks and trees is much different from what the land originally looked like.
“When we got this it was pretty much a junk yard and what it was once used for was for an incineration station and a dump site,” he recalls. “It took us weeks to clear out that wide open space. And we’ve cleaned it up to this park-like setting.”
Chase says he takes pride in making a good product for more reasons than a good tasting drink.
“I am an army brat,” Chase says with admiration. “I grew up all over the country. Both my mother and my father were in the army and I wanted to make sure that everything that touched our rum was made in America.”

In order to do so Chase had his distillation units made in Alabama instead of Europe, uses all natural ingredients only grown in the United States and went through the Made in the USA Certification process.
“And they certified us with 100 percent US content,” he says adding that it also was fitting that his latest product, the reserve gold rum, became available for sale on the Fourth of July of 2015.
“We had roughly 350 people here for the gold rum launch party and sold 213 bottles at the event,” he says still sounding surprised. “We thought it was going to be about 34 percent of our business, it turned out to be 50 percent.”
Chase leads the group from the first room of the distillery, which is lined with bourbon barrels filled with rum and stacked three levels high. The group walks a few feet into the back room where the rum is actually made and Chase explains the process.

Chase says all rums start out as white rum and all are made with only three ingredients the most important being sugar.
“It has to be a sugar cane product or a byproduct of sugar cane in order for it to be called rum in the United States,” he explains. “So you have sugar, water and yeast and that’s it.”
Walking around the distillation and fermentation units, Chase picks up a cup of sugar and holds it up for the group to see.
“Sugar is the only opportunity you have to affect the flavor profile of your rum, so you got to choose the right sugar,” he says and laughs as he explains he tried 40 different rums until he found the one he liked the most.
“Believe it or not no one wanted to help me with that task,” he says smiling. “The one that I found that I liked the most was from a little distillery in Georgetown, Guyana called El Dorado.

Chase said once he found the flavor he wanted he called the distillery to see what sugar they used.
“It turns out they use demerara sugar,” he says and points to bags of demerara sugar he currently uses that is produced in the United States in Florida. Chase Says demerara sugar is minimally processed and has not had the molasses removed from it. He says that is what gives his rum a rich flavor.
The water, yeast and sugar are mixed together in fermentation tanks made of cypress wood which Chase says is the only wood that will not impart any flavor to the rum. He says the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol.
After five days the fermentation process is complete and what they have is 300 gallons of 13 percent alcohol. But Chase says that still has to be distilled to remove other byproducts of the liquid.
Chase walks over to the two 150 gallon distillation units and explains to the group the liquid will be brought up to a temperature of 200 degrees.
“The reason for that is that ethyl alcohol, the good stuff the stuff that we want, boils at 170 degrees and water boils at 212. So what I want to do is boil out the alcohol and leave the water behind,” he says.
The alcohol is then condensed back into a liquid and workers must then remove what they call the ‘head,’ which is the chemical component that is too strong for human consumption but perfectly suited to be used as cleanser for the facility and equipment.

Chase says these ‘head’ components, acetone, acid aldehyde and methyl alcohol, is what often killed moonshiners who didn’t properly remove them from their final distillation process, during the prohibition era.
At this point the product is 190 proof rum which is then further processed until its 80 proof white rum.
“Every bottle is hand filled, hand corked and hand labeled. And every single bottle gets a batch number and bottle number hand written on it,” Chase explains as he holds up a sharpie marker and the labels they place on the bottle once full.
“Now if we are making the spice rum what we will do is take that same rum, and I will take my nine secret spices, and these are all natural, I don’t use any extracts or artificial flavors, and I place them in a spice bag, place it in the rum and let it steep for a week,” he says.
Once ready it is also hand bottled labeled and marked.
Chase says he is most proud of the gold reserve because he incorporates a little bit of his Kentucky bourbon heritage into the mix.
The gold rum is aged in bourbon barrels provided by Woodford Reserve, Chase’s favorite.
“As I said earlier I am from Kentucky and we in Kentucky believe that bourbon should only be made in Kentucky and that it has to be aged in virgin American oak barrels,” Chase says. “That means they use the barrel one time and then we get the barrel. These barrels probably have about two gallons of bourbon soaked into the wood. So when we put in our rum…what happens is it leeches some of the bourbon out into the rum. When you taste that gold rum you are going to taste a little bit of that bourbon undertone and it will finish with the sweetness of the rum so it doesn’t burn.”

The rum ages for six months, is bottled and the barrels are then sent to a new microbrewery set to open in Bluffton called Salt Marsh. Chase says he is working with the brew masters to create a Daufuskie Rum ale. He says he is also working with a Florida honey company who are going to take a few of the barrels to make a rum infused honey.
Chase leads the group back into the tasting room and explains that the white rum only takes a week to produce, the spice rum takes about two weeks while the gold rum ages for six months. Each batch will produce 350-400 bottles.
“I bartended my way through Pharmacy school in Lexington,” Chase says as his wife pours out samples of all three rums for the group to sample. He says the white rum is what is typically used to make a traditional mixed drink like a rum and coke or mojito.
He says the holidays are best served with his spiced rum.
“The spiced rum tastes like Christmas,” he says as he tells the group to first take in a good whiff and detect the spices before taking a sip. “I would try it in eggnog,” he adds. “It has really nice aromas and flavors to it.”
Chase says the best way to enjoy the gold rum is to simply pour it over some ice.

Chase says they plan on producing a vanilla rum he says will surely become another holiday classic and available by late November.
“We are not just flavoring it with artificial vanilla flavor,” he says. “I’ve taken our white rum and put the vanilla beans in it and made my own extract. I am using my own vanilla rum extract to flavor the rum and each bottle will have a vanilla bean in it before we cork it up.”
Kristi Chase says the spice rum would be the perfect addition for a holiday rum cake recipe. She says several of her customers have shared cocktail recipes on their Facebook page. She adds a few customers have used their rum to marinate ribs and beef before grilling.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company is one of only two American rum distilleries located on an island. It is located at 270 Haig Point Road, Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. The facility is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Call ahead to book a tour. For more information call (843) 342-4786.

PHOTO BY GEOFF JOHNSON

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Instead of wine try Mead

Mead is similar to wine except instead of being derived from fermented grapes it is made from fermented honey, water and yeast.
The first time I ever heard of and tasted Mead was at the the Savannah Bee Company.

“It is the oldest form of alcohol that exists,” Savannah Bee Company’s Broughton Street location Mead bar manager Laurie Garner said during an interview I did with her for a magazine story years ago. “It predates wine by about 6,000 years,” Chelsea Miller added. She was at the River Street location working as the Mead bar manager.
“The way it all started was that people crushed the (honey) combs to extract the honey and they would throw the empty combs in buckets which would then collect with rain water. Someone thought to add yeast,” Garner explained. “And somebody was lucky enough to take a sip of it and they called it the nectar of the Gods.”

Miller said there are about 50 types of Mead recognized by the American Mead Association and the Savannah Bee Company carries an abundant variety at both locations. And the best thing is you can sample the Mead before deciding which one is your favorite.
For a mere five bucks both locations offer samples of all five varieties.

The Meads offered at Savannah Bee Company are made at Meaderies across the U.S.

St. Ambrose Meadery in Beulah, Michigan uses the tupelo honey locally produced by the Savannah Bee Company to make their Tupelo Ambrosia.
“Which is our bestselling Mead,” Miller said. A newer Atlanta based Meadery, Monks Meadery, uses their wildflower honey to make their Monks Mead.
Savannah Bee Company also sells Meads from B. Nektar, Moonlight and the largest Meadery in the United States, Red Stone Meadery.
And Meads come in a variety of styles.

“If it is traditional it is just honey, water and yeast. If it has apple cider mixed into it it’s a Cyser, Garner explained. “If it is mixed with fruit it’s a melomel and if it has a grapes in it it’s a pyment.”

“You can make Mead much like a wine but it takes a little longer to ferment,” Miller said adding that Meads typically need to sit for six months to a year. “You can age it….and it much like wine, it is influenced by what you put into it. And that is what determines the different categories.”

Miller said some Meads are aged like whiskey, in formerly used whiskey barrels. That creates a Mead with a smoky, bold and rich whiskey flavor.
“I often recommend those varieties to the people who tell me they are whiskey drinkers,” she says. And the categories range from fruity notes to dry blends and even a few effervescent options.

Jess Brannen is a food stylist and recipe developer for the Savannah Bee Company and frequently contributes to the company’s online blog, Bee Blog. Nearly every recipe she produces substitutes honey for sugar. All her food pairs well with Meads.
During our interview she brought in two large trays of food and sweets and we sat down to pair them with the Meads. For this food pairing Brannen offered up delicious treats you might place out for a holiday dinner. First she sliced into her holiday baked brie.
“It is a baked brie stuffed with Gouda cheese, cranberries, walnuts, rosemary and our wildflower honey, made from Georgia wildflowers,” she said.
The cheese holds scrumptious chunks of cranberries in place and the crust is crispy and golden brown.
Miller pours some of the St. Ambrose Rose Ambrosia, which turned out to be the perfect compliment. The Rose Ambrosia has semi-sweet notes which melt into the palate and bring out the cranberries and caramel sweetness associated with a well-aged Gouda.

Miller places another Mead glass on the bar and opened the bottle of Kurt’s Apple Pie Mead.
“It’s a little sweeter and it has some nice cinnamon notes in there so I paired that with a honey pumpkin bread,” Brannen said while topping the slice she just cut with Savannah Bee Company’s whipped cinnamon honey.

The blended taste of the Mead and pumpkin bread elicited instant memories of a holiday inspired dessert.
Miller said chocolate lovers can pair their Halloween treats with either their Rose’ Ambrosia or their Razzmatazz Mead.
She said they always set out small pieces of dark chocolate for customers who are trying the Meads.

“The cherry notes in the Rose’ Ambrosia pairs really well with the chocolate which is local from Adam Turoni a chocolatier here in Savannah,’” she said.
Miller said the chocolate can add to the undertones of the Mead.
“First it comes off a little dry and once you eat the chocolate, depending on if it’s the Rose’ of the Razzmatazz it is going taste more like chocolate covered raspberry or a very deep Rose’,” she said.

Brannen said Meads pair extremely well with a variety of cheeses.
“We carry Tomme (cheese) from Sweet Grass Dairy. It was a cheese I had never heard of before but it is like a white cheddar, parmesan only slightly chalky and it pairs well with any of the sweet or dry meads,” Brannen said. “It is a people pleasing cheese.”

“We have the Gouda that would go well with our Sunshine Nectar,” she added and said the Sunshine Nectar is effervescent and comparable to a champagne.
She said their Nectar of the Hops Mead would pair well with turkey on Thanksgiving.
“It is made with a sparkling wine yeast but they also use caramel and Amarillo hops which are very subtle,” she said. “It doesn’t have the bitterness that an IPA has. It is a very nice and light Mead.”

In fact Brannen said people are likely to find a Mead to match any meal.
“We have some (Meads) that are sweet because it is a honey beverage but you can balance that with something salty or savory when you are pairing it,” she says. “We also have a few that are surprisingly dry when you consider they have honey in them. And they work well with a myriad of dishes. These meads are really versatile.”
Savannah Bee Company offers Meads at their Broughton and River Street locations. There are four Savannah Bee locations, three in Savannah and one in Charleston, S.C.
The stores offer the full line of their honey products which also includes raw honey comb, body care, hand care, lip care and hair care items, candles, children’s books about bees, tote bags and more.

Many of Brannen’s recipes as well as educational information about bees can be found online at: savannahbee.com



Monday, June 26, 2017

Love me some Chef Jerome from Old School Diner

From the carpeting that lines the parking lot to the hundreds of pictures that give life to its interior walls, much can be said about the eclectic look of the Old School Diner.

But it is more than just the ambiance that lures Coastal Georgia residents and tourists to the hidden gem. And while the perfectly cooked shrimp, saucy ribs and delectable hush puppies are what people hem and haw over, it’s the man behind the food who truly symbolizes the restaurant’s soul.
The eatery is nestled along the bend of the South Newport River, not far from the pristine Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge. Chef Jerome Brown doesn’t just think of his diner as a place to have a meal. It is his home away from home, and — should they need a special sanctuary — his customers’ home as well. Those who frequent the restaurant are not just closed-out bar tabs and paid receipts — he sees them as members of his family.

Born in Waycross, Webster Tyrone Jerome Brown cultivated his cooking skills at the Buccaneer Club in Townsend. He still was a teenager when he got the gig, which he worked for 31 years.

Feeling he had learned every aspect of the job but was not given the opportunity to advance, Chef Brown left and briefly traveled around the world cleaning boilermakers. He also worked for a wood company in Florida. The ability to work with his hands is a gift from above, he says, and his passion to leave an artistic imprint on the world was apparent when he settled in McIntosh County and opened the diner in 2005.
“I’m an artist, and this is my art work,” he says, scanning the hodge-podge of movie posters, drawings and paintings inside the main dining room. The exterior is bright pink, and a collection of hub caps and Georgia license plates adorns the building, making it look like an antique store. Dated farm tools and old pans hang above the entrance.

And, of course, there is the parking lot — a mish-mash of carpets thrown across the dirt driveway cover every inch of visible space.
“A lot of people want to know about the carpet,” he says with a slight grin. “It’s simple. I don’t like sand in the building, and for the women who wear high heel shoes … they won’t get stuck in the sand and twist their ankles and fall and hurt themselves. And if they happen to fall on the carpet, they are less likely to get hurt because the carpets will cushion their fall.”
Brown says he uses the skills he picked up at the Buccaneer Club and adds his own flair to the recipes on his menu.

“I started out with a two-car garage, one office, one dining room and no kitchen. I had two little fryers with two small baskets where I would cook up my French fries, chicken, shrimp and whatever. I branched out and built this room here, and I named it the Ben Affleck room because he was the first celebrity that came,” the chef says, all while stroking his beard and basking in the warmth of his wood-burning fire place. He relaxes on a sofa next to the fire during a rare break from his work routine.
Chef Jerome says the actor’s visit in 2010 was an answered prayer and paved the way for the continued success of the diner. Since then, it has undergone two expansions and construction of an outdoor dining gazebo, which he built himself using pieces of wood form an old floating dock someone planned to discard.
Affleck placed the little diner on the map and still occasionally drops by for dinner when staying at his Hampton Island vacation home in Liberty County, Chef Jerome says.

But it’s his loyal customers — who have spread the word about the chef’s unique style, delicious cooking and warm hospitality — for whom he truly feels blessed.
“Money doesn’t make me, everyone who comes out here and enjoys my food — that is what makes me,” he says. “When folks don’t come to visit, it makes me sad.”
He steps into the kitchen and begins to prepare some shrimp. The chef works alone when it comes to his menu items, and he has his reasons.
“I don’t trust anyone else cooking my food,” he says with a laugh. His work days begin at 4 a.m., and he doesn’t mind putting in the long hours.
“I like to come in early and get the pies and stuff out of the way,” he says. “I don’t want people to be around me when I’m doing my thing — they want to ask questions, try and get my secrets like, ‘What did you just put in there?’ And my response is always ‘A little bit of this and a little bit of that.’”

The diner also is his private chapel.

“This place is my peace of mind, my spirituality,” he says. “When I get lonely or feeling down, I just walk in here and look at the walls and look at the faces and look at the smiles … I look at those and I know I’m doing something right.”
Another thing he says he did right was marrying his wife of 38 years, Lauretta Brown. She was the one who convinced him to open the diner and go back to what he does best — cooking.

And it helped him heal as the customers began to pick up pieces of his heart once held by others.
“I don’t care if the world knows, but most of my immediate family threw me away,” he says, his smile slowly fading. “Hardly any of them are around me because I cut them off. I said enough is enough — my wife keeps telling me you can’t save the world … some of my family was just a bad influence, and I trusted too many of my family members … I adopted the community. The people who come here are my family.”
So he threw his passion and soul into the diner and tempts his newfound family with mouth-watering meals fit for a king and big enough for a royal court.

Inside the main dining room, the chef points out a cluster of photos.
“I enjoy meeting other people. I try and come out here and greet every customer, and I ask my waitresses to take all the customers’ pictures, especially if I’m busy,” he says, adding that he tries to pose with all his customers unless he gets stuck in the kitchen. “I want to know who came to the restaurant and I take the pictures so I can remember their faces. I remember one gentleman who came in around two to three years ago and I was able to tell him where he would be able to find his picture hanging on the wall.”

He points out a wheelchair positioned in the corner of the dining room and says most people need it after they order his infamous wheelchair platter. The platter serves a party of two or larger and consists of whatever the chef chooses.
“Trust your chef,” he says. The motto also is on the menu, and many follow it. They know the platter is bound to include a little bit of everything on the menu. Should a patron leave any room, the chef will come back to the table, pull up a seat and offer his dessert menu for the day.
“We had two couples come in, and they sat at this table by the fire. They ordered the wheelchair platter, and the one guy had two pieces of my strawberry cheesecake, and when he got through with that last piece of cheese cake, he had to come and lay down,” Chef Jerome says, laughing. “He sat right here by the fire and all of a sudden, he went to sleep, and that was beautiful. I like for folks to come here and feel like they are at home. I tell a lot of my customers, ‘If y’all don’t feel like driving home, y’all can go to my house,’ and I really mean it. … That’s how I roll and that’s not going to change.”

Photos by Geoff Johnson

Thursday, June 22, 2017

If there's good food I will find it, especially along the coast

The best thing about Coastal Georgia is the easy access to fresh local seafood. Locals tend to know where you can find the tastiest places offering up fresh dock-to-diner delights. Some of these best kept secrets are nearby, tucked away off Highway 17 near Shellman’s Bluff.

These no frills diners have been around for quite some time, a testament to the scrumptious meals they place before their patrons. Some are well-known to visitors from around the world, simply by word of mouth.
You may have to ask for directions and be willing to venture a little bit further off the beaten path but the meals, atmosphere and southern hospitality makes it all worthwhile.

We stopped in and had a meal at two of these hidden gems. We also spoke to a few locals who offered up a few more suggestions within the area.

The Fish Dock at Pelican Point, Crescent
Formerly called Pelican Point Restaurant, The Fish Dock has been pleasing palates since 1986 when Michael Phillips opened the eatery that sits on Blackbeard Creek. The big draw then, as it is today, is the all-you-can-eat buffet offering up locally farmed clams and oysters, fish, Georgia shrimp and even choice cuts of prime rib, snow crab legs and scallops. The buffet also offers a salad bar and desserts.
The restaurant is currently owned by Charlie Phillips who bought the place in 2015 from his dad. He is also the co-founder and current owner of Sapelo Sea Farms, Georgia’s oldest clam farm established in 1997. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Phillips is hand picking the best clams and locally caught fish and seafood for his diners’ experience.

We visited during lunch time on a weekday. The diner is expansive and the decor is what you would expect for a place on Blackbeard Creek. The pirate and nautical theme was reminiscent of a few places we’ve dined at along the ocean in the Florida Keys.
Being lunch time, the buffet was not open but after perusing the menu we opted for an order of fried pickles and a cup of crab stew as an appetizer. For the entrée, the half-pound order of fresh, steamed Georgia shrimp was reasonably priced.

The waiter brought out the stack of fried pickle chips with a side of Ranch dressing. It was an ample order. They were lightly battered, crunchy and the perfect amount of tangy tartness as well. The crab stew was thick enough to hold up a spoon. The creamy stew was full of chunk claw and lump crab meat. It was delicious and with a hit of Texas Pete it could cure the common cold.

The view can’t be beat and customers can watch as the fishing boats arrive with the day’s catch. The buffet is only available Wednesdays through Fridays from 5 p.m. until closing, Saturdays from noon until 10 p.m., and Sundays from noon until 9 p.m. But the restaurant offers an array of menu items, with lunch, dinner and children options, in addition to the buffet.

Dinner prices range from $12.95 to $32.50 for the adult buffet. There are buffet prices for children ages 11-14 and a child buffet price for ages 4-10. The restaurant has a full bar with specialty drinks and an extensive beer selection.

Hunter’s Cafe
The dirt road to tasty paradise stops at Hunter’s Cafe on River Road in Shellman’s Bluff. This place has served diners since 1967 as a restaurant but has been delighting taste buds for even longer. During our visit our server Marie Harn says the bungalow style building was originally an old Fort Stewart barrack that was brought to the location. When it first opened in 1951, Harn says the owner served coffee and ice cream to the fish dock workers.
“And it just grew from there,” she says.

In addition to an extensive lunch and dinner menu, Harn places a hand written appetizer list on the table. The first item that catches our eyes is the Boom-Boom shrimp.
She may have noticed our curious looks and explains that it was a shrimp covered in a secret spicy sauce. We decided to try a few seafood items, as well as their version of crab stew and fried pickles for comparison.
Of course we had to try the Boom-Boom shrimp appetizer and also got the grouper sandwich, fish taco appetizer and chicken tenders. The chicken tenders and grouper sandwich also came with a side of their famous Bluff battered fries.

As we waited for the food we scanned the building. The walls of the secondary dining room and bar were covered with one dollar bills, all bearing little messages and stapled to the walls and roof.
“We’ve been written up twice in the New York Times and we’ve had customers from Denmark...well just from all around the world,” Harn says.
The fried pickles and Boom-Boom shrimp were brought out, soon followed by the cups of crab stew we requested.

The Boom-Boom looked like what you normally get when you order buffalo style shrimp or wings. But the taste was quite different. There was a sweetness to the sauce that was pleasant and unexpected. The heat was not overwhelming. Instead it crept up from behind the sweet sauce and was a flavor I had not tasted before, but knew would want to come back for more of.
The crab stew had hints of that same sweet, secret sauce without the spice. It was a little less thick than Fish Dock’s but more creamy with its own distinctive flavor notes. Hunter’s Cafe has their own unique take on the fried pickles too. Instead of pickle chips these were entire pickle wedges deep fried in a crispy herbed batter.

The crunch factor of the batter and wedge cut pickles was superior.
When ordering your fish and seafood you can get it fried, grilled or blackened. The fish tacos were made with grilled grouper, the sandwich with fried grouper.
The grilled fish tacos laid on a lightly, grilled, flour tortilla and were topped with red and green cabbage.
“The best thing is to take some of that Ranch dressing and mix it with some of that leftover Boom-Boom sauce and put it on your taco,” Harn says.
Following her advice we mixed a small batch of Boom-Boom and Ranch and topped the tacos. The softness of the grilled grouper and the crunch of the cabbage and grilled tortilla was elevated by the creamy Ranch and sudden punch of Boom-Boom.

The Bluff battered fries, chicken tenders and grouper sandwich were all delicious and nothing was left behind.
Hunter’s Cafe overlooks Julienton River. The diner sits across from the waterway and offers views of Harris Neck and Blackbeard Island. They have a full bar and a large beer list.
While dining a couple spoke with us saying we need to come back to Hunter’s Cafe as they also have the best hamburgers on the Bluff. It’s a challenge we plan to accept. They also asked if we had ever eaten at Speed’s Kitchen. It has been a few years, but we were happy to hear that the local landmark was still going strong.

Speed’s Kitchen
Unlike the name, there is nothing speedy about the food service at Speed’s Kitchen. But that is part of the novelty of this trailer turned diner. It serves as a reminder that food should be made to order and nothing that has sat under a heat lamp gets served here. They serve steak and seafood and offer broiled platters of fish or scallops or stuffed shrimp. The crab au gratin and deviled crab casserole are unique to Speed’s kitchen.

Unlike our previous two eateries, Speed’s Kitchen does not serve alcohol, nor do they accept debit or credit cards. It is strictly cash and carry here. If you truly need to have a beer with your oyster stew and combination platter then you need to bring it with you.
The we-take-things-slow-here approach is a great way to get absorbed with good conversation among friends before indulging in mouth-watering and massive servings of food.
Speed’ Kitchen is not waterfront but just three blocks away from the Julienton River and Hunter’s Cafe. The same couple then asked us if we’ve ever been to Clay’s Sapelo Station.

Clay’s Sapelo Station
We didn’t get a chance to dine at Clay’s Sapelo Station during this trip. It was still early and they primarily open for dinner service except for Sundays.
The diner which sits on Highway 17 is highly rated by Tripadvisor. We definitely plan to try it out and compare their version of Boom-Boom shrimp to that of Hunter’s Cafe. Clay’s is a steak and seafood eatery offering up seared tuna salads, po’boys, shrimp and fish tacos and even a low-country boil. And that is just part of their menu. The day we drove up they had a poster naming Sunday’s special which included pecan crusted shrimp and shrimp and fried grits, crab cake sandwiches, potato skins and a bacon barbecue burger.

The chalk board by the front door noted Thursday’s specials of local blue crab, fresh mussels and clams, flounder and shrimp alfredo.
Although still full from our previous meal, we were disappointed that it was too early to go in and grab a taste. But it is sure to be our next adventure and we recommend, based on what we’ve heard, you stop by Clay’s Sapelo Station and give them a try.
There are likely a few more hidden gems along the coast to explore. Next time you seek a seafood feast be sure you stop and ask a local. They are likely to point you in the right direction.


The Fish Dock at Pelican Point
1398 Sapelo Ave
Crescent, GA 31304
(912) 832-4295
Sunday- Thursday, noon until 9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday noon until 10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted


Hunter’s Café
River Road
Townsend, GA 31331
(912) 832-5771
Open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then for dinner from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.
Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted.

Speed’s Kitchen
1191 Speeds Kitchen Road NE Townsend, GA 31331 (912) 832-4763
They have special hours during the winter making it best to call ahead for service hours.
Cash only

Clay’s Sapelo Station
15600 U.S. Highway 17
Townsend, GA 31331
(912) 832-2013
They are open Wednesday through Saturday 5-10 p.m. and Sundays from noon until 10 p.m.
All major cards accepted




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Beach body ready - NOPE

Summer is here and time to get beach body ready...right?

Hell no, not me.

Let me tell you my summer fun plans.
This summer I plan to use my food processor and slow cooker more often and truly expand my food palette. I'm going to dust off all my cook books and make my grocery lists. Heck maybe even splurge and buy a new stove and oven.

What? No plans to hit the gym harder and fit into that new tankini?
Hell no! And luckily for you I don't own a tankini or any beach wear right now.

Come on people. We are halfway through June. Before you know it, it's back to school time and fall. Why bother to get in shape to just lie out in the hot sun, get sand in places you shouldn't and swallow salt water as you fight ripe tides?

It's way too hot for that nonsense.

It’s too much pressure to work that hard for three months (less than that now) of possible beach time. It’s more likely that you'll spend weekends mowing the lawn or running from thunder storms than lying on the beach sipping Margaritas (although that sounds good).

Plus if you're just getting beach ready now...IT'S TOO LATE. Even if you started to exercise and follow a strict diet it takes 4-6 weeks (half your summer gone) to start seeing results. And it's not like you are going to wake up tomorrow and BOOM your mind is reprogrammed to follow a full-proof diet and exercise program.

In fact my brain on summer mode screams outdoor grilling and frozen mixed drinks!! (Oh and ice cream but we all scream for ice cream don't we?)

And to top things off, I still have cupcakes in my fridge that need to be eaten. And, leftovers and BEER.

I have that bottle of Bacardi rum….oh wait…nope that’s done.

And that’s just the stuff in my fridge. My freezer is packed with good stuff too.

I have a few friends who typically start a diet by discarding these "bad" foods to avoid temptation.

Those people are insane!

Why throw out perfectly good foods like frozen tamales, burritos, a pint of Breyers Rocky Road ice cream (my all-time favorite…hint…hint), some Klondike bars and frozen pizzas. You know darn well that within a week you will crave those foods and be right back at the store buying more.

Food is too precious to WASTE...especially good stuff and all that I just mentioned is good stuff….trust me.

Shame on you, wasting food and money like that.

So instead of trying to make DRASTIC changes in a short span of time, I'll create a long term goal.

This summer I’m making a list of new things I want to experience and that lists includes new recipes and culinary food choices.
I'll start by using what is currently in my fridge and freezer in creative new ways, like maybe bacon wrapped burrito bites. Or mix some of that ice cream in a banana, raspberry smoothie.

I plan to try new foods, especially new recipes all while making healthier choices. Start off by cooking things I've never tried before.

And of course I will try and get some exercise in as much and as often as possible.
But maybe this summer I'll try activities I’ve never done before like a mixed martial arts class, a real boxing class, learn to water ski or take up underwater basket weaving (Is that really a thing?). Sometimes, when you least expect it, a new experience can transform you in ways other things can’t.

After all it was the summer of 2010 when I randomly signed up for derby as a reporting assignment for the newspaper. The thrill of a new sport and group of friends resulted in an effortless 50 pound weight loss. And I kept it off until I stopped skating at the end of 2014 (Stupid concrete floor crashing into my shoulder like that).

Now I'm not knocking the beach or those of you who plan to DIET themselves to skinny and a cute new 2 piece bikini. Have at it and I wish you success. But the beach is not really my thing.

Kayaking down a river and jumping in to cool off every once in a while sounds better to me. Or finding a secluded but safe lake or swimming hole.

And I have been trying my hand at growing my own food, something people call gardening and farming (both VERY foreign to me, for sure).

That adventure actually started last year, also in the dead of summer, with two bell pepper plants.

And I got nothing. Zip. Only one small tiny pepper and the plants looked dead.

BUT THIS YEAR THINGS ARE LOOKING UP.

It turns out I didn’t kill my bell pepper plants like I thought. I ended up transferring both plants from their pots to the ground. I waited until recently to do so because I had kept them indoors during the winter.

At first, it appeared things would go south (again). The leaves looked like they were dying, despite my best efforts.

SUDDENLY.

Not one, two or three but six. Yes, count them, six whole peppers are sprouting on one plant. My other plant, which is a bit smaller, has two and this is after I already harvested one large bell pepper just a few weeks ago.

Food. I grew my own food. Pretty darn cool.

Okay, I would starve if I had to just live off the few peppers that are starting to pop out but I SUCK at growing things and could literally kill a cactus, so being able to produce a few peppers is, as Trump would say, HUUUGE.

And I actually found out I enjoy gardening...AND I KNOW I ENJOY IT MORE THAN GOING TO THE BEACH.


So I went hog wild this past weekend and instead of dragging out a cooler, blanket, towel, chair and everything else you need for a fun day at the beach...I bought seeds and plants and added to my garden. I’ve transplanted some basil and rosemary from their pots to the ground. I also planted, from seed (which is how I started my pepper plant and is much more difficult to do) some lavender, Brussel sprouts, eggplant, lemon, cilantro, summer squash and zucchini.

I see a vegetable lasagna in my future, all from stuff grown in my front yard (unless of course they all fail to sprout, which is another HUUUGE possibility).

All that gardening led to some serious numbers on my daily step count and Fit-bit. In fact I sweat my arse off this past weekend...It was like doing exercise without realizing you are actually working out.

Gardening is no joke!

If I manage to produce a healthy, sustainable garden and can efficiently use the stuff in all my NEW recipes then maybe...just maybe...I can try a new project the following summer - producing my own eggs (From chickens not from me...jeez get your minds out of the gutter).

And honestly chasing chickens around my yard...or better yet chasing my cats away from the chickens...and then keeping the dogs away from the cats and chickens..still sounds better than a day at the beach for me.

HOWEVER...nothing...and I mean NOTHING...beats a NIGHT at the beach!!! (Just a few good friends, no crowds, a bon-fire, marshmallows, cold beers a cozy walk and maybe even a midnight swim).



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

En la cocina con mami (In the kitchen with mom)

My mom had a pretty good health scare around Memorial Day Weekend. It scared the whole family actually. There is nothing that makes your heart sink worse than getting a phone call from your brother saying they are headed to the emergency room.

Mom looked weak, pale and fragile.

She had severe pneumonia and the added stress also led to a mild heart attack. She was placed in ICU but within three days, moved to a regular room for one night and then released.

I was planning to visit mom and dad for Memorial Day weekend anyway, but the call ramped me into full gear and soon my three dogs and I were Chattanooga bound.

My parents are up there in years, both 89, and up until this incident mom was relatively healthy. Dad too. Luckily the fact that they eat well and live right meant my mom was soon on the road to recovery. My dad and I learned to monitor her medications, prep the nebulizer treatments and make sure her oxygen lines were clear and everything was running smoothly.

But mom said she was bummed that she got sick before my visit. She wanted to make my favorite meals for the weekend.

“Well I guess it’s time you teach me how to make them and I’ll cook for you,” I said.


It’s not my first cooking lesson from mom. Throughout the years she has taught me how to make several Cuban dishes that allow me to indulge when cravings hit. But for whatever reason I had not learned how to make arroz con pollo (Cuban chicken and rice). We sent dad out to get some beer. Of course he was happy to fulfill his mission.

YEP! This recipe includes beer and we also need to make sure the chef was well sauced too.

First we marinated the chicken (mom uses chicken thighs) in mojo. Then I cut green, red and yellow bell peppers and onions.

My mom pointed at the cupboard and started telling me what spices to pull out. Bottles of oregano, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, red pepper, turmeric, sazon, olives, capers, Worcestershire sauce and wine were soon sprawled out on the counter.

The chicken, cut vegetables and all the spices were in a pot. Everything comes to a boil and then simmered. About 45 minutes in, dad opens the wine. He pours a glass of wine and hands it to me.

“Awesome, thanks dad,” I said and take a taste. Then he tells me that was for the recipe.

Oops.

He pours me another glass for the mix and then one for himself and refills mine.

Ten minutes, mom checks the pot. All is going as it should and we add 2 cups of rice. That continues to simmer and dad hands me a beer.

“Is this for me or the recipe,” I ask.

“La comida (the food),” he replies.

DANG IT!


Of course a little later dad and I did have a beer together. We sat with mom in the dining room which adjoins the kitchen to catch up on old times and write down recipes. Mom brought out some old photos. They were pictures of her dad, my grandfather, whom I’ve never met.

Soon the timer went off and I lifted the lid off the pot.

“Smells good,” mom said. I set the dinner table and prepared a plate for dad and mom. I got a plate full for myself and waited anxiously as mom gave it a try.

Mom smiled at me and dad gave me the ultimate award.

“Oh man,” he said. “This taste just like your mom’s arroz con pollo.”

YES, folks we have a winner!!

The next day we repeated the process this time making my other favorite tamal n cazuela (described as a tamale casserole but I would describe it more like a thick stew or pork porridge).

This recipe was time consuming and one that requires constant stirring, like when making grits or polenta.

It was a workout from hell for my arms. And between that and my daily walks, was the only exercise done to burn off the beer and wine chasers from cooking.

The dish was another success and I got to bring left overs of both home.

It felt great to be a caregiver to the woman who has done that and more for me for the past 52 years. This experience also made me realize we shouldn’t wait for a health scare to reminisce, slow down and disconnect from our electronic era and do things the old fashion way — by talking to each other.

I learned new things about my family and have already made plans to go up in the summer. I'm going to have my dad show me how to dig out and make a pit to roast a whole pig. I’ve always seen him to do it but it’s my time to learn and carry on the tradition.

If you want the full recipes for these to two tasty meals send me an email at: pattyjane65@aol.com

Monday, June 5, 2017

Burn the sparkler not the hair

What’s not to love about the Fourth of July?
Well the smell of burning hair might be one thing. Typically scorched hair isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a fun family gathering celebrating the summer holiday.

I come from a big family.

And this particular summer the Fourth of July party was going to be in our backyard. I lived in a two story house in Little Havana, which is actually in Miami, Fla., not Cuba. It was a section of Miami where a large group of Cuban immigrants migrated to and made it their own version of home. There was a traditional Cuban bakery on almost every block. In between the bakeries you had your local butcher shops and produce markets, which carried the typical Cuban items like yucca, plantains, Latin spices and of course religious statues and candles.

It was going to be a huge gathering so dad set up massive tables across the back yard, while mom prepared the grand meal. Earlier in the day I went with my mother in the family station wagon to pick up the groceries we needed.
But before grabbing the food items my mom had made an appointment for both of us to get our hair done. She didn’t tell me this ahead of time because she knew I hated getting my hair permed. The stuff they used stunk and sometimes burned my scalp. I have fine hair, much like my dad while my mom has thick, lush hair which is what my brother inherited. The perm would only last a few days on me while my mom’s perm lasted forever.

All styled and coiffed, we headed out and gathered the necessary items and headed back home. My dad and brother got pig duty while I went upstairs to get as my mom would say, “All pretty.”

Then the relatives started to arrive. Cousin Mercy, Mike, George, Betty, Janet, Inesita, Leslie, Jeff, Wilfred and Alex all arrived with their parents, of course, which were all my aunts, uncles and cousins. And this list is just my from my dad’s side of the family tree. Add to that the neighbors we had that were mostly like family and soon the house was packed.

My brother and cousins and the other neighborhood boys would gather together to play fun games and likely be up to no good.
I was the third youngest of the female cousins and about seven or eight years old at the time. My two younger cousins, Janet and Inesita and I would often shy away from the other girls. The three of us were somewhat Tom-boys and longed to be able to run around with my older brother and his group instead of playing dress up and tea with the others.

With every one so fixated on the food and the parental units busy sharing stories while sipping wine, the three of us rushed off to see what kind of trouble my brother and his cohorts were getting into.

I was just happy to peel off the dress my mom had picked out for the day. It was a yellow and blue striped polyester dress with matching bonnet. It was awful and hot. We went up to my room donned on some comfy clothes and went out in search of the boys’ adventures.
It didn’t take long to find the boys. They were on the sidewalk just three houses down from mine. All I could see as were approached were colorful lighted objects, some spinning on the sidewalk, some in their hands.

Somehow they had gotten some fireworks and sparklers. My two adventurous cousins and I ran towards the group. Of course they told us to go back home or they would tell on us.

“Fine we'll just go back and tell them you are playing with sparklers," we said collectively. Knowing they might get into trouble they let us stay.


All was going great and we were having a blast twirling our sparklers around as we danced on the sidewalk. The boys would toss their sparklers into the air just before they burned out.

Running out of matches we stood in a circle and held the tips of all our sparklers together so we could light them up with just one match. Suddenly all of the sparklers flared up. It was a quick burst of flame and they were all lit. I started to twirl mine around and dance. Then I smelled something weird.

The flash had lit my hair on fire due to the perm chemicals. Of course all I did was freak out and start to run which didn’t help the matter. Someone grabbed the hose, turned it on and doused me.

There I stood, the right side of my hair partially sizzled away like an awkward side Mohawk cut, drenched and sobbing. Everyone scattered and I ran to my room. The family was soon alerted by my hollering sobs, the jig was up - we were busted.

Mom had to take me to get my haircut short to remove the damaged hair. I ended up with a boy cut, looking like my brother. Thinking back I was grateful that I had changed out of that polyester dress. I would have been totally lit up like a human torch with that bonnet on my head.

It wouldn’t be the last time the I would get in trouble. Not even close. But it was the last time my mom took me to get my hair permed.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The hazards of hot cheese

Here is an important safety message for anyone about to chow down on pizza, pasta or any other food that might be topped with cheese.

HOT CHEESE BURNS!

It seems that this would be common knowledge, but I am willing to bet I’m not the first person who bit into a fresh piping hot pizza too soon.
The cheese latches on to the roof of your mouth and within seconds the blisters form. The next day you spend hours feeling the blisters with your tongue.

Not too long ago, I had a major four-alarm fire experience worthy of this little write up.
With summer in full swing (based on recent temperatures since it technically isn’t summer until June 20) I cleaned up my grill and had a few friends over for a Bison juicy Lucy.

A juicy Lucy is a burger that is stuffed with cheese instead of topped with cheese. I first learned about them from the true school of cooking, aka, the Food Network.
I had some ground bison from a recent purchase at the Georgia Buffalo Ranch and Trading Post in Townsend.

I laid out the bottom patties and placed crumbled blue cheese on top. Then I placed the top patties of beef down and pressed softly in the middle while pinching the corners of the patties to seal in the cheese.

Oh boy these are going to be good!


I placed them on the hot grill and listen to them sizzle. As noted on TV I took a toothpick and poked little holes in the center to avoid a cheese explosion. After a few minutes I flipped the burgers and prepped the buns and served.
The burgers looked perfect and we sat down to feast. Three of my friends and I picked up the burgers and hankered down for the first big bite.

CHOMP! Holy Bejesus that cheese is hot and I don’t mean spicy.

The damage was done. The piping hot cheese oozed out the center of the burger like an exploding Mount Vesuvius. We all reached for the cold water to wash down the bite. The cheese burned its way down my throat.
Seeing the spectacle my other friend cut her burger in half and waited until it cooled a bit before enjoying her burger.

No fair, I thought.

But despite the burn that juicy Lucy was the best grilled burger my friends and I had tasted in quite some time. As each day passed just feeling the blisters on the roof my mouth reminded of just how good it was. It’s time to make another, but next time I’ll definitely wait or cheat like my friend did and cut it in half once served.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hand me some RAID!

I am deathly afraid of cockroaches. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny baby one or full sized monster. I recall growing up in South Florida cockroaches or palmetto bugs as they are commonly known were a nuisances most homes had to deal with.
I can trace this fear of the nasty and fully winged adult creature back to when I was about six years old.

One of the perks of living in Miami as a child was that Walt Disney World was a mere four hour drive and, back then, quite affordable even for a family of four. School was out for the summer, dad had time off from work and mom had packed up the suitcases. The morning we were heading out mom woke us up around 5 a.m.
It was still dark outside and I was barely awake but dressed. Dad sat me down on his recliner as he went off to wake up my brother and pack up the car. Mom was busy washing last minute dishes and prepping snacks for the road trip.

Rocking back and forth I soon drifted into a wondrous slumber filled with Disney visions. Thoughts of seeing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck trickled through my brain.
Extremely ticklish I woke up with the sensation of something tickling my ankle. My eyes fluttered open and I glanced down. The tickling moved from the back of my ankle to the front of my leg just at the base of the knee.

My eyes opened wider and I let out a blood curdling scream. For that brief instant anyone who heard me would swear I was being savagely harmed. I was paralyzed and could only watch as this massive cockroach crossed back down my leg to my ankle, only to turn and start to crawl back up towards my knee.

I couldn’t speak or move, petrified that this Godzilla sized roach might run up my leg faster, towards my quivering body. Or worse fly towards my head or face. Thinking back I’m sure this was only a few brief seconds. But as a little girl watching this huge bug run across my tiny leg – if felt like an eternity of terror.

My dad bolted into the house, my mom dropped the dishes in the sink and came running into the family room. They rushed over to the recliner and looked down at me. My dad looked into my terrified eyes as I stared down the beast rushing up my leg. He grabbed the dish towel away from my mom and swatted the monster off my leg. My mom grabbed the broom and smashed the beast to pieces.

My brother, who only woke up after hearing me scream, came stomping into the room realized what happened, called me a chicken and walked back to his bedroom to get dressed.

Finally free of the creature’s grasp, I started to cry and curl up into the fetal position. My dad lifted me up and carried me to my room. Knowing I was still scared to death he turned on my night light and tucked me under the sheets until the car was packed and we were ready to go.

The trip to Walt Disney World was fabulous. It’s funny how I can recall I had a great time yet most of that is a blur while the nightmare of that horrific creature crawling up my leg still lingers to this day.

Since then roaches always make me freeze in my tracks. No matter the size the moment I see one I analyze what steps I can take to get out of its way. It takes every ounce of courage I can muster up to even try and kill one with a broom or bug spray. I always picture it defying the odds and running after me despite attempts of whacking it with a weapon or drowning it in Raid. Normally, if someone else is with me, I hand them the task of destroying the beast. It is one of the reasons I now own cats, they simply love that job and handle the matter quite efficiently.

I’m not bothered, so far, by other insects as much. I don’t freak out around ants, bees or beetles. Unless it’s a horned beetle. Those suckers are huge. I had a terrible experience with those during a road trip in 1996 while driving through Van Horn Texas. As they say everything is bigger in Texas especially those suckers and to see one close up as you try and use the bathroom at 3 a.m. – horrific.
But that is a story for another day. Roaches still top the list. Whenever I see a Yates –Astro commercial I still turn the channel to avoid seeing their mascot roach.
Even animated they are icky.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The time I was the ‘Catch’ of the day

During a recent grocery store spree I came across a seafood item that quickly brought back a delightful yet painful memory.
I have many fond childhood memories of going out fishing with my dad.

There was one fishing spot we frequented often – Card Sound Road Bridge near Homestead, Fla. This road is only one of two thoroughfares that connects the mainland to the Florida Keys, the other being U.S. 1.
When it was first constructed Card Sound Road had a wooden drawbridge. It connects northern section of the Florida Keys to the mainland and is in the middle of Biscayne National park and bay.

The original drawbridge was destroyed by fire in the mid-1940s. For several years the road was closed. In 1969 construction was completed on a new high-span bridge and the road re-opened. The older section of the bridge, directly under the new span, was set up as a catwalk for the public to fish from.
There were many times my dad, uncle and I would head out to go night fishing there. It was well lit and pretty packed with other anglers, especially on weekends. My dad and uncle lugged out all the gear and find a spot. They would prep their fancy fishing poles bait the hooks and cast their lines. I was too young to use any of the fancy rods.
Dad always brought out the Cuban Yo-Yo hand reel for me. (Not sure what that is? Google it, they even have fancy ones now). I would sit on a five-gallon bucket that had a cushion placed on top. Dad would cast out my line and hand me the yoyo. If I felt a nibble or something, I was supposed to call out for him and he would show me what to do next.

Alas, I had yet to catch a fish.

This evening my dad brought a second yoyo to teach my uncle how to cast the line which required some technique. I turned around to watch them.
My dad was a pro at it. During one of his demos he twirled the line above his head. The hook and sinker swinging round and round in a blur. I watched in awe and moved in a little closer to see….a little too close.

OUCH! (I was just a child otherwise it would have been a litany of cuss words right here.)

The fishing hook went through the fleshy part of my hand between the thumb and index finger (scientifically called the Thenar Space…who knew?). I let out a loud squeal and my dad froze (luckily for me or he would have tossed the line thereby pulling the hook). Every angler looked our way (some mad that I was making too much noise…others wondering if my dad was trying to use me as shark bait).

Quick to quiet his squealing daughter and heal the hurt, dad rushed over with his fishing tool cut the barbed hook and pulled it out. He ran to his tackle box, got hydrogen peroxide, some aspirin, a soda from the cooler and band aids…and made it “all well,” meaning please don’t tell mom this happened.
I whimpered, sipped on my soda, looked down at my hand and whimpered again. I looked up at my dad, batted my watery eyes and looked at his fishing rod.

I HAD HIM HOOK, LINE AND SINKER!

That night I got to use the big rod. Learned to cast the line out myself AND caught my first fish EVER. It was the ONLY fish caught that night, an eight pound Florida pompano.
The next morning dad showed mom the fish I caught (leaving out the other details, of course). Mom was so thrilled she didn’t ask what happened to my hand (which was now slightly swollen and bruised…but I’m willing to bet she didn’t ask because she knew she wouldn’t like the answer).
That night we had baked pompano with plantains and rice. Mom made it with some form of citrus sauce drizzled on top.
Sadly the fishing catwalk at Card Sound Road is no longer there after years of hurricanes and neglect.

Finding the pompano at the grocery store brought that memory back in a flash. I bought the filets and headed home to re-create the dish minus the hand injury (or so I thought).
I started the rice and sliced the plantains to make fried plantains (tostones). I lightly salt and peppered the fish, drizzled it with olive oil, placed in a pan and added just a little water. I baked it at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

For the sauce I melted 1 tablespoon of butter and added a little flour to make a roux. Once the roux thickened slightly, I added 2 cups of white wine, 1 tablespoon of butter, the juice of 1 orange and lemon zest. I stirred, set to medium-low and let the flavors blend and simmer.

On a serving dish I placed the rice down. Added the baked pompano on top and began to pour the sauce over both. The pan was heavy and without thinking I grabbed it with my other hand for support – burning two of my fingers!

Holy poop…frickity frack…son of a gun….OUCH….WOW...OK memory completely recreated.


After a few minutes of cussing I got back to business plating my tostones and sat down with a friend to give it a try.

It wasn’t exactly my mom’s but it was darn near close and DELICIOUS.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Know your food

I have a few friends who are always talking about the different diets they’ve tried or are currently trying in their attempt to drop a few pounds or at the very least eat healthier. Some of my friends have done well on their endeavors. Then there are others who have just no clue.
I love food hence the reason I don’t diet. I prefer to enjoy a little bit of everything in moderation and then try to do some exercise or activity that will help maintain my weight or burn extra calories to drop a few pounds.
There is no way I would have ever survived certain diets if I had attempted them. Take for example the grapefruit diet. Don’t get me wrong, I love grapefruit but not 24-7-365. Day one would have been OK, but by day two it would be something along the lines of this.

Let’s see, another grapefruit or this bowl of pasta salad lightly dressed with olive oil and parmesan cheese…hmmm……..ummm…yeah PASTA SALAD.

Now don’t start slamming me with emails saying I’m a diet hater, far from it. But the people I know who have been successful on their respective diets are the ones who understand that a true diet isn’t just about a specific type of food.
A real diet means being conscious of what you eat, why you eat, when you eat, how much you eat and what additional activities are being done to offset some of the eating.

It means making better choices.

For example the one decision I did make recently was to focus on whole-foods while avoiding processed foods as much as possible.
By cooking my own meals I can control how much salt I add. Cooking for myself also means there are no added chemical preservatives that I can’t pronounce in my ingredients. I cook enough so that I can portion and have meals ready for most of the week. This way I still have a healthier alternative ready on busy days instead of grabbing a combo meal at McDonald’s or Taco Bell.
There are days when eating out is the only option but the more I plan and make ahead the less likely I cheat. Everyone should have cheat days but it shouldn’t be every day.

At the grocery store I shop the perimeter while avoiding most of the middle aisles. The perimeter is where you find the basic staples of a healthy meal. It’s the produce section and meat and dairy section of nearly every store you walk into. The middle aisles are mostly processed foods like sodas, chips, popcorn and snacks. There are a few aisles in the middle worthy of a visit but for the most part it’s the junk food section I try to avoid.
The important aspect of any diet is knowing what you are eating and by that I mean knowing where it came from or made and what’s in it. If you read the ingredients and don’t know what half of the stuff is or can’t pronounce it then your body doesn’t need it.
Getting in touch with your food and food choices is something we’ve lost in the last two decades. Everything is fast-food either through a drive-thru or out of a box and three-minute microwave. But ask yourself is that stuff really food.

And if you decide to stick to a diet at the very least become educated about it. Recently one of my clueless friends told me she was going on the Paleo diet.

Friend: “Hey I’m on that new Paleo diet, you know the one where you only eat stuff that the caveman ate.”
Me: “Oh so mostly meat, fish, vegetables and fruit right?”
Friend: “Yes that’s the one, heading out know to get a bucket of KFC chicken, just chicken, no sides.”
Me: “Ummmmmm, not quite sure that’s how it works but you go right ahead. Good luck with that.”


Unfortunately she will likely fail in her latest quest since she seems to miss the point on what a true diet entails. Sometimes I just want to shake her until she comes to her senses.

Hey fool, going to KFC does not make you a hunter-gatherer. If you truly wish to eat like the cavemen did, make yourself a spear, spend the better part of the day foraging for berries and hunting for fowl. Then prep your harvested fowl and cook it over an open fire because I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t have an oven or a microwave, seven secret spices and crispy crust….just saying…keep it real. And while you’re at it the KFC is two blocks away…why drive when you can at least act like you hunting by walking there!

The cleaner you eat the better you feel. You truly are what you eat so junk in equals junk out (and all around the midsection).