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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.


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).

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Gimme all the pizza!

It’s the perfect thing to grab for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The perfect blend of protein and carbs all put together in an easy to carry, no plate needed, grab and go package.

Well that’s my take on pizza and I am sticking to it.

Seriously, who doesn’t love a slice of pizza, loaded with molten melted cheese and all the delectable toppings you desire.

Bring it!

During my younger years I stuck to my all-time favorite – pepperoni. Of course adding bacon, ham and sausage for the ultimate meat-lovers pie soon followed.
That was soon followed by blending my craving of Mexican food to all things pizza and serving up the nacho-pizza supreme or the taco delight thin crust.
What? You never heard of those….too bad they are delish.
That is the wondrous thing about pizza, there are no limits, especially if you are willing to make your own.

Wait –what? Can’t I just pick up the phone and order one?

Of course you can and several local chain pizzerias offer an array of topping choices and delivery options.
Papa Murphy’s, located at the Walmart Super Center plaza, in Hinesville doesn’t deliver but you can create your own pizza with their take and bake concept. They also have their signature selection menu loaded with the classic favorites and then their gourmet delites menu for more exotic choices. My favorite is the herb chicken Mediterranean.

When I crave a New York style pizza That’s Italian, on Memorial Drive, has a classic Primavera White cheese pizza loaded with fresh mozzarella, spinach, tomatoes and ricotta cheese. They also have the Godfather topped with pesto, mozzarella, ricotta, provolone and cheddar cheese topped with prosciutto ham.


Pizza hut has a create-your-own as well and a pretty decent bacon spinach Alfredo pizza. The local Papa John’s and Dominos offer a variety quickly delivered to your door.
But making your own is still the best way to go. And with ready-to-use pizza crusts it makes the process that much easier.
Yeah there are times when I make fresh pizza dough from scratch, but ready-to-use are just as good in a pinch.
And you can be just as inventive with your crust as you are with your toppings.

My favorite homemade pizza involves pita bread, olive oil, and roasted garlic hummus, left over roasted chicken, feta cheese, goat cheese and spinach.

Intrigued? Well then read on.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Take your pita bread and place it on a baking sheet. Spread a healthy layer of the roasted garlic hummus across the top of the pita stopping before you reach the edge of the bread. Slice some roasted chicken (I prefer white meat for this recipe) into bite-sized chunks and sprinkle on top of the pita. Add some spinach on top of the pita and sprinkle the feta and goat cheese on top. Lightly drizzle the pizza with olive oil and place into oven for about 10-15 minutes (it is going to depend on the oven and how you want your crust to be).
Remove from the oven lightly sprinkle with some black pepper and a little more olive oil and DEVOUR!!

And I mean the whole thing, it is a pizza made for one.

Sometimes I also add some sliced Kalamata olives to my version of the Mediterranean pie.
For my ultimate taco pizza creation I like to use Vicolo’s organic corn meal crust. Take that, some ground beef, taco seasoning mix, cheddar cheese, sour cream, sliced onions and shredded lettuce and you are good to go.

Preheat the oven to 425.

I cook up the ground beef and add the taco seasonings according to the directions. I take the Vicolo crusts (two 8-inch crusts come in a pack) and top them both with the beef, thinly cut onions (I like purple onions for this one) and cheddar cheese. Bake for roughly 15-20 minutes.
Once out of the oven, I top the pizza with some shredded lettuce and dollops of sour cream. Sometimes I even drizzle the pizza with spicy salsa sauce or tomatillo sauce.

It’s so yummy and perfect to share with a Mexican foodie pizza loving friend along with some Corona beer.

And everyone knows that pizza makes the best go-to left-over snack or meal. Better still when made by your own two hands.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Caffeine countdown


Hurry up and open the doors, Starbucks. I want my venti mocha Latte and I want it YESTERDAY!
I don’t care that we, locally, missed out on the Unicorn Frappuccino nonsense. That drink didn’t matter.


Sweet, yes. Colorful, yes. All pink and purple but NO CAFFEINE. What’s the point?
If I am going to indulge in something that has more sugar in one serving than most food items I know of (the Unicorn had 59 grams of sugar to be exact), it better contain caffeine to boot.

I want all the caffeine jitters baby. Make it worth my while and later worthy of blood pressure meds (joking).
Each day as I drive by the new Oglethorpe Square Shopping Center, I glance toward the site of the new Starbucks and all I get is a taunting sign – COMING SOON.

(Ummm, same thing for the new Golden Panda Chinese and the Chick-fil-A. All COMING SOON. Come on man!).

We have waited long enough and endured the arduous task of having to get a visitor’s pass to Fort Stewart just to get our Starbucks fix, time and time again.
We’re done waiting people.

Ummm, oh wait, no we’re not. You have teased us far too long. It’s more than likely your first day open will have lines halfway into Midway. It means I may have to wake up at 5 a.m., have some coffee, just to be alert enough to park my car properly (as in only taking up one spot. You know who you are) and stand in line for MORE COFFEE.
People are likely to order several coffees. They are hoarding the coffee just to have backup coffee and avoid the long lines of we’ve-been-waiting-for-you-to-open-for-decades.
It means that in order to keep my sanity (stop laughing), I will have to prolong my anguish of waiting in order to avoid waiting in long lines. It’s full circle poop-ness.

I’m crying here!

And if it appears that I am JACKED up on coffee right now, I AM.
Anticipating the opening of our own Starbucks, I bought out enough Starbuck’s Komodo Dragon Blend to last a week. But I drank it all in one day — a whole pound of coffee.

SCRAP ME OFF THE ROOF, please pretty please.

Did you know Starbucks also sells tasty pastries, sandwiches and breakfast items? I didn’t know that for the longest time. Why? Because it is NOT COFFEE. When I walk into a Starbucks I definitely have tunnel vision for all things coffee – nothing else will do.
Apparently they sell tea too.

Update the Hinesville area Starbucks IS NOW OPEN.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Love me some sushi

I can vaguely recall the first time I went to a Japanese restaurant with a friend and they ordered sushi. It was literally eons ago. I think the only reason it vaguely stays in my head was because I decided to give some foreign a try. Unknowingly I took the chopsticks and grabbed a chunk of the pretty green paste, placed it on top of a tuna roll slice and took a bite.

“Holy crap, my tongue is on fire what is that stuff?”

“It’s called wasabi,” my friend replied. “And you only use it sparingly unless you want to burn your throat ant stomach.”
With my mouth on fire, tears streaming from my eyes and nose sniffling I thought my experimentation with sushi was over. It was, at least, for that day since my taste buds were fried.

Throughout the years, however, I have become somewhat of a sushi connoisseur in my own right. I started by dipping my toes in the shallow end of the sushi pool, eating the rolls that I considered safe at the time, like a California roll. That is basically rice, imitation crab meat, avocado held together with nori, the edible seaweed sheets which form the basis of most sushi.

In those early days most of what I order was cooked sushi like eel or shrimp.
But the thrill of sushi is when you start diving into the deep end and try the raw fish varieties.
Once you cross this threshold the most important aspect is trusting your sense of taste and smell and finding a restaurant you can trust to always serve the freshest cuts of fish possible.

In Hinesville I often trek to Kyoto, Sushi House 2, on Highway 84, when in pursuit of calming my sushi craving. As the name implies there was a Sushi House 1 that was located on Gen. Screven Way. But that location closed and has since reopened as Teriyaki Bowl. They serve sushi too but I have yet to visit. Will keep you posted.
Kyoto epitomizes the old school sushi and hibachi diners I’ve grown accustomed too. Their freshness, selection and flavors is what keeps them number one on my list of local places to go. (My absolute favorite sushi place is the Dragonfly in Orlando, Fla.)

If you’ve never tried raw sushi, you should. You can either order sushi rolls or sushi nigiri. The first are exactly what it sounds like. The raw fish is rolled with rice and the nori sheet and cut into bite size pieces. The nori can either be on the outside or the roll is done in reverse with the rice being on the outside and the fish and seaweed in the middle.

Nigiri is when they served a slice of raw fish nestled on a small clump of pressed rice. Sometimes a sliver of seaweed is used to hold the fish in place.
If you feel like venturing into sushi and you are a novice start out with the pieces that are the most palatable and therefore most popular. Pieces like tuna, salmon and Hamachi (yellow tail or some type of snapper) have the smoothest texture. They breakdown easy when chewed and don’t have a hard texture can be a turn off to some. The taste and texture are subtle and pleasant. I suggest you try it with and without dunking it into soy sauce or added wasabi at first.

Hint: While you are eating raw fish, fresh sushi should not have a strong fishy taste or odor. If it does, it’s not fresh and that my friends can spell trouble later on.

Once I got the taste for the easy stuff I started venturing into the more exotic. Octopus is definitely a refined and acquired taste as it can be quite chewy, same with conch.

Kyoto has a large variety of rolls and sushi dishes to choose from. They also have an amazing appetizer called the spicy seafood salad. It is sliced octopus, fish, shrimp and crabmeat mixed in a spicy mayonnaise and covered with roasted panko bread crumbs.

It was delicious and unique.

My favorite staple when at a Japanese restaurant is a dish called shumai. It is a steamed dumpling that is either stuffed with shrimp or pork. Another classic favorite is a pile of seaweed salad. I am happy to say that Kyoto has both.
In fact the hardest thing about Kyoto is trying to avoid the temptation of ordering too much.

Ha. Who am I kidding!! After all it’s me we are talking out. One of each please and thank you.

Oh, and I’ve also found my perfect combination of soy sauce with wasabi mixed in. Enough to feel the heat, clear the sinuses but still taste the food. Go out and an experiment, you may never know if you like it or not unless you try.