Sunday, January 31, 2010

Down South...Day Fifty-Eight...Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nothing much going on today. I sleep in until almost 10:00AM, then up for some coffee. I still have more Internet work to do, so I head back to Barnes & Noble around noon. More emails, more blog entries, finish my bills online...done around 3:00PM.
Back at Mom's, I start packing up. Tomorrow, I'm heading back to Ed and Molly's to spend a few days and take in the annual Gasparilla Festival. This will be my third year in attendance, and it's great fun.
And's early dinnertime once again! This time, we're going to a place that Mom remembers seeing, but not exactly where. So...we drive around for an hour or so...Ace is not following directions, so he's in big trouble. Then, after what seems like most of the night, we actually find the place...Charlie's Roadhouse. It's Country Karaoke night at Charlie's tonight, so the place is packed. I have absolutely no reason to expect a decent meal here,but they surprise fried shrimp dinner is really good...really.
Then...back home for some dessert (strawberries and vanilla ice cram...excellent!) and a nightcap before bed.

Down South...Day Fifty-Seven...Monday, January 25, 2010

Busy day today. Mom's new homeowner's insurance is in place, but the premiums are sky-high because the roof has not been inspected for "wind insurance". have cleverly arranged for the roof to be inspected while Mom is at the hairdressers...otherwise, I doubt that she'd let the guy in. I drop Mom off at noon and head home for a 1:00PM appointment. The inspector is there promptly at 1:00, and the inspection goes very well. The roof was replaced three or four years ago after hurricane damage, and they did a very good job. Mom (me) qualifies for all of the applicable discounts which should cut the homeowner's premium by up to a grand...nice!'s back to pick up Mom. We stop for lunch at a new dock complex on the water, and it's nice. We sit outside, enjoy a few rum drinks and enjoy a pretty decent lunch.
After I drop Mom off, I head off to Barnes & Noble for some Internet work...bills, Facebook, emails...and a few Blog entries. Before I know's almost 4:00PM...gotta head home to get ready for an early dinner.
We all go to dinner at the Stuart Ale House...a nice little place. It's "lobster night", so both Mom and I decide to order two 1 1/4 pounders each...we love our lobster! Ace has his usual salmon dinner, and we're all happy.
Now completely stuffed, we head home...more TV, a few

Down South...Day Fifty-Six...Sunday, January 24, 2010..."He Lost His Job, And He Sleeps Outside"

I'm breaking camp this morning, so I'm up again before sunrise. I mad extra coffee yesterday morning, and my Nissan Thermos has kept it piping I'm enjoying my first cup early.
Then the ritual of breaking camp...tables and chairs broken down and loaded, grill and stove packed up and loaded, sleeping pad and sleeping bag rolled and loaded, tent down and loaded. All of this takes a few hours, so I'm not on the road until 9:00AM or so. I'm heading north to Palm City and Mom's but, after Mom's call yesterday, I can't be sure if anyone will be home.
Driving out of the Park, stop again in Homestead for one of those great milkshakes at "Robert is Here". This morning, I choose one made with Sapodilla, a small prurplish fruit with a tough skin and a custardy interior that tastes like chocolate makes a GREAT milkshake!
Then I'm on the Florida Turnpike and, later, I-95 heading north. I stop in Palm Beach for lunch (P.F. Changs) and pick up a few items at the Apple Store. Then...Mom calls...she's problems...maybe.
When I finally get to Palm City, Mom is not home...but her car is in the driveway, which means she can't be far. An hour or so later, she and Ace pull up...I'm in!
I have a little time before dinner to unpack a few things and relax with a cocktail. Plus, Mom"s home phone has been disconnected (she called me earlier on her cell), so we work on that for awhile with Comcast.'s off to dinner at the Palm City Grill a pretty good place).
Mom is not yet entirely comfortable with mt retirement. My Dad worked (partly as a consultant) well into his 70's, and I expect that Mom thought that I'd do the same. As a result, her explanation of my current status is not always flattering. I think (hope?) that what she means to say is...
"My son worked hard, rose the to the top of his profession, and was able to
retire early. Now he travels the country, camping in our great National
Parks and sleeping under the stars."
Unfortunately, what she most often tells people is...
"He lost his job, and he sleeps outside."
So...tonight, we're at the Palm City Grill enjoying a nice dinner. Some friends of Mom and Ac come in, and Ace introduces me (as he always does) as "Ginny's baby". This time one of their friends remarks..."Wow, he's a pretty big baby", and we all laugh. Mom, however, is convinced that this statement was an insult...meant to imply that I am fat. No amount of explaining otherwise will change her of dinner is spent discussing my weight.
Thankfully, dinner ends at last, and soon we're back at Mom's. Time to watch a little football...Minnesota/New Orleans is an exciting game...and enjoy a few beers before bed...none too soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Down South...Day Fifty-Five...Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's my last day here at the Park, so I'm up early to get the most out of the time left here. I'm hungry again, so I cook up another breakfast of eggs and some leftover Skirt Steak...the Breakfast of Champions.
Later in the morning, I go for a short hike off of my campground...then I drive back down the Park road for some shorter hikes and some more photos. This eats up most of the day, and it's nearly 5:00PM by the time I finally get back to camp.
Then...a call from Mom. "are you coming back here next week or the week after?". Before I can say..."No, I'm coming TOMORROW", the call is disconnected. Panicky, I call answer. I call over and over, and all that I get is voicemail. Desperate, I call Mom's boyfriend, Ace. As those of you who have met Ace know, he is an exceptionally fine man...and he treats my Mom very well. His hearing at age 91, however, leaves much to be desired. When I tell him that it's "Billy" calling, he responds: "It's chilly??". When I ask for "Mom", he responds: "Is this Norm??". When I ask to speak to "Ginny", he responds: "Who's Jimmy??". This is getting me's like tying to communicate with E.T.
I've got some more Skirt Steak to grill, so I enjoy a Martini (Stoli with just a touch of Vermouth in the glass only, swish and dump...I've even got a few olives) before commencing the cooking. This Skirt Steak is as good, if not better, than that from last night...all the more so with a bottle of Marcques de Caceres Riserva Rioja...yum.
And last night in the Escape for radio, the rest of the Rioja and a few beers. I figure that I can always recreate my camping adventures at home...just hop in the Escape when the sun goes down.
Soon, I'm snug in my sleeping bag inside of my tent. Now to sleep...with the slightly uneasy thought of whether there will be anyone home when I get to Mom's tomorrow.

Down South...Day Fifty-Four...Friday, January 22, 2010...Deeper Into the Wild

Up early this morning before the whole coffee "ritual" and spend some time outside before the mosquitoes wake up.
I'm hungry this morning, so I cook up a great breakfast of eggs, fried potatoes and Nueske's bacon...along with the last of the Cuban bread.
They have boat tours here...out into the Bay or into the Everglades back I decide that would b a fun way to spend a couple of hours after breakfast. I'm on the 1:30PM boat, and we head out right on time...heading through the canals. Minutes after we start, we see our first Crocodiles...they like it up near the Marina because there is less sea water (they're freshwater guys unlike Gators which like salt water). Deeper and deeper we go into the thick of the Everglades...seeing an Ibis here and a Heron there. After a few miles, we break out into a large body of water called Coots Bay...which we race across before picking up the canal system again on the other side. Along the way, our guides point out a particular type of tree...can't remember the name. It's highly poisonous...just brushing against it can cause severe rash and even death. The local Indians used to used an extract of this tree to tip their arrowheads...very deadly. It was just such an arrow that killed the Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon.
After another hour or so, we head back to the Marina...a fun tour.
Having skipped lunch, I'm already hungry at relax with a glass of South African Cabernet while waiting for the charcoal to start. Tonight, I'm grilling that Skirt Steak that's been marinating in the Mojo Criollo...along with some more grilled asparagus and the rest of that great potato salad. The steak is absolutely fantastic...plenty tender from the marinade and really tasty. This is a profoundly good dinner.
Finishing early, I have some time to enjoy the sunset and read a little more of my Lincoln biography.
But the dark is inevitable...and soon...I'm in my new "second home", the Escape for another fun evening of XM Radio and cold is good! By 9:00PM, I'm nodding off...time for bed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Down South...Day Fifty-Three...Thursday, January 21, 2010

If you needed any further proof of how much time I'm spending in the Escape at night...I'll tell you...I've burned up over a half a tank of gas. Since it's over fifty miles to the nearest gas station, I've decided that it's time to get out of the Park for awhile. I figure that I can gas up, head over to the South Miami area for Sushi at Miyako of Dadeland ( a GREAT place that Mark and Faith turned me on to), and make a quick stop at a Border's Books to use their Wi-Fi and check some emails.
So...after a few cups of coffee, I'm on my way. It's not far to Dadeland, but traffic is the trip takes a little short of two hours.
The Sushi, as with my last visit, is superb. The owner and Sushi chef, Toshi, is highly-skilled. There's no Sushi "menu" here...rather, Toshi engages you in a pleasant conversation to find out what kinds of Sushi you like. Then, he creates his little "masterpiece". It's all going down great with a bottle of Sapporo and a glass of room temperature Sake...excellent!!
Then, it's over to a Barnes & Noble for a little Internet time before filling up the tank and heading back to camp. Just outside Homestead, I ran across a cool little fruit stand , called "Robert Is Here". They had dozens of rare and exotic tropical fruits...most of which I had never heard of, let alone seen before. They also make milkshakes with the I opted for a Canistel milkshake...the Canistel is about the size of a large orange, yellow in color, and the inside is creamy and custardy. Despite still being stuffed from the Sushi, this milkshake was absolutely fantastic.
By dinnertime (5:30PM), I'm still stuffed from lunch (not to mention the milkshake)'s just a piece of leftover Tandoori chicken and a few glasses of my favorite Portuguese red.
And guessed it!...back into the Escape to visit with my friends, Wolf and Ms. Stella Artois.
The whole camp is usually "lights out" by 9:00PM or so...and I'm right there with them. I slip quickly into my tent lest I also let in the mosquitoes. I'm asleep within minutes.

Down South...Day Fifty-Two...Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Election night or not, it was still an early one last night. As a result, I am again up before the sunrise....performing the morning "coffee ritual". When the sun comes up, I decide to cook some breakfast...eggs, bacon, some Cuban I'm ready for some hiking.
In the morning, I hike about two miles from my campsite to the Flamingo Visitor's center...a nice path along the water (albeit again close to the dead fish). There's a little grocery near the Visitor's Center, so I stop in there to scout around...I'll need ice for the smaller "beverage cooler" later. Then back to camp for lunch...Indomie Satay Noodles...nice and spicy with some leftover grilled shrimp.
After lunch, I drive out to a place called Coot's Bay for a little more hiking. But, it's not really the place to hike...besides...too close to the gators. So...I drive a little farther down the road and come upon a short trail...a mile or so in and out.
Now it's back to camp for a few Margaritas...along with some music from my little iPod "boombox"...techno in the wilderness! Sundown is always in my 4:00PM or so, I fire up the grill again. Tonight, it's leftover shrimp, grilled Tandoori chicken, and some more of that great potato salad.
It's feeling a lot like "Groundhog Day" as I'm back sitting in the Escape by 6:30PM or only companions, Wolf Blitzer and Mr. Heineken...another early night.

Down South...Day Fifty-One...Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When you go to bed around 9:00PM, it's tough to really "sleep in"'m up early before sunrise this morning. I make coffee in the French Press, apply more mosquito repellent, listen to the news in the Escape until sunrise.
I've got some "food prep" to do today, so I'm on that early. I make up a batch of Tandoori marinade and throw in a package of boneless chicken thighs...I take the pound of U-12 shrimp that Mark and Faith were kind enough to provide and throw it in a bag with half a bottle of Mojo Criollo marinade. The other half a bottle goes into another bag with the two pieces of skirt steak that I bought at Publix.
My "chores" completed, I do a little scouting around at the Flamingo Campground. My site is only a few hundred feet from the water...a large bay flecked with little islands or "Keys". There's not much of a beach and what little there is, seems strewn with dead fish...I do not linger there.
Back at camp, I settle into a comfortable chair in the shade to continue reading that Lincoln biography...I can never seem to read enough about Lincoln.
Before long, it's 4:30PM...cocktail time! I drain a few of those Jose Cuervo "pre-mixed" Margaritas while I fire up the grill. When the coals are hot, I throw on a half pound of those wonderful the shell. They've only marinated a few hours so, while I get that garlicky/citrusy flavor from the marinade, it's mild enough to let the briny taste of the shrimp come through. With that, a few generous scoops of potato salad...and...a bottle of Kim Crawford "Unoaked" Chardonnay. No one, and I mean "no one", in the entire Everglades is eating as good as this.
By the time that clean up the dishes, it's already dark...more mosquitoes. So...more repellent and back into the Escape for a few beers and some news. By the way...that guy from Massachusetts?...he won by five points after being behind by 40 just four weeks ago.

Down South...Day Fifty (Wow!...FIFTY days!!!)...Monday, January 18, 2010..."Into the Wild"

I am up this morning extra early because I've still got a lot of packing, loading, shopping, etc. to do before heading out to Everglades National Park. As the "crow flies", my campground is only about forty miles across the water from Mark and Faith's. But...this being Florida, I will have to drive back up the Keys to the mainland, then back down from Homestead to the water (well over 150 miles in all).
By 11:30AM or so, I'm packed up and ready to go. It's been a great visit here, and I am sorry to bid Mark and Faith farewell...but there's always next year!
My first stop is Publix for groceries...pork chops, milk, marinades, skirt steak, some vegetables, and some of their great "Southern Style" Potato Salad. Next stop...a fishing tackle and charter shop where I procure a 25lb. block of ice for the cooler. With my Coleman "Ultimate Xtreme Cooler" and that much ice, it should last all week.
Then, a quick stop for gas. I'm hungry, and I don't want to leave the Keys without stopping for my favorite "guilty snack"...frozen Key Lime Pie on a stick. Tacky...yes, touristy...yes, but it sure did taste good!
Traffic is slow out of the Keys...and then the speed limit is only 35mph in the the time that I get to my campsite at Flamingo Bay, it's almost 4:00PM. I immediately begin setting up camp...footprint down, tent up, rain fly over...stake everything down (a smart move, as it got pretty windy). When all the set-up is finally finished, it's close to 6:00PM...just time for a quick dinner of salami, cheese, Cuban bread and a great bottle of Cotes-du-Rhone before bedtime.
As with most of my camping experiences, the sky here is absolutely's like you can see every star in the Universe. Unfortunately, my one complaint with "Winter camping" is the fact that the sun goes down so 6:00PM, it's total darkness. And, while recent cold "snap" down here did a lot to cut down on the mosquitoes, they're still around (as the Ranger explained at the Welcome Center..."Ah, our Flamingo Campground is world renowned for it's mosquitoes")...wonderful. So, tonight, it's a few hours sitting in the Escape listening to the radio and knocking back a few beers. And...speaking of the radio...there's a new poll out of Massachusetts...that certain Senate candidate is no longer in a statistical "dead heat"...he's now ahead. It's going to be an interesting night tomorrow night.

Down South...Day Forty-Nine...Sunday,January 17, 2010

Another great day for football. But, before the games start, Mark has a special treat..."truffled" soft-set scrambled eggs, toast and a bottle of Cotes-du-Rhone. This is, to be clear, a magnificent breakfast...eggs, truffles and red wine are an absolutely perfect match.
Then...more football...the first game is another blowout with Minnesota pummeling the Cowboys. But the second game is fun...the Jets upset the Chargers in a close one.And, of course, a few snacks from Faith's "bottomless pantry".
Around halftime of the second game, we all decide to head out for dinner to a nice little restaurant up the road in Key Colony Beach. They've got a sizable Italian selection on the menu...something that I haven't had for I order veal Parmesan and pasta...excellent!
A great day from start to finish. Before and between games, I start packing up my stuff because, tomorrow, I'll be heading out of the Keys and on my way to Everglades National Park. Part of the packing involves the great Xmas gift that I got from Mark and's a solid 10lb. block of Himalayan sea salt. You can heat it up in the oven, then bring it to the table and cook on it...awesome! And...when it's sufficiently worn down, you can grate the salt over food. Mark and Faith never fail to come up with an interesting, and eminently useful, gift.

Down South...Day Forty-Eight...Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's a big day for football, so Mark and I are out the door early to procure the appropriate "snacks" this case, several pounds of "U-12 Key West Brown Shrimp"...and they are beauties.
Before you know it, the games are on. Faith makes some of her great mustard sauce and puts out an impressive load of food...poached shrimp, more cheese/salami, fruit, potato salad, pumpkin bread. Just when I think that she can't offer another thing...there's another load of food. Nothing beats football and the company of close friends.
The games are not particularly exciting...New Orleans blows out Arizona and Indianapolis beats the Ravens...but, hey, football is football.
And, between games, I notice that a certain Senate candidate in Massachusetts, behind by FORTY points a month ago, is in a statistical "dead heat" in a new poll. I think that Mark is amused by my enthusiasm...but this could be really interesting.

Down South...Day Forty-Seven...Friday, January 15, 2010

Yet another relaxing day...slept late, fresh coffee, TV news...and, as always, stimulating conversations with Mark.
After spending an hour or two catching up on "Internet" work, Mark and I head out for awhile. We stop at Radio Shack so that Mark can pick up Bluetooth earpieces for the new phones that he and Faith purchased. They both went with the new Samsung "Moment" offered by Sprint. It's an awesome phone with the new Google Android software platform. It does "everything"...send/receive calls, surf the web, download music and thousands of "Apps.", take quality name it. I'll soon be in the market for a new phone, and I would have to seriously consider this model.
For dinner, Faith whips up another fantastic "snack plate"...more cheese, crackers, salami, fruit...delicious. Then, just a few hours surfing the TV channels on Dish Network before heading off to bed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Down South...Day Forty-Six...Thursday, January 14, 2010...Key West for Dinner

I'm up earlier than usual this morning...9:00AM. We're just having coffee and a light lunch today because, tonight, we're heading down to Key West for a great dinner at a place called 915 (because it's located at 915 Duval Street).
In the afternoon, Faith puts together a nice little "snack plate" of radishes with butter, fruit and some really good pumpkin bread.
Around 5:00PM, we drive the fifty or so miles down to Key West. Our first stop is another restaurant, Square One, for cocktails...they've got some nice little wines by the glass.
Then, it's on to 915...specializing in "small plates". We load up with fried calamari (light and crisp), beef carpaccio (perfectly sliced with truffle oil and parmesan)...and...915's "signature dish", the Tuna Dome (a mound of lump crab meat covered with thinly-sliced tuna's an inspired dish. All of these dishes present a challenge when it comes to wine...white? We opt for sparkling...the Laurent-Perrier Brut...and it's a perfect match.
There are some interesting fellow diners including a couple from New York...we recommend the Tuna Dome. Mark and Faith know our waiter, and we get outstanding service. All in all, a remarkable dining experience.'s back on the road up to Marathon. It's been a long day (not to mention a huge dinner) so, by the time that we get back, we're all pretty, it's an early night.

Down South...Day Forty-Five...Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another great night's sleep...up around 10:00AM for fresh coffee.
For lunch, run over to Keys Fisher for a Lobster Reuben....a great sandwich. While picking up lunch, I can't resist the temptation to buy a few more pounds of Stone Crabs...they just look so good!
Another lazy afternoon...reading, some news...interesting conversation with Mark. We talk about everything, particularly politics and sports. It doesn't matter what side we're on...indeed, we often switch sides...we just like to discuss, argue and debate. It not only keeps us sharp, it also lets us see different side of an issue.
Soon, it's dinnertime again...more Stone Crabs with mustard sauce.'s a rare treat. For dessert, I load up with the last of the strawberries with vanilla ice cream...close to the perfect meal.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Down South...Day Forty-Four...Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I always sleep great at Mark and Faith's. We were up pretty late last night, so I'm sleeping in late (10:00AM) this morning. Mark's got fresh coffee brewed when I finally get up.
Today is going to be a lazy day...a little news, post some blog/Facebook entries, read...generally, just relax.
The day flies by...soon it's dinnertime. We all feel like Cuban tonight, so Mark and I head out to El Siboney for carryout...Vaca Frita, Roast Pork, rice,'s all good. Mark opts for a piece of that Carrot Cake from Wright's (an excellent choice), and I go for fresh strawberries with Vanilla Ice Florida favorite.
There's an NFL replay on, so we watch that...joined by two of my favorite Florida felines, Petey and Rocko.'s bedtime, so I settle in for another great night of sleep.

Down South...Day Forty-Three...Monday, January 11, 2010...Trophy Day

In 1935, the very first Heisman Trophy was awarded to Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago. Down through the years, the "Heisman" has come to be regarded as the most prestigious trophy in all of football.
The SECOND most prestigious award, however, is not awarded until early January. It's the "Stone Crab Trophy" awarded between Mark and me for the winner of the Michigan/Ohio State game. Mark and I have had a standing bet for many years for the "big game"...the loser has to buy the winner a Stone Crab dinner. For twelve years or so, I had the upper hand during the "Cooper" years at OSU...Mark, however, is on a six-year "roll" of late. It doesn't really's why I love this bet...because, win or lose, you still get to eat Stone Crabs.
So...early afternoon, Mark and I head to a place called "Lobster Monster" where I procure three pounds of medium and two pounds of large Stone Crab claws. Faith makes her famous mustard sauce, plus we've got great potato salad from Publix...along with a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Brut and a bottle of Kim Crawford Unoaked" Chardonnay. It is, to say the least, a feast without equal. After two or three hours of eating, we can hardly move to our respective chairs. I barely have room for a large piece of Red Velvet Cake and a glass of milk.
But...before all of's time to award the venerable "trophy". Mark and I have had "the bet" for years but, last year, we added the trophy...a crab.
Tonight...we all thee sleep the sleep the sleep of the happy...the contented...the stuffed.

Down South...Day Forty-Two...Sunday, January 10, 2010...Down to the Keys

My timing is perfect...right about the time that I wake up, Bill's got coffee and some great blueberry buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. Then it's pulling together my stuff and loading up for the trip down to Mark and Faith's in the Keys. Before I leave Bill and I pose for a few photos with Bill holding up the chunk of ice from the bird bath outside...I told you it was cold down here!
Then it's off through Ft. Myers, down I-75 and across Alligator Alley on the way to the Keys. The sun breaks through the clouds eventually, but it's still only in the low 50's.
I get to Mark and Faith's around 4:30PM and, within a few minutes, I'm totally on the rocks in one hand and petting my favorite cat, Petey, with the other hand. Mark's got the NFL playoffs on, so we watch the Green Bay/Arizona game...a great one with lots of scoring, overtime and a surprise finish.
Faith puts together a "cheese plate" for dinner...but...this is not just any cheese plate. This is a "feast" of multiple cheeses, fresh pears, apples, dates, figs, crackers, bread, name it. We eat for, maybe, two hours before we're stuffed.
Mark and I sit around for a few hours...telling old stories and finishing off the rest of a bottle great red wine. to bed. I always sleep great down here, and tonight is no exception.

Down South...Day Forty-One...Saturday, January 9, 2010...Ft. Myers

When I roll out of bed at around 9:30AM or so, Cousin Bill's got a cup of coffee and a great breakfast burrito ready.
My friend, Astrid, has called...she's in town with a friend from Long Island and wants to get together for lunch. We all meet at "Clickers Crab House"...a few rum drinks later, and I'm feeling pretty good. We all order Stone Crabs for lunch, and they're pretty first of the trip!
Back at Bill and Nancy's, I settle in for a few beers before dinner. Bill has put together a great Middle Eastern meal of lentils with spinach and feta plus some nice little lamb kefta...very tasty (if healthy).
After lunch, Bill and I sit around...drinking wine and telling old family stories. y midnight, I'm the only person's off to bed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Down South...Day Forty...Friday, January 8, 2010...Down to Cousin Bill's in Ft. Myers

I'm up fairly early...9:00AM or so. I'm leaving today for Ft. Myers, and I've got a lot of packing to do. I unloaded a lot of camping gear when I got to Ed and Molly's, and now that all has to be repacked. It's slow going as I have to unpack just about everything in the Escape in order to "repack", there's a rainy drizzle throughout the whole process. It's after 11:00AM before I'm packed up and on the road.
Then...there's the matters of gas and lunch. I stop in Brandon for gas and slip into a place called Firehouse Subs for a bite to eat...a decent sub.
Back on the road, I don't get to North Ft. Myers until after 4:00PM. I really enjoy my time with my cousin Bill...he's like the brother that I never had. I always feel welcome visiting him and his wife Nancy. We like to sit around, drinking wine (usually a lot of wine) and retell old family stories...the exploits of my late grandmother, stories about my father and Bill's father...and, of course, plenty of stories about all the trouble I got into when I was a boy...burning up cement mixers, stealing the neighborhood mail, hitting the "emergency stop" on escalators, plugging up toilets up and down the East Coast, pouring insecticide into ice machines at hotels in Florida...the list goes on and on.
Bill and Nancy have a great house right on the bay in Ft. Myers...great views and lots of wildlife. Tonight, they're baking pizzas...and cousin Bill has put together nice little salads with bibb lettuce, avocado and shrimp...all good. Of course, you can't have pizza without red I pull a few bottles from my "travel stash". It's a fun evening...and a late night.

Down South...Day Thirty-Nine...Thursday, January 7, 2010...Return to Columbia

Over breakfast this morning, Ed and I decide to go for lunch at the Columbia (my second trip in three days)...Molly is still a little "under the weather", so it's just Ed and me.
We split a pitcher of champagne sangria (really, really good)...I order the 1905 Salad (of course) and Ropa Vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce). Ed opts for the 1905 and a half a Cuban Sandwich. As always, everything is excellent...there's a reason why the Columbia has been in business for over a hundred years.
Tonight is the National Championship game between Alabama and Texas, so we opt for an early dinner around 7:00PM or so. Our friends, Mark and Faith, have sent Ed and Molly a Chicago Hot Dog "kit"...buns, kosher beef franks, relish, mustard, hot peppers, celery salt, etc. to recreate the "Chicago Dog Experience"...excellent with a batch of OreIda "fast food" fries and a bottle of Spanish Rioja (the best "match" that we can come up with for hot dogs).
The National Championship had promised to be a good one, but things go downhill when Texas' quarterback goes down (and out) in the first quarter. Still...there's some pretty good football in an Alabama win.

Down South...Day Thirty-Eight...Wednesday, Wednesday, January 6, 2010...Another Relaxing Day in Tampa

As before, I slept like a rock last night. It's that combination of cool (cold) nights and a comfortable environment.
Molly has had a touch of sinitus, so she's taken a few "sick days". That means another great "Molly breakfast" when I awaken this morning around 9:00AM. A little coffee, some breakfast...CNN and the morning newspaper...very laid-back and relaxing.
Around 1:00AM or so, I head back to Barnes & Noble's Wi-Fi to catch up on emails, pay a few bills, and post some blog entries. That completed, I stop for a quick lunch at Pei Wei (the "informal" chain owned by P.F. Changs).'s not "authentic" Asian, but it's mighty good...particularly the "Dan Dan Noodles" in the Beijing style.
Then...back to Ed and Molly's to relax for the afternoon and wait for tonight's bowl game...the GMAC Bowl pitting Central Michigan and Troy. Ed lets me read one of his poems...a multi-part, multi-style one based on the "Spoon River Anthology". It's good...very good, in fact...several pages incorporating rhyme, prose and other styles to tell a story set out over many years.
For dinner, Molly whips up her "Mexican Spaghetti"...Rotel tomatoes/chiles, mushroom soup, green pepper, onion, ground chuck, grated cheddar, and spaghetti mixed together and baked in a's really good...particularly washed down with a few glasses of Portuguese wine from the Douro.
The GMAC Bowl turns out to be a pretty good game, with the outcome uncertain until late in the 4th Quarter...CMU wins. By halftime, Molly's sacked out, Ed's asleep on the sofa, and I'm nodding off. But Ed and I are awake for the end of the game before heading off to sleep...late.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Down South...Day Thirty-Seven...Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Today...I'm on a "mission". I've heard several people mention that a place called "Wright's Gourmet Deli" has fantastic cakes...Carrot and Red Velvet to be more specific. So...I'm on my way there this morning.
But first, I'm stopping for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in the world...The Columbia in Ybor City. I first ate there as a child...six or seven years old maybe. And the great thing about it is that it is essentially unchanged from my first visit. Walking through their front door is like stepping back in time. The menu is Cuban/Spanish and everything, and I mean everything, is, great.
I slid onto a bar stool and order a mango daiquiri...excellent. Then for lunch, their famous "1905 Salad" (a frequent dish at the last several Summer Picnics) and a Cuban Sandwich. The salad is legendary...lettuce, green olives, sliced Swiss cheese and ham with a dressing made from lime juice, garlic, EV olive oil and is easily worthy of it's "legendary" status. And the Cuban Sandwich...ah, perfect...crusty Cuban bread, thin-sliced ham, cheese and pickle...with a little roast pork thrown of the great sandwiches of the world.'s on to Wright's for cake(s). For dessert, I have a piece of Coconut Cake and a cup of coffee...the piece of cake is enormous...I can barely finish it. I can't decide between Carrot Cake and Red Velvet I get one of each. I'll have enough for dessert tonight and plenty more to leave with Ed and Molly, take with to my cousin's...and probably more still to take down to Mark and Faith in the Keys.
After dessert, I head back to the Barnes & Noble to work on emails, bills, blog entries, etc.
Dinner tonight is pretty simple...Ed's bean soup and some of Molly's cornbread...along with a few glasses of Quinta do Crasto, a Portuguese red from the Douro region.
And, of course, more football! Tonight it's Iowa v. Georgia Tech. Iowa fans are a nice lot (as opposed to, say, OSU or MSU fans), so I'm definitely rooting for Iowa, the underdog. The Hawkeyes play a great disciplined game and win 24-14. By the time the game ends, it's almost midnight...time for bed.

Down South...Day Thirty-Six...Monday, January 4, 2010

Another great night's sleep...up around 9:00M for morning coffee, newspaper, CNN.
Ed is using the leftover ham bone from a Honey-Baked Ham to make bean's a great lunch washed down with a glass of red wine left over from Sunday night.
I spend the late morning and early afternoon at Barnes & Noble...taking advantage of their free Wi-Fi to catch up on emails, blog posts, etc.
Late in the afternoon, Ed and I head out to do a little grocery shopping...some sea scallops and asparagus for dinner. Molly is home around 6:00PM and, after a few glasses of vino, we commence dinner.
Ed cooks the asparagus on the grill drizzled with a little EV olive oil, kosher salt and pepper...yum. I sear the scallops in a cast iron skillet and deglaze the pan with Grand Marnier, tangerine juice and zest, and a little excellent dish with a few glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Then...another fun evening of football...although, at this point, I having trouble remembering who was playing. Oh yea...Boise State and TCU...good game, although I was rooting for TCU to win.
I'm still working my way through that flat of Plant City strawberries...great with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Down South...Day Thirty-Five...Sunday, January 3, 2010...Lucky, Lucky!

Another nice breakfast this morning...and a Bloody Mary before settling in to watch a little pro football. It's we're watching the Buccaneers game...a tough loss.
Our friend, Astrid, has suggested a trip to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino for late afternoon and, around 4:30PM or so, I'm on my way. It's a very nice place...relatively new and everything first-class. I'm a few minutes early, so I decide to spend $5 on quarter slots. Around quarter number six or so, I hit a $260 jackpot...which I immediately cash in and pocket carefully.
Astrid and I spend a half hour or so walking around the casino checking things out before heading to dinner at the steakhouse, Council Oak. It's a nice place...and the prime dry-aged steaks are excellent! I have a nice "wedge salad" with blue cheese dressing and bacon along with an 18 oz. bone-in N.Y. Strip...delicious. For dessert, Astrid and I split an enormous mound on vanilla ice cream, covered with crushed heath bar and flamed with Bacardi 151...yum!
By the time that I get back to Ed and Molly's, it's after 9:00PM...just in time to catch the second half of the Bengals/Jets game before bed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Down South...Day Thirty-Four...Saturday, January 2, 2010...More Football

Another morning of sleeping in, coffee and a "Molly breakfast".
It's hard to believe, but there's another full day of football on today.
So...we watch more games...and eat plenty of leftovers...crab cakes, empanadas, prime rib. The whole day is a "blur" of food and football.
The "big game" is at 9:00PM...the Alamo Bowl matching Michigan State (boo!) against Texas Tech. People are referring to it as the "Ejection Bowl"...fourteen MSU players suspended for the game...and Texas Tech's coach has just been fired. It's actually a pretty good game...MSU keeps it close, but Texas Tech brings in a substitute QB who takes over the game. Poor Spartans...another tough loss (hee hee).
It is REALLY getting cold down here. There's a big "trough" of Arctic air blowing in from the North covering the whole South and all of Florida...even Miami got down in the 40's. But...I'm not complaining...I'll take a 50 degree day over a 15 degree day ANYTIME.

Down South...Day Thirty-Three...Friday, Jnuary 1, 2010...New Year's Day

I finally collapsed into bed last night (this morning) at I am definitely sleeping in.
I finally wander downstairs at around 10:00AM for coffee...and another great "Molly breakfast". Everybody's moving kind of slow this's definitely time for Bloody Marys! And...with that bit of "the hair of the dog"...we're ready for football. The first game is on at 11:00AM...the Outback Bowl being played right here in Tampa...Northwestern v. Auburn. Soon, Penn State is playing LSU and Florida State is up against West Virginia. It's a thirteen-hour "smorgasbord" of football.
Northwestern comes up short, Penn State rolls, Bobby Bowden and FSU pull out a win. Now, it's 4:30PM and time for the Rose Bowl...the dreaded Ohio State Buckeyes against the Ducks of Oregon. Ed and Molly are big Ducks fans and I'm rooting for anyone to beat OSU, so we're all on the same side. Alas, the Ducks are found wanting...and OSU wins...disappointing.
The last game is the Sugar Bowl...Florida versus Cincinnati. This is Florida country, so everyone is rooting for the Gators. I would like Cincinnati to at least make a game of it, but Florida blows them out.
I barely make it to the end of the third quarter...Molly's already in bed and Ed is snoozing on the couch. A relaxing day, but I'm still beat from the day before. Sleep comes quickly and is most welcome tonight.

Down South...Day Thirty-Two...Thursday, Deember 31, 2009...New Year's Eve

Everybody is up early this morning...lots of work to do. Molly has made one her great little breakfasts...bacon, bagel, scrambles eggs with cheese...fuel for the day's work.
Soon we're peeling potatoes, trimming Brussels sprouts, taking out the prime rib (20 lbs., three weeks dry-aged) and tending to other prep work. The prime rib goes in the neighbors oven at 1:30PM on 225 degrees to slow-roast all afternoon.
I'm hoping to get a nap in, but soon it's late nap today. The first guests/neighbors start arriving around 7:00PM or so...and out go several loads of empanadas and stuffed mushrooms. We've got fresh oysters in the shell, but that seems like to much work tonight, so we defer them until tomorrow.
Now it's approaching 8:30PM, and things are moving at a frenzied crab cakes, caramelizing the creme brulee, potatoes and Brussels sprouts in the oven, "blasting" the prime rib at 500 degrees for twenty minutes or so.'s all coming together...everything is cooked just right and served on time. A lot of hungry people are mighty happy.'s New Years...out with with 2010. I'll miss was a great year

Down South...Day Thirty-One...Wednesday, Decmber 30, 2009...New Year's Eve Prep in Tampa

Today is a monumentally busy one. Ed and I are out the door at 9:00AM with a full shopping list. Soon, we're stopping at Asian Markets, Seafood Markets, Meat Shops, Grocery Stores, etc. loading up with supplies to begin preparation of our traditional New Year's Eve feast.
Bu 1:00PM, our shopping is completed, and I am at work in the kitchen. Over the course of five hours or so, I knock off a vanilla/chocolate creme brulee, crab cakes, lamb picadillo empanada filling, horseradish sauce, stuffed mushroom 6:00PM or so, I am completely "whipped". Ed and Molly wisely order a pizza which we enjoy with a few glasses of red wine. Then, a little football, a few beers...nice and relaxing.
We make it an early night because tomorrow (day and night) is going to be crazy.
Picnic "volunteers" who have come to my house the weekend before the Annual Summer Picnic will easily recognize the photos of Ed hard at work "stamping out" empanadas.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Down South...Day Thirty...Tuesday, December 29, 2009...Back to Tampa!

By 10:00AM, I'm on the phone with the insurance agent and downloading the last of the forms to be signed. A couple of signatures and a few initials from Mom, and everything is ready to be faxed. A quick trip to the local FedEx/Kinko's, and now I'm on the road to Tampa.
Rolling west on Route 60, I'm going back through the phosphate mining and sugar cane fields of central Florida. Sugar cane growers burn the fields after harvest, so it's not unusual to see a few fires along this route. Around 1:00PM or so, I'm in the town of Plant City...the "Strawberry Capital of the World" (or so they claim). I stop at my favorite place...Parkesdale's...for a great strawberry milk shake and a large flat of ripe juicy strawberries.
By 2:15PM, I'm back at Ed and Molly's where Ed and I start planning our shopping/cooking schedule for the big New Year's Eve bash. The next two days will be busy ones...but Jenny the cat has offered to help.
We're all tired, so we get a pizza delivered for a few bottles of a little football. Life is good.