Friday, August 18, 2017

Passing Out Love

A few years ago, we started a new annual tradition while I am visiting my sisters and Godbabies in Florida.  We make lunches and share them with the ever-expanding homeless population.  

By no means are we under the impression that we are saving lives or solving the poverty problem in Florida.  But we believe that love and kindness, even if in small acts, are important.  Important for those in need to know that someone thought of them that day, important for us to feel connected with our community, and important to teach the kids that everyone is able to help in different ways.

When we first began doing this, the kids were much smaller.  So Bestie Florida would drive the car, kids buckled in car seats, and I would hope out to pass out lunches.  And it worked at the time.

But the kids are bigger now.  Which is awesome.  They're now able to participate and they enjoy it so much more.  We all do, actually.  

So the kids actually made all of the simple bagged lunches on their own.  They each took half and spread on the peanut butter and jelly.  It was sweet to see them concentrating on making a nice sandwich to give out!

Solid jelly skills!  {I'm a puddle missing these faces!}

As I assembled the lunches in brown bags {including a bottle of water, not shown here}, the kids sat down to draw little love notes to add into each one.  Because again, this wasn't about saving the world, rather letting people know they were thought about that day.  

Godson J's notes were an adorable little sweetheart that he drew and cut out.  This boy who will always be a baby to me, has the biggest heart!

I don't much care for religion for myself.  I see far more bad than good that comes from it and I am just not comfortable participating {congrats to Bestie Florida on picking a great Godmother for your children}.  But this and gardening and taking long drives in the country...those feel like church to me.  That's where and how I connect with the bigger picture.  Perhaps one day I will find that same connection within four walls and in front of a pulpit.  But for now, passing out lunches or clean socks or serving in a soup kitchen {side note, soup kitchens never actually serves least none of the kitchens I've served in} or meditating in the garden are how I find my calm within the crazy world.  

I wish I lived close enough to do this every week with my favorite people.  The entire experience was joy-filled on every level!


Friday, August 11, 2017

Old Florida Is Almost Gone

I've always loved old architecture.  For as long as I can remember understanding homes and history, I've been drawn to homes with history.  I find it joy-filled and comforting to know lives have been lived on floors I stand upon and lives will continue to be lived there long after I move from that spot.  I love the idea of being part of a home or city's history.  

The thing though about old architecture is that it's...well...old.  And the kids these days like bright, shiny, zero lot line objects.   We no longer live in an era where we even conceive of fixing a toaster that goes kaput.  We instead toss it in the trash on our way to the nearest super store to pick up a new one for a low low plastic covered price.  

Every state has a unique history and if you've never seen How The States Got Their Shapes, you should make time to watch it, at least the episode about your own state, one of these days.  But Florida, specifically South Florida {which is like the third state of FL, completely unique to it's two older sisters North Florida and Central Florida}, is interesting in that it's on the east coast, where the US was first settled.  But South Florida didn't really see a population of significance until the 1950's, after the end of World War II.  So the old old homes are few and far between.  And the old homes are little, single story, 1950's bungalows.

Land is lacking though and prices are at a premium.  So over the last 20 years, people have torn down those old Florida bungalow homes and in the same spot, put up two new, zero personality, zero lot line homes.  Giant condos are everywhere, reaching high into the clouds, and forever changing the city skyline.

Not all change is bad.  And I understand wanting more space and homes with all the bells and whistles. But it's still sad to see so much of what I knew as a kid in Fort Lauderdale disappearing to the era of new and newer.  

I'm impressed at how the city has grown and prospered over the years!  I think it's amazing that it has such a booming economy and revitalized corners.  Even though I am older and taller and things generally seem smaller to you over time, Fort Lauderdale to me, seems much bigger.  Or fuller.  Maybe there's just more of everything in the same amount of space.  

I spent so much of my childhood walking between those old houses to visit friends and meet out front to climb trees.  We collected slugs and tadpoles and frogs.  We played in the sand {and by we, I mean every other kid as I loathed playing in the sand and still don't particularly warm to the feeling of it}.  And our dad's talked about the history of the state and those who walked these streets before us.  Bestie Florida and I spent a good part of our early childhood playing at the Stranahan House as our dads volunteered with the restoration project in the 80's.  A rather incredible playground for two tots!

I miss it.  I miss my Florida.  I miss what I knew.  I miss the familiar sights.  

So when I happen across a relic such as this 60's driveway, I stop and admire it.  I remember being little and seeing station wagons parked carefully over the grassy paths.  Even though it's just a stranger's driveway {down the street from Godsister's house}, it somehow feels like home.  

Change is nice.  It's great to grow and progress.  But it would be nicer if a few more homes could hang on to my beloved childhood kitsch, too.  Nostalgia gets me every time!

Your hometown..has it grown as much as mine over the years?  Or has the population gone down {because everyone moved down to Florida}?  


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Favorite Ft. Lauderdale Foodie Treats

While Fort Lauderdale, FL is large city with lots of amazing food offerings, it's the little things that often have an emotional component that taste the best.  So this is in no way a comprehensive guide to Ft. Lauderdale.  Instead, it's just a glimpse of some of my favorite gastronomical treats from my visit this year.

First up is my daily breakfast.  Of mango.  Fresh from the tree.  

I had a mango tree in my backyard for all of my childhood but I didn't actually taste a mango until I was in college.  For a very specific Florida-kids-will-understand reason.  When mangoes fall to the ground from high up in a tree, they split open.  Immediately upon falling and splitting open, they begin to rot in the hot Florida sun.  And.  They.  Stink!  To the high heavens.  Also, a lot of people are allergic to the sap that comes out of the stems.  So they never had a positive connotation in my mind.  I associated fresh mango with stink stank stunk.  

But at some point I decided that because I grew up loving dried mango, I should actually try one of those fresh mangoes.

And guess who was a convert at the same time she said goodbye to the state of Florida and months of free mangoes in her backyard?!

So now when I am in FL, it's almost a game to find mangoes.  A few years ago when Goddaughter E was learning to ride her bike, we would circle the neighborhood on mango hunts.  That little pink bike had a seat in back for her dolls, but it perfectly fit mangoes and I managed to convince her mango storage was it's true purpose.  

Bestie Florida is so good to me.  Even though she is allergic to the sap and hates mangoes , especially the tree in her front yard that the city won't let her cut down, she saves them for me on the counter so I am in full mango supply during my visit.

This year I took it in a new, more fabulous direction though.  Florida was sprinkling Trader Joes Everything But The Bagel Seasoning on her breakfast avocado and I decided it might be good on mango.

It wasn't good though.  It was AMAZING!  

Stop that.  I see you making a face.  Everyone made that face until I passed them a forkful of this sweet + savory combination.  Converts were made.  It's weird, sure.  But it's so delicious!  

Next up is chicken salad.  I kid.  I mean, I don't kid, because four chicken salads at one meal is completely amazing.  But if you missed it, go read it here.  Seriously though...I love me some chicken salad!

Instead let's talk about a new-to-me hidden gem called The Alchemist.  It's in this odd location sort of tucked behind buildings in an area that once upon a time was a plant nursery.  And now is this charming little artsy world of it's own.  And The Alchemist is all about two things: toast and the world's best iced coffee.  

Gourmet toast sort of cracks me up.  How is this a food fad?  It's toast.  But's toast and we all love toast.  We all feel proud of ourselves when we manage to put together some sort of fancy toast at home.  So's a thing.  And while I'm still kind of mocking it, I'm also totally drinking the Kool Aid.  

I was torn between toast topped with Brie, honey, and almonds or goat cheese, salmon, red onions, and capers.  The barista swore by the salmon toast so that's what I chose and damn was it good!  Like really, really good.  Thankfully, Goddaughter E, who has the flavor palette of a 20-something New Yorker, ordered the Brie toast so I was able to taste how delicious that one is too.  Godson J devoured his Nutella topped with fresh strawberries, too.  We all walked away delighted!

But the real thrill that we are all still talking about was the iced coffee.  They make it to order but the regular once uses brown sugar to sweeten it.  It gives it this super deep, rich flavor.  To me, it tasted like melted coffee ice cream, in the best possible way.  Delightfully indulgent!

I'm not a sweet coffee girl though so while I took a sip of the full sweet, half sweet, and bullet coffees, I ordered my iced coffee unsweetened.  On top of the flavor being the best I've ever had, the details really got all of us.  The coffee comes in a big mason jar with square coffee ice cubes.  

I'd find myself a regular far too quickly at The Alchemist if I lived in South Florida.  What a hidden treasure!

I can't do a food post without noting that these sister friends of mine are all amazing cooks.  Florida is so creative and on top of her meal plans and I was forever in awe!  One of my favorites was a seemingly simple rice bowl.  But it was made extra fabulous with two specific ingredients: shredded mojo pork tenderloin and pickled red onions {recipe coming soon}.  I've since made my own version at home that was really good, but not as good as Florida's.  This was definitely one of my favorite meals!

And last...even though as soon as I hit publish I will for sure think of things I'm our collective favorite for the second year in a row.  A delicacy that we only know about because Goddaughter's little girl ordered it on a whim once upon a bakery opening.  And now...we put aside all nutritional counts for a day when we indulge in the pastry world's most comforting and delicious delicacy.

An apricot croissant from Angelo Elia's Bakery.  

This perfect pillow of buttery, flaky layers is filled with the most delicious apricot preserves that are sweet but not sugary.  It's like a hug from someone you love at a moment you didn't even realize you needed a hug.  Order a cappuccino to really put this treat over the top!  

This is one of my very favorite foods!  A not to be missed moment of any visit to my hometown!

I'm curious to know what your favorite hometown foods are?  Do you go to a fancy five star restaurant or a tucked away bakery or your best friend's kitchen counter?


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Throwing Pottery and The Great Pottery Come Back

It should be clear by now that this week {and likely part of next} are all about my Florida memories.  I want to know that the details and the giggles are safely scribed here so that I never forget my amazing trip.

It's funny because I used to fear going back to my hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida so much.  I would have weeks of serious anxiety and sleepless nights leading up to the trips.  While there, I was hyper aware of my surroundings and constantly worried that my mother would make a surprise appearance at the most public of moments. 

I've calmed down a lot over the last decade on this subject.  Which isn't to say I never think about it or worry.  I do.  But once Godson J was born, the oldest of the kiddos, my focus changed.  It just became more important to give as much as my focus to the people I love so dearly, rather than constantly focus on the what ifs that may or may not happen, but were certainly out of my control.  

So now I feel lighter and more in the moment when I am visiting.  Which is pretty huge for someone who is an introvert with anxiety.  Kids are just little magic makers and give you the freedom to let go of the ish.

Weeks before the trip, Florida sent all the sisters a group text asking if we wanted in on a random groupon pottery class.  However, she phrased it as having a ghost moment.  I interpreted that as some sort of creepy ghost tour.  What she meant was Patrick and Demi.  And obviously I was all over that.  

So the tribe set off to become famous potters.  In a warehouse building in Ft. Lauderdale.  With the most delightfully French instructor who was out back smoking when we walked in, but was totally fine with us bringing wine and cookies.

Now confession that I didn't even tell all of the sisters...I actually took a pottery throwing class in college.  Not for credit- just at a local arts center for fun.  And I was terrible at it.  It was 21 year old me and a bunch of retired folks reliving their arts and crafts years.  I felt so intimidated that I never even finished the course.  I could never manage to get the clay centered on the wheel.  And was a bit nervous that history would repeat itself.

The art studio was really fun to be in.  It felt interesting and creative.  I loved seeing works in progress and finished pieces all mixed together in the tight space.  I got the best vibe just standing in the studio!

We started with toasts and giggles and finally our instructor moved our attention to the clay.  We threw it and folded it and cut it to get the bubbles out.  When we managed to this with enough success to move on to the wheel, we topped off our glasses and took seats.  She taught us the proper hunch balance pose with your elbows on your knees {something I never learned in the class I took nearly 20 years ago in Athens, GA} and the importance of water.  When in doubt, slow down the wheel and add more water.  Or that was my takeaway at least!

We each had two lumps of class to create two bowls of some sort.  And guess who was the first to fail?


Frenchy, the instructor, gave me a lot of tsk tsk tsks and cut half my clay off and said I had to start again.  

Awesome.  Not at all embarrassing.  I was a bit nervous this was 1999 all over again.

I pulled out your most basic of basic shapes but at least I had something.  It would have to do.  

Then I looked over to see Florida and Little Sister absolutely rocking the wheels.  Clay savants were in our presence.  

I was determined to do much better with my second, final lump of clay!  And y'all...I did it.  

Basically I am a professional potter now.  That's what we call ourselves.  Potters.  I know, because I'm one.  Expect to find my work at art shows and art galleries and all the other pottery friendly places.  {But not, ironically, in the Pottery Barn.} They call me the comeback kid of the clay world.  {a world that is somehow both malleable and easily cracked}  

I'm not saying I was the best potter in the group.  Sincerely, I wasn't.  But I was definitely pleased as punch that my second creation was a big improvement over the first failure.  That's all we can really ask for in life, right?

Well that, and these photos of Godsister being Demi to my Patrick that we made Frenchy take for us and could not stop laughing while we posed.  This is what life is probably also about.  Letting go and being adorable idiots!

We had the best time laughing and playing and getting our hands dirty and I would do this all over again in a heartbeat.  Such an awesome group activity!!

Have you ever taken a pottery class?  Did you find the Demi that lives in all of us, too?


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Venetian Pool: Going Back To Old Florida With My Oldest Friends

Last year during my annual trip to visit my sisters and bebes in Florida, we visited the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables for the first time.  How we lived our entire lives in South Florida never visiting this state treasure is a mystery to me.  The Venetian Pool is enchanting!

This year, our crew grew.  Those who we sad to have missed it last year made sure to get in on this year's adventure.  That, plus knowing what to expect, made it such a fun day!

A brief history.

The Venetian Pool began in the 1920's as a casino in an abandoned coral rock quarry, which was used to build many of the grand homes and buildings in the local Coral Gables area of Miami.  And in it's early years, the pool as often drained to allow the Miami Symphony to perform in it, taking advantage of the great acoustics.  

The pool is the largest fresh water pool in the USA, with fresh water draining daily from artesian wells.  Though now that the world knows natural resources such as aquifers are not in fact endless, the water both drains from and back into the wells, as to be less wasteful.  

Outside of the kiddie pool, the most shallow spot in the main pool is 4' deep.  And because it's fresh water, it's not warm, even mid summer in Miami.  It's lovely and refreshing but it's surprisingly chilly when you first jump in if you are more accustomed to Florida bath water pool temps.  

There are several waterfalls, a grotto, and a cool spot to jump into the water above the grotto area.  It's definitely unique and a fun way to daycation if you are local.  

So beauty aside, I want to level with you about a few potential drawbacks of the Venetian.  Because knowledge is power, even on a fun day in the sun.  

First, by 11AM it is packed with local camps.  Which means it goes from being small family groups to masses of excited kids being watched over by small numbers of teenage camp counsellors.  Second, it's slippery.  There are mats down but I saw people slipping all over the place, including my Goddaugher, who thankfully was holding my hand at the time.  The walk over the grotto to do the big leap into the pool is both steep and slippery.  I am sure there is a method to the madness but I can't emphasize enough how much more well suited the experience is to older kids.  Third, and what is in my opinion the biggest down side, the pool is very deep!  If you go with kids who are strong swimmers, this won't be a huge issue.  However, be prepared to do your best doggy paddle in the middle of chaotic camper fun and waterfalls while attempting to prevent yourself and at least one child in your party from drowning.  I highly suggest swim float things for younger kids, even if your kids swim in your backyard daily.  

A few other notes...

There is a kiddie pool and it's kind of delightful.  We never spotted it the first year but it was a life saver this year.  At one point all of us, adults included, were hanging out in the tucked away kiddie pool.  Also, at one point, Godsister and I were doing the shallow pool squat stand that adults do in kiddie pools while her daughter, almost four, was standing out of said kiddie pool.  So two adults in the pool, one toddler having a toddler moment out of the pool.  It was funny at the time!  

Pool chairs are an additional fee but worth their weight in gold if you want to keep your pool bag dry.  Also, bring dry clothes as there is a nice changing area and no one likes driving home for an hour in a wet bathing suit.  

And finally, the surrounding neighborhood is stunning.  Grab yourself an ice coffee and take an extra 30 minutes to drive around and admire all the amazing old Florida architecture and mature tree-lined avenues.  Even if you're not a native Floridan, it's easy to imagine what life was like a century ago when this area came to life!

All in all, our second visit to the Venetian Pool was fantastic!  My notes are really just so that you feel like you have a full grasp of the pool should you plan to visit.  I definitely recommend it to all who find themselves in the area!  I'm so happy everyone in our group has been able to see this hidden Florida treasure!

Thanks for planning another outstanding visit to the Venetian, bestie Florida!  


Monday, August 7, 2017

The Great Chicken Salad Throw Down: A Chicken Salad Competition Like No Other

A few weeks ago when I was in Fort Lauderdale {my hometown} with my sisters, we had a cooking competition to beat all cooking competitions.  Blood, sweat, and tears were shed over this epic battle. Themes and strategies were well thought out and in the end, everyone won because we had a flipping amazing lunch.

What am I talking about?  Oh just the greatest idea ever, compliments of bestie Florida. 

The Great Chicken Salad Competition.

Florida is creative and sweet and knows that chicken salad is one of my most favorite foods.  I've made her go to great lengths on occasion to hunt down a chicken salad sandwich with me.  So she proposed this game plan on our one day when all the kids would be in camp.

This is how we go crazy on a kid free day. 

We made chicken salad.  Times four.  And it will forever live as one of my absolute favorite memories from 2017.

So here's how it all played out.  

Florida roasted up four giant chicken breasts to perfection in the morning, giving them time to cool before we started using them.  She provided all the basics like mayo and the contents of her spice cabinet and pantry.  We each brought our own specific ingredients.  Florida also set up prep stations for everyone, with bowls and spoons and everything needed to make chicken salad magic.

Now let me note that I thought that we were each just making a small salad and would each taste a spoon from everyone's small bowls.  I didn't realize until I got there that there were themes and serving platters and pairings happening too.

When Little Sister mentioned needing to run to the store to pick up the wine for her pairing, we took a field trip.  Like a gang of wild and crazy 30-somethings who lost their damn minds making chicken salad on a Thursday morning and were cackling like hyenas through the whole process.  But then...we all decided we needed pairings.  Little Sister came up with the idea but we all found our way to some fun beverages to pair up with our salads.

While part of me wishes I had given this more thought, I stand by my recipe.  I make a variation of this quite often and I just love it.

Curry with Cashews and Apricots Chicken Salad:

* Chicken, shredded
* Mayo
* Curry Powder
* Chopped Cashews
* Garlic Powder
* Chopped Dried Apricots
* Salt and Pepper to taste

I served my Curry Chicken Salad with Cashews and Apricots and on mini croissants and paired it with prosecco.  Because bubbly goes with everything.  Duh.

Loaded Baked Potato Chicken Salad:

* Chicken
* Mayo {1/3}
* Sour Cream {2/3}
* Crispy Bacon
* Shredded Cheddar Cheese
* Chopped Scallions
* Salt and Pepper to taste

This one was Godsister's and it was awesome.  It would also make a great dip if you pulsed about half of it in the food processor and mixed the two halves together.  She served it atop a classic Lays Ruffle Potato Chip and paired with with a Miller Lite.  

Classic With A Twist Club Chicken Salad:

* Chicken, chopped
* Mayo
* Chopped Cilantro
* Crispy Bacon Bits
* Chopped Avocado
* Chopped Tomato
* Pickled Red Onion
* Crispy Chicken Skin

Florida was the mastermind behind this one and it was awesome.  The avocado made it extra creamy and the cilantro, which isn't one of my favorite ingredients, really made it sing.  She served it on a sweet Hawaiian roll and paired it with a hard ginger ale.  And while the pairing was such a good idea, it turns out none of us liked the hard ginger ale, which did not taste like a classic, refreshing ginger ale, and instead was syrupy sweet.  The competition however was solely based on the chicken salad as the pairings were last minute {for everyone but Little Sister} and mostly for giggles.

Light And Bright Chicken Salad:

* Chicken, chopped
* Mayo with Lemon Juice and Lemon Zest
* Arugula, finely chopped
* Parsley, finely chopped
* Green Onion
* Lemon Zest to garnish
* Thinly sliced cucumber to garnish

Little Sister took this competition seriously and it was awesome.  The lemon zest did it for me!  She served it on toasted, homemade sourdough crostini, topped with a thinly sliced cucumber, and garnished with lemon zest and paired with a lovely unoaked Chardonnay.

We all voted but weren't allowed to vote for ourselves, which was not a challenge for me as I loved all of theirs much more than mine.  Theirs were creative and new and I felt silly that I didn't give this more thought beforehand.  Next year I will be prepared for whatever competition we come up with!

The winner was....

Little Sister with her Light and Bright Chicken Salad!  It was outstanding!  And lived up to it's name as it was in fact both light...and bright.

Second place, it seems, was actually more exciting.  So second place went to....

Florida with her Classic With A Twist Club Chicken Salad!  I've never seen anyone more sincerely delighted to get second place.  She may or may not have been chocked up over the honor.  But...we also consumed a lot of alcohol for noon on a Thursday so it's possible that was a factor.  

This was one of the most delightful ways to spend an afternoon with the people I love most in this world.  I walked away with an awesome memory and four solid recipes to make for a lifetime.

Side note: Little Sister, Florida, and I ate leftovers the following day and all decided mine tasted far better after sitting in the fridge for 24 hours.  So if you make the Curry Chicken Salad, do your taste buds a favor and make it a day in advance!

What's your favorite chicken salad recipe?  And do you have any ideas for next year's competition?  We're thinking of tacos but are open to other ideas.  



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