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National Tequila Day: It’s Not Just for Mexico Anymore…

ShootTheJuice

TequuilaGlassTequila will always be connected to Mexico, home of the blue agave plant this enticing spirit is made from. Whether consumed as straight shots or mixed beverages, tequila has an avid following. If music is any gauge, this fan base has been around for decades: Jim Reeves recorded Drinking Tequila in 1955. There are many more songs about the effects of this Latin Lover: Ten Rounds with José Cuervo; Till All the Tequila is Gone; Hey Nineteen; Tequila Sunrise; Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off; Tequila Loves Me; Margaritaville; and of course, Tequila by the Champs. (I like the club remix by Pistel, with the bass way up.)

That much music about tequila (with plenty more waiting in the wings) lets you know that this drink isn’t any plain-vanilla spirit!

Some folks say tequila is only for drinking (or mixed drinks), not pairing with food. Tequila actually goes well with all kinds of food. Maybe I should say “good food.” The Teri Polo menu of champagne, tequila and Krispy Kreme donuts, consumed while in bed, probably doesn’t fit that category.

Some classic options: Chicken tacos; skirt steak for fajitas; or any of these. Here’s a guide for pairing the various styles of tequila (blanco, reposado, añejo) with dishes. Remember these simple guidelines. Blanco is lighter, fresher, and goes well with salads. Añejo is longer-aged in barrels, smooth and a bit woody, and goes well with anything off the grill (for starters). In any case, always follow your palate. Just as with wine or whiskey, it’s not what the experts think that makes the experience for you!

PinkMaggieWant something different? Try pork chops marinated in tequila and pineapple juice; shrimp ceviché with minced habaneros; or simply grill a steak with butter and onions and enjoy.

Now that you’ve had a great meal with a splash of tequila on the side, time to get serious about mixing some tequila cocktails. There’s the classic margarita, of course. Or fruit variations. Frozen or on the rocks, any of these are tasty.

However, the classic margarita may be a bit too “commercial” for many palates. If so try this spicy tamarind-cinnamon version.

Other drinks that have a Latin flair include: Red Sangrita; or the Partida Paloma; or maybe the Juan Collins. I know you like spicy; try the In-Sandiary.

Lots of other cocktails can be whipped up using tequila. How ‘bout an Old Fashioned, invented by Chef Philip Ward? Cinco de Mayo happens about the time of the Kentucky Derby; make the Blackberry Mint Julep to honor both! Or maybe the Bloody Mariachi, if you like tomato flavor like me.

At the end, you’ll want a dessert with tequila too. Shooters are popular these days: Tequila-Lime Pie is tops. (Pie; that’s the reason.) Or make up some tequila cream and serve with mixed fresh berries. Tequila-Lime-Coconut Macaroon Bars are light and easy to make.

Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong with tequila. Even if your choice is the simple salt, tequila and lime tradition. So much tequila, so little time…

Enjoy the (Latin Spirits) Heat!

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Chocolate Chip Cookies with a Kick

ChocoBits

Butter. Chocolate. Chiles. A new food trinity! It’s found in spicy chocolate chip cookies (among other great dishes). Add the other basic ingredients and you can make all kinds of cookies: Chewy or crisp; thick or thin; bite-sized or humongous. A special treat in any case!

We’re also coming into Hatch chile season. Mild or hot, these are some great eating. I make all kinds of things with Hatch chiles when they show up here in central Texas: pepper jelly, fresh and cooked salsas, omelets, quiche and more. Many of these dishes use roasted chiles.

Roasting a Hatch chile is easy. You can blister it in a cast-iron skillet on medium-high, or put it on a baking tray under the broiler. You have to watch closely in either case, or you’ll burn the chile’s flesh. All you want to do is blister/blacken the skin. After that, pop the chile into a brown paper bag, roll down the top and let’er set for a while. (I’m practicing my Southern.) In a bit the chile will be cool enough to handle and peel; don’t start too early, as steaming in the bag loosens the skin. Hold under running water and rub the skin off. I also slit the chile open and take the seeds out at that point.

ChocoStackDice the chile until the bits are smaller than chocolate chips. (Larger if you’re adventurous.)

Now for the fun part: Making Zesty Chococookies! Here’s one rendition:

  • 2½ sticks butter (No substitutes!), at room temperature
  • 3-3¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups light brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips (I like bittersweet)
  • Sea salt or sanding sugar to finish

Set up the stand mixer, and grab out a large mixing bowl. Set the oven for 350° F, and line some baking sheets with parchment. (I now like this better than non-stick spray.) In the mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and the salt. Set that aside and go to the mixer. Cream the butter and sugars together. Once that’s nice and even, add the eggs, one at a time, on low speed. Finish with the vanilla extract.

Next, work the flour mixture into the butter mix, in small batches to prevent clumping. When all of that has come to an even consistency, turn off the mixer and grab a big spoon. Stir in the chocolate bits. Oh, and remember that diced chile? Stir that in too. Remember, at this point you don’t want to over-work the dough or you’ll get tough cookies.

Drop cookie dough, a tablespoon at a time, onto the prepared baking sheets. Space them out by at least a couple of inches, or you’ll get one big cookie! (Okay, that’s no disaster.) Bake for 10-12 minutes, then cool on a wire rack. The only trick is preventing them from disappearing as fast as you’re baking them.

Variations? Of course. Leave out the cocoa is a simple one. Use reconstituted ancho or pasilla chiles, with the addition of some cinnamon, to make molé-tasting cookies. Use a few habanero chiles, if you dare. Serranos, jalapeños, Thai chiles; they all work. Experiment to get the heat just the way you like!

The beauty is, somebody will eat all your “mistakes” …

The (Zesty Chococookie) Heat is ON!

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National Junk Food Day; What Did You Eat?

Salt. Fat. Calories. Yum!!

This is a “holiday” I can really get into. I woke up hungry for junk, too. Something that would blow my diet into the next zip code. Not comfort food, like those little cocktail weenies wrapped in croissant dough and baked. No, I wanted something with salt, fat, calories and way too much flavor.

What I got was coffee with non-fat creamer. And stevia. Talk about a let-down.

I must have looked ravenous as I opened my email for the morning run-through. Spookums, the small tuxedo cat who spends most of her life pretending to be an ornament on my desk, decided that retreat was the better part of valor, or at least of not being eaten by a big, scowling ape. She disappeared for several hours.

Good thing, too, I was considering getting out the deep fryer. But I digress.

The whole morning, and into the early afternoon as work dragged on, I listened to my tummy rumble. Then I pulled off my headphones, shut down the browser, and went scrounging.

First up, chips and salsa. Not exactly junk, you understand; more like one of the four basic food groups in my life. Then a Kind Bar. (Then another.) Some peanuts and chocolate. (Oh wait, chocolate’s never junk food. Scratch that.) Some not-quite-stale pretzel sticks. At least there was plenty of salt in the bottom of the bag. Then a Totino’s Party Pizza, extra pepperoni. I’m sure that gave me at least 400% of the daily allowance for preservatives, not to mention cardboard. All washed down with a pineapple soda. The last one in the fridge.

For dessert I had a hot dog with Sriracha Mayo and extra pickle slices. And some chips made from adzuki beans. (Talk about junk! Whattheheckis an adzuki anyway?)

After that I felt much better. Well, not better, exactly. Okay, I can’t lie; I felt bad. Like I’d just eaten three meals of junk food. Perfect…

Enjoy the (Tasty, Junky) Heat!

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Singapore Sling Pepper Jelly! Now You Can Drink Your Toast…

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»

SingaSlingI was running out of ideas for jellies. Yep, I was shocked too! I mean, there’s only so many batches of cherry habanero jelly you can put up in a season.

I decided my blood alcohol could use a boost. To kick off the positive thinking, you understand. So I went to the liquor cabinet and began to build a tall, cold concoction.

The idea hit before the first sip, and it was so good I nearly dropped my drink. I came to my senses just in time; I hate getting down on my hands and knees with a soda straw to keep from wasting good rum to clean up the mess.

The idea? I had all the makings of a great new jelly: Singapore Sling Pepper Jelly! Well, almost everything. I was out of gin. I prefer rum in my slings in any case, so that wasn’t a show-stopper.

I reset the kitchen quickly and got the Ninja powered up. In went a couple pounds of pitted cherries, some cherry juice, and nearly a pound of fresh pineapple. Oh, and 8-10 habaneros. No sense in making it a mild Sling! A few vigorous pulses and the fruit was ready.

The canner took a while to get hot, even on high. That’s a lot of water! I got the jars into the oven to warm and put some flats into their warming bath. I measured out the sugar and stevia, pectin and spices. I used lemon juice as the acid source, naturally. Nobody makes a Singapore Sling with apple cider vinegar! (Unless they’re really desperate. Speaking theoretically, of course.) Finally, the rum. A generous 3/4 cup. Sadly, that was all I had left.

With everything in readiness, I put the fruit mix into the jelly pot and got going. In just a matter of minutes the jelly was boiling along nicely. I quickly tested the gel, though by now I knew it would come out perfectly. I’ve learned to put in a bit more pectin whenever using alcohol in the recipe. The gel point was spang on.

Filling the jars is always interesting when there’s alcohol in the jelly. You learn not to breathe too deeply as you ladle in the fruity jam. Also, you have to leave a bit more headspace in the jars. I’m using half-pints, so I left a headspace more appropriate to a pint jar. Why? Alcohol’s volatility, of course. Put a tiny headspace on there and you can get interesting effects. Such as blowing the flats clean off the jars in the canner. (Take it from a pro, that’s not a pretty sight. And the wasted rum! Oh the humanity.) Or not getting a good seal when they come out.

I got eight beautiful half-pints of tasty jelly. With a bit left over for breakfast. I couldn’t wait that long, though, with the toaster sitting right there looking lonely.

I wonder what other great drink-flavored jellies I can come up with? Hmmm; I need to refer to the World’s Quickest Bar Guide for more ideas…

Enjoy the (Drink as Jelly) Heat!

Entries in this series:
  1. Red Pepper Jelly Sunday
  2. Pepper Jelly Update: Anybody Got a Gas Mask I Can Borrow?
  3. Tag-Team Teaching in the Kitchen
  4. Lemon Ginger Marmalade, an Easy Spread to Make
  5. Yellow Inferno for Breakfast: Caribé-Habañero Pepper Jelly
  6. Lemony-Hot Jam, a Hybrid Spread With a Slow Burn
  7. Hatch Chiles and Lime, a Great Combo for Jam
  8. Jessica, Your Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly is Ready
  9. Hunting the Wild Prickly Pear in South Texas
  10. Prickly Pear Jelly Redux: Juice, Juice Everywhere…
  11. Charred Pineapple, Habañeros and Bourbon, a Great Jam Combo
  12. How to Push Prickly Pear Jelly Over the Top With Serrano Chiles
  13. Not Your Momma’s Marmalade
  14. A Jam That’s Just Plum Good…
  15. Peaches O’ Eight Jam, the Perfect Pirate Toast Topping
  16. Saint Basil’s Green; It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
  17. Pepper Jelly Redux: Apricot Jam, Extra-Zesty Habañero and Serrano Jellies
  18. Pepper Jelly Sweetened with Stevia: It’s a Hit!
  19. Gardens, Gators, and Green Pepper Jelly
  20. Do Hairless Peaches Make Great Jam? You Betcha…
  21. Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Onion Jam
  22. Cinnamon Plus Heat Equals Magic
  23. March Madness, With Mangos…
  24. StingJam, a New Variety of Pepper Jelly
  25. Butter and Scotch? Not Quite; But a Great Jelly Nonetheless…
  26. White Flesh Peach Zingjam, a Refreshing Topping
  27. More Summertime Fruit Pepper Jellies
  28. Holiday Marmalade with Habaneros and Prickly Pear Juice
  29. Pepper Jelly Makes a Great Christmas Present
  30. Cherry Season is Here, and Cherry Pepper Jellies are Great
  31. Pepper Jellies and the Manzano Chile
  32. Singapore Sling Pepper Jelly! Now You Can Drink Your Toast…
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Pickled Cherries and Pork Fajitas

WetCherries

Nigel Slater recently posted an interesting recipe in the Guardian’s food & drink section. The interesting ingredient is quick-pickled cherries. Not pickles like you might think; this stuff is divine! With cherry season in full swing, it’s time you gave them a try.

BlackPlumsI chose to do something a bit different. (I know, you can’t hardly stand the shock! The Chile Doctor goes outside the box…) I have some beautiful, ripe black plums as well as cherries. So I cut up a couple plums and took the stones out of about three-quarters of a pound of cherries. I tossed all the fruit together with a bit of sugar over them. While the mixture waited, I put together my pickling liquid: 1/2 cup cherry juice, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, and a cup of red wine. I’ve got this four-grape blend that I enjoy cooking with, so I used that. Nothing fancy, though I did consider using some of the nice Norton Malbec I have open. (I did use some of that too, but none made it as far as the food.)

Slater puts star anise and black peppercorns in his pickling mix. I had those, and I added a bit of freshly ground cardamom. I used another two tablespoons of sugar in the pickling mix. I thought about adding cinnamon and cloves, but decided against it. Too many flavors and it would taste like pie or something. Not that pie’s bad, even if I can only eat three kinds. I had a different plan, though.

You see, we had pork fajitas last night, and there was plenty of grilled meat available. How to dress up this leftover? Pickles, that’s how!

After I’d finished the pickled fruit I put the whole shebang into a covered glass bowl in the fridge. A while later I made some fluffy rice. While the rice was resting I got out the pork and sliced it very thinly across the grain. I put the pork into a large skillet and began to warm it. No oil needed for this one. As the pork came up to temperature I added about a cup of light chicken broth. When that began to boil I thickened the sauce with a bit of cornstarch in wine. (NOT the Malbec.) Now some folks might find that approach a bit gauche, but here in Texas we like our sauces. We even like gravy!

The next step after that was to add a few ladles of the pickled fruit and pickling liquid. Stirring that in gave an amazing sauce! Spooned over a bed of rice and it was about as tasty as it gets. It was nearly good enough to fool the dinner crowd. About halfway through the meal, someone asked, “Hey, is this the leftover fajitas?” I simply smiled as I shoveled dinner in…

Enjoy the (Quick-Pickled) Heat!

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Pepper Jellies and the Manzano Chile

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»

ManzanosA

The great summer of tasty fruit continues, and I’m in the kitchen nearly every day making jellies. There’s a shortage of fresh habaneros hereabouts, though, which is unexpected and a bit worrying. I went to the neighborhood Latin foods outlet, and even they only had a few sad, small examples. But right next to that nearly-empty bin were these bright orange, larger chiles Manzano peppers. I’d never tried them before. They look like habaneros after Schwarzenegger’s training program had done its work, and without the odd shapes. Two Manzanos make a handful! They’re not nearly as hot as habaneros, though; more like a Serrano on the Scoville scale.

I loaded up a big plastic bag and ran to the checkout. The kitchen was already set up and ready…

I had a nice selection of fruit: Blueberries, strawberries, fresh pineapple, and cherries. Lots of cherries. I cut open several Manzanos and deseeded them. As with most chiles, the seeds offer a lot of heat, but these seeds are jet black; not likely to be appetizing-looking for many folks. Into the Ninja with the pepper flesh, and some blueberries to start. I didn’t blend this mix down; I left quite a bit of texture. Then I plopped in about a pound of fresh strawberries. A couple more pulses and the fruit mix was ready.

I used

The blueberry-strawberry jelly came out nice, but very mild on heat. More Manzanos for the next batch! This time I topped and seeded half a dozen of these lovelies. This time I used strawberries and pineapple. Very nice flavor, with just a bit of heat. The Manzanos add their own fruitiness as well, producing a whole orchestra of flavors in your mouth. Up on top of warm, buttered biscuits, it’s ambrosia.

The only sadness: I was now out of Manzano peppers. I’m on my way back to the store for more…

Enjoy the (New Chile) Heat!

Entries in this series:
  1. Red Pepper Jelly Sunday
  2. Pepper Jelly Update: Anybody Got a Gas Mask I Can Borrow?
  3. Tag-Team Teaching in the Kitchen
  4. Lemon Ginger Marmalade, an Easy Spread to Make
  5. Yellow Inferno for Breakfast: Caribé-Habañero Pepper Jelly
  6. Lemony-Hot Jam, a Hybrid Spread With a Slow Burn
  7. Hatch Chiles and Lime, a Great Combo for Jam
  8. Jessica, Your Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly is Ready
  9. Hunting the Wild Prickly Pear in South Texas
  10. Prickly Pear Jelly Redux: Juice, Juice Everywhere…
  11. Charred Pineapple, Habañeros and Bourbon, a Great Jam Combo
  12. How to Push Prickly Pear Jelly Over the Top With Serrano Chiles
  13. Not Your Momma’s Marmalade
  14. A Jam That’s Just Plum Good…
  15. Peaches O’ Eight Jam, the Perfect Pirate Toast Topping
  16. Saint Basil’s Green; It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
  17. Pepper Jelly Redux: Apricot Jam, Extra-Zesty Habañero and Serrano Jellies
  18. Pepper Jelly Sweetened with Stevia: It’s a Hit!
  19. Gardens, Gators, and Green Pepper Jelly
  20. Do Hairless Peaches Make Great Jam? You Betcha…
  21. Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Onion Jam
  22. Cinnamon Plus Heat Equals Magic
  23. March Madness, With Mangos…
  24. StingJam, a New Variety of Pepper Jelly
  25. Butter and Scotch? Not Quite; But a Great Jelly Nonetheless…
  26. White Flesh Peach Zingjam, a Refreshing Topping
  27. More Summertime Fruit Pepper Jellies
  28. Holiday Marmalade with Habaneros and Prickly Pear Juice
  29. Pepper Jelly Makes a Great Christmas Present
  30. Cherry Season is Here, and Cherry Pepper Jellies are Great
  31. Pepper Jellies and the Manzano Chile
  32. Singapore Sling Pepper Jelly! Now You Can Drink Your Toast…
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Cherry Season is Here, and Cherry Pepper Jellies are Great

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»

BigCherries01

If you love cherries, now is your time of the year. Ripe, sweet, juicy. Plenty of them, even here in Texas, and at great prices.

I couldn’t resist. I had to get about a ton several bags and make pepper jelly with them. With pineapple or peaches added. Pineapples remain at all-time low prices hereabouts; my last one, ripe and ready, cost a whole 99 cents. And the peaches! Big displays of them for under a buck a pound, with an aroma that you could sense throughout the store. No better advertising than a compelling peach aroma! I loaded up the cart and headed to the checkout.

Then the real problem hit me. It’s not skinning the pineapple, I’ve got that down to a science. Freestone peaches are easy too. No, it’s getting all those pits out of the cherries. One at a time…

I finally fixed the problem by bribing and cajoling convincing PJ, Kai and daughterperson that they would all benefit from assisting me with the pitting marathon. The wailing and gnashing was bearable, mostly by focusing on the wonderful results about to appear: jars and jars of tasty pepper jelly.

Pineapple003How do we pit our cherries? It’s a simple, two-step process, once the cherries are rinsed and placed into big bowls. First, I cut a small X across the bottom of the cherry, then I remove the stem as I pass the prepared cherry to the next big bowl. From there, the pit master takes a cherry and places it, X down, on top of an empty wine bottle. (I won’t expand on the step where the wine bottle got empty.) Using the wider end of a chopstick, the pit is simply pushed out of the cherry and into the bottle.

The next fun part was preparing the fruit for pepper jelly. For the first batch I made pineapple-cherry-habanero. In my new Ninja Mega Kitchen System food processor. PJ got me one for my birthday, and it’s amazing! I’ll write a full review later; just know that my kitchen got a whole lot better with my Ninja to hand.

I used my standard recipe for the pepper jellies. I topped a half-dozen or so habaneros and dropped them into the Ninja’s food processor bowl, with a couple of ounces of cherry juice. I then added a small amount of pineapple and put the processor on speed 2, “Blend.” A few seconds of that and the habs were down to tiny bits. Then I tossed in about a pound of pineapple and topped off with cherries, just to lid level. I processed at speed 1, “Dough,” and quickly the fruit was down into the consistency I like: all small bits, but not puréed.

With the kitchen set for pepper jelly making and the canner simmering away, I put the fruit into the trusty jelly pot with 2.5 cups granulated sugar, two droppers of liquid stevia concentrate, a cup of lemon juice, another 6 ounces of cherry juice, and my secret blend of spices. (Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves; but don’t tell anyone, okay? It’s a secret!) As that came up to temperature I prepared about 3 ounces of Ball powdered pectin in 3-4 ounces of sugar. With the jelly boiling strongly, I spread the pectin mix quickly over the top and stirred like crazy.

The pectin takes effect quickly if there’s good acid and plenty of heat. A test of the gel at 2 minutes showed the jelly was ready for canning. I ladled the slurry into hot jars, placed the lids and rings on, then into the canner they went. Ten minutes later I had nine beautiful half-pints cooling on a dishtowel.

LightPeaches

Since the canner was already hot I recycled the pots and dishes quickly and got ready for the next batch. I put a couple of peaches (no stone, of course) into the Ninja with 8-9 habaneros and topped full of cherries. I actually made two batches this way, netting 16 half-pints of that tasty jelly. Quite zesty too, but not too bad.

The last batch of the day, I used only cherries and habaneros. Toned down on the chiles a bit too, to be sure I could taste all the cherry flavor. In all, I bagged 33 jars of cherry goodness, with nearly another jar in collected bits from the batches. There’s always a bit left in the bottom of the pot, you see. Not enough for a new jar, but certainly I wouldn’t through it away! The collected pot heels go right into the fridge for breakfast the next day…

The (Cherry Jelly) Heat is ON!

Entries in this series:
  1. Red Pepper Jelly Sunday
  2. Pepper Jelly Update: Anybody Got a Gas Mask I Can Borrow?
  3. Tag-Team Teaching in the Kitchen
  4. Lemon Ginger Marmalade, an Easy Spread to Make
  5. Yellow Inferno for Breakfast: Caribé-Habañero Pepper Jelly
  6. Lemony-Hot Jam, a Hybrid Spread With a Slow Burn
  7. Hatch Chiles and Lime, a Great Combo for Jam
  8. Jessica, Your Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly is Ready
  9. Hunting the Wild Prickly Pear in South Texas
  10. Prickly Pear Jelly Redux: Juice, Juice Everywhere…
  11. Charred Pineapple, Habañeros and Bourbon, a Great Jam Combo
  12. How to Push Prickly Pear Jelly Over the Top With Serrano Chiles
  13. Not Your Momma’s Marmalade
  14. A Jam That’s Just Plum Good…
  15. Peaches O’ Eight Jam, the Perfect Pirate Toast Topping
  16. Saint Basil’s Green; It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
  17. Pepper Jelly Redux: Apricot Jam, Extra-Zesty Habañero and Serrano Jellies
  18. Pepper Jelly Sweetened with Stevia: It’s a Hit!
  19. Gardens, Gators, and Green Pepper Jelly
  20. Do Hairless Peaches Make Great Jam? You Betcha…
  21. Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Onion Jam
  22. Cinnamon Plus Heat Equals Magic
  23. March Madness, With Mangos…
  24. StingJam, a New Variety of Pepper Jelly
  25. Butter and Scotch? Not Quite; But a Great Jelly Nonetheless…
  26. White Flesh Peach Zingjam, a Refreshing Topping
  27. More Summertime Fruit Pepper Jellies
  28. Holiday Marmalade with Habaneros and Prickly Pear Juice
  29. Pepper Jelly Makes a Great Christmas Present
  30. Cherry Season is Here, and Cherry Pepper Jellies are Great
  31. Pepper Jellies and the Manzano Chile
  32. Singapore Sling Pepper Jelly! Now You Can Drink Your Toast…
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Time to Get the New Year Rolling!

Sparklies

I know, two weeks into the year is a bit late to announce the kickoff of another great year. Well, I’m lucky to be only two weeks late! What a start…

The Holidays were pleasant, though a bit frantic at times. Not quite a “staycation,” going to various homes of clan members. A quick trip to Sister Creek Vineyards for a case of celebration juice. The Primary Spousal Unit had a break from work that began Christmas week. That was just the start, though. Feasts and gift exchanges, and a bit of running in preparation for the Big Event.

On the 29th we boarded a plane for Saint Petersburg. Not Russia, Florida. More pleasant clime, and we don’t know anybody in Russia. We had a week with the Sheppards (Thanks, Kari and Chris!), the first few days without the kids, who traveled over later. I got in three nice training runs, and some excellent feasting.

First stop, fresh off the plane, was El Cap. It’s only a few blocks away from the Sheppards’ home, so we walked. Clearly not-fancy, El Cap caters to a neighborhood and college crowd. There aren’t many places left in the States today where you can get a cheeseburger for under $4. Or two for $6.50. Plenty of other sandwiches too, like salami, chicken breast, subs, turkey, grilled cheese; even a liverwurst for the crazy ones in your party folks who like to live on the wild side. We had burgers all ‘round, with some fries and onion rings tossed in for good measure. This being a college town, there is a good selection of wine and beer for sale. And the everyday price for a draft domestic brew is $1.20. Nice.

An early trip to the new downtown attraction, Locale Gourmet Market, set the tone for the foraging expeditions. So new the shiny hasn’t really set in, this upscale “destination grocery” has it all: Meats and seafood, produce and baked goods, clever tools for the kitchen, tasty cheeses and so much more. Two whole floors of goodies, in fact. They can cook your selections for you to take home, or to eat in. An eclectic and visually stimulating stop. If you find yourself in the area, take the time to stop by and gawk enjoy.

Four of us decided to walk into the bay side downtown on First Night, the city’s extensive New Year’s Eve celebration. Fireworks, stage and street performances, several bouts of fireworks, and of course, food. Carnival fare, suiting the festivities, from carts and booths scattered about. Or you can dine in one of the many restaurants and pubs in the area. If you can get in, of course! PJ had to have kettle korn, naturally. And a wand, with colored blinking lights, which she purchased from one of the plentiful street vendors. We eventually wound up at Cycle Brewery, where Chris had a RareR DOS and I tried both the Ducky’s Pils and the Granny Gear. I needed a double, after all that walking! And fortification too, as we were about as far from the car as we could get and still be at the celebrations. I had foolishly run a few miles before dawn that morning, to add a bit of insult to my legs. I could have used a third one, but couldn’t make up my mind which so we headed back, slowly.

Seven miles of walking later, we found the car and made our way back to the residence. We were tired enough we didn’t even notice when the midnight fireworks show started.

There is a lot more to report on this New Year’s trip, including the wonderful St. Petersburg Farmers Market on Saturday. And we haven’t even begun to cover the Disney adventures that followed. More on these in coming posts…

Enjoy the (Fast New Year’s Start) Heat!

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