This morning we’re in St. Simon’s, because I’m writing about the War of Jenkin’s Ear for my monthly “Road Trip” in Creative Loafing Tampa and apparently there’s a world outside Florida (who knew?) and, well, something to do with protecting Florida from the Brits. Or protecting the rest of the country from Florida. I’m a little foggy on the details and also, I’ve recently switched to decaf. I’ll have it all worked out by the time the article runs.
I do love the South. Florida, as many Floridians know, is not the South. Oh, it’s south — with a lower case “s” — but not South, as in Deep South. There’s a story there, but it’s not for here, at least not right now. Point is, the South does things different than Florida. Every time we come up here I notice something new. I’ve started compiling a list; feel free to add your own.
- Coon hounds. Or any hounds, really. While we tend to have every sort of dog down in Florida — with an emphasis, oddly, on boxy-headed dogs and dachshunds, go figure — the preferred dog of the South has “hound” in its name. Now, I know what you’re going to say, dachshund is a hound and yes, you’re correct, but people in Florida own dachshunds for their affable cuteness, while up here, it’s because they hunt rabbits or other small prey. This is the one place we can go where Banyan gets more attention than Calypso.
- Dog beaches. The coastal south — at least, the parts I’ve seen, meaning the Golden Isles of Georgia and Hilton Head — allow dogs on the beach. The rules vary (for example, in St. Simon’s, you can’t let your dog on the beach between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day) but result remains the same: people with dogs come here. Also, despite what I’ve heard as an argument against this in Florida, no, the dogs aren’t littered with poop bags and dog waste.
- Harris Teeter. I’m supposed to be a Publix fan; I grew up in Florida and I worked at Publix twice, once in high school and again in college (true story: Florida teenagers by law must work at a Publix). Doesn’t matter. Harris Teeter beats them, hands-down for customer service, value and Starbucks inside the store.
- Low country. I’ve yet to figure out the difference between most of Florida and the low country, but I suspect it’s marketing. Low country sounds better than swamp. It is, also, what it sounds like: the low part of the country. But it’s more than geography; it’s food and a state of mind.
The food was my focus this morning; I had to decide between a low country omelet (andouille, shrimp, potatoes, corn and cheddar, with a side of potatoes) and low country eggs (the same, sans corn and cheddar).
I went with the omelet. The only reason to go with the eggs was to avoid the cheese, and really, when you’re in the South, health food isn’t really a thing. I mean, it is. I could have gotten an egg white frittata, but really, why bother?
It’s not like I’m in Florida anymore.
So, Top Local Chef, an event created by LocalShops1, has asked me to return as a “celebrity” judge for this year’s event. Now, I’d debate the “celebrity” bit, but not too much, because last year I had a great time eating all the things. ALL of them. I want to eat them all again this year. So, come April 26, you can find me in the Gulfport Casino, seated up front among Carlos Hernandez, Janet Keeler, Isabel Reis Laessig, Channel 10’s Mark Rivera, and Pipo’s chef Ramon Hernandez. That’s right, you can pay to watch my awesome table manners. Also, you’ll get to eat, too, which is really why you should buy the tasting pass (of course, watching me try and stuff it all in makes for some good entertainment as well).
In preparation, I’d like to say I’m cooking lots of things, but right now I don’t have a kitchen. I do have some lovely roughed-in wiring, delightful exposed wood, and the chance to see what concrete block looked like the year my house was built. That’s actually another post for another day, when I can laugh a little more about the architect who was TEN DAYS LATE getting us plans to remove a load-bearing wall… Seriously, don’t get me started.
Anyway, what I am doing in preparation for the event is retooling the food blog fellow foodie (and former volunteer test chef for Cooks Illustrated) Tiffany Taylor and I write, AphroditesHearth.com. Right now, it’s hosted on Blogger, and it looks fine but since I started working on this site in WordPress, I’m a convert, and every time I hop over to Blogger to post something, I just get frustrated at what I can’t do. The problem is that I bought the domain on Blogger, and moving the back end stuff is a royal pain in the ass because Google doesn’t . The blog looks fine if you go look at it, but I want it to look better, and for that to happen I can’t use Blogger. For me not to use Blogger I need to draw upon knowledge I haven’t used in over 12 years, and, well, if my brain was a MacBook, that would be no problem.
My brain is not a MacBook. These days, my brain isn’t even a first-generation iPod. No, my brain is more of a Rio mp3 player – remember those? Yeah, me neither, not really, and when I went searching for the link I was shocked to see they were still around. But I digress (totally serious about the brain issues, guys, it’s like pudding up in here some days.)
It’s OK that I don’t remember it all, because Kelly Wright knows everything. I can’t thank her enough for offering me savvy DNS-type advice. This isn’t an ad, because I doubt she reads this and doesn’t know I’m doing this, but if you need web stuff, she’s who I suggest you call. She’s also the one who has retooled the Gulfport Historical Society web site, worked on Reef Dog Gifts and Grooming, the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, and a host of other web sites that look great thanks to her delicate hand. She also has an awesome dog and a great mural in her bathroom, but that’s not the kind of thing most of her clients know. I just think it’s awesome and so I mention it. This is a blog, not a Fortune 500 prospectus. If I want to talk about bathroom murals, I can. So there.
So what have we learned? I like to eat, I like to write about eating, and Kelly Wright is awesome for helping me so you’ll enjoy reading all the food things on Aphrodites Hearth. You can go the web site, of course, and I hope you do, but also please help me out by “liking” it on Facebook, too – and that’s where you can see how great it looks once I work out all this back end bullshit. Which will be this week. Pinky swear.
I love Gulfport, but I also love living near downtown St. Pete. I wouldn’t want to live near downtown at all, but I do love that I can be there in less than 10 minutes (finding parking may take slightly longer.) The waterfront – which is public access, every bit – is, as the mayor said recently, a jewel. When I was in college, St. Petersburg’s downtown was a place one did not go alone, or, really, at all. Things have changed, and I am thrilled.
One of the things I do – and I really enjoy – is speak to people about my work re-tracing the tours from the WPS Guide to the Southernmost State. I’ve lectured and taught at OLLI at Eckerd College for just over a year now, and I love it. There’s something incredibly rewarding about having a group of students who attend your lecture – and pay to do so – when they don’t get college credit for doing so. They just attend because they love learning and find the subject interesting.
This year, OLLI expanded its reach to include satellite campuses at the Westminster retirement communities, and last night the downtown St. Petersburg Westminster crowd (Westminster Palms), instead of heading to the Vinoy Verandah for drinks or walking a few blocks to get dinner, chose to hear me speak about eating your way across the Florida panhandle. I was incredibly flattered, so as a thank you, I made the class sour orange margaritas. Now, the sour oranges didn’t technically come from the panhandle, but they did come from Florida and who hasn’t sat through a class where the lecturer droned on and on in a monotone and you couldn’t wait to leave? Think of my lectures as your reward for those times. You’re welcome.
Read more about it here. If you follow the links you can even find my recipe for sour orange margaritas.