This feels surreal.

Backroads of Paradise
The book will have a cover and pages and a spine and everything. We fancy around here…

Maybe this should be over on my Great Florida Road Trip site, but this isn’t really a post about the book. Well, OK, it kind of is.

My publisher sent me the press kit for Backroads of Paradise and it’s finally hitting me that this book will happen. I mean, yes, I’ve had a contract for a long time but it feels as though it has taken forever.

I have an ISBN number, a press kit, a book launch party, and several book things lined up for the coming months.

This started when I was in fifth grade and decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Fifth grade, happened in 1982. It’s 2016. It’s taken 34 years, a couple of writing jobs along the way, and a book contract, but I finally feel like a “real” writer.

And now a word from our “shameless plug” department: You can help me feel like a successful writer by buying my book here.

Craig Pittman, Backroads of Paradise and Oh, Florida!

When Craig Pittman told me my publisher had asked him to read my book, Backroads of Paradise, I vacillated between thrilled and nervous (this is actually a common state for me). Thrilled because, Craig Pittman, whoo-hoo! — and nervous because, well, Craig Pittman. In Florida circles, he’s kind of a big deal.

He liked it, and said so.

Then I had the chance to review his book, Oh, Florida! Turns out we both like each other’s writing.

Here’s my review on Goodreads, which, of course, links to the full story at Creative Loafing Tampa.

Oh, Florida!: How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the CountryOh, Florida!: How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country by Craig Pittman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I reviewed this for Creative Loafing, and I also know Craig, so know that. However, I was prepared to shred this book if I didn’t like it. I did. A lot. Rather than paste in my whole article about why, here’s the link to what I’ve already said. Big deal to me is how Pittman doesn’t treat Florida as though we have only idiots.
http://www.cltampa.com/arts-entertain…

View all my reviews

The book has landed (almost!)

Backroads of Paradise
This is my book, Backroads of Paradise. Well, it’s the cover. OK, technically, it’s a photo of the cover. Stop harassing me!

You guys.

You can pre-order my book.

Part of me wants to play this cool and be all, “Yeah, it’s cool, you can pre-order my book” and the rest of me — the real me — has an almost-insurmountable compulsion to run around the house screaming “My book! MY BOOK!

So severely conflicted on this am I that it took me 19 full days to write this post, which has to be some sort of record for something, even if it’s a record for how batshit crazy things get inside my head.

Forget all that. The post has arrived, as has the book. It feels as though I’ve lived a lifetime since I first had the idea, which I suppose happens to many writers, unless, of course, you happen to be James Patterson, because that man is a machine. And if you are James Patterson, hi. Buy my book, OK?

Technically, the book has not arrived: You can pre-order it now on Amazon (or from the University Press of Florida) and they’ll ship it to you on October 4, the actual release date. Also, if you want it as an ebook, you have to wait — I mean, not much longer, but apparently the something about metadata or other things I don’t understand and don’t you dare pretend you do, either. The takeaway? You will have the chance to buy the ebook and no, I don’t know when but soon.

When UPF offered me a book contract, my editor told me in no uncertain terms to never promise people a publication date (well, until the Press itself released one) so I would make jokes when people asked me. My favorite one?

“Well, I’m not certain but I’m hoping sometime before we elect a new president.”

I made it with a whole month to spare.

Coon Dogs and the South

No, she's not a coon dog, but she still paid her respects,
No, she’s not a coon dog, but she still paid her respects.

It’s been a long few months and I’m not about to apologize for not posting. Instead of posting, I’ve put the final  (I mean it this time) on my travel narrative about Florida’s backroads, due out from the University Press of Florida in October, and I started working at Creative Loafing, editing the Arts & Entertainment section.

I’ve kept busy, OK? But I miss writing (I always come back to it) and our most recent road trip reminded me that posting on Facebook doesn’t tell the whole story. And so I’ll jump right in without further apology, except to say this post is more flexing a muscle than making a grand point.

We went to Louisville this week and roamed around. On our last day — the day we checked out of the hotel in Indiana, which was a weird thing where I accidentally reserved a hotel on the Indiana side of the Ohio River (it’s too many states, OK? I can’t be expected to keep them all straight) — we debated a few options: Check out the Jim Beam distillery, head to Mammoth Caves, or take the long way through Alabama. Bonus with Option Number Three: The Coon Dog Cemetery.

I’ll give you three guesses which option we took.

Established 1937.
Established 1937.

I will never regret not going to a distillery, and I’m not sure, after a gas stop at the exit by the national park and all its carnie glory, I’ll regret not seeing the caves. I am, however, so glad we took a lengthy detour through northwest Alabama to see this cemetery.

We don’t road trip like a lot of people, I know. We drove through pouring rain, way, way, way off the beaten path, not sure what to expect. Finally, we found the cemetery — about eight miles off the main(ish) road and on the edge of a hill, tiny gravestones — some makeshift, some clearly done professionally — marking the final resting place of people’s trusted companions.

I’m not much for burying dead humans, but this place touched me. You have to prove your dog was a coon hound — and papers don’t suffice, someone associated with the cemetery has to attest to the breed — and they will not bend on this. The Coon Dog Cemetery sits on the edge of a hill, with a picnic shelter, guest book, and a spring. What a perfect place to bring your best friend for their final rest. The raw emotion on the headstones, even when the only emotion came from a weathered collar looped around a cross crudely fashioned from pieces of rough wood, overcame me.

I spent the whole of our time there crying, the kind of crying you do because something makes you sad (why do dogs have to die, anyway?) but also feels good. It was a catharsis, because along with all the good things that have happened over the past few months, some things have been tough. Now’s not the place to discuss what those were, or why. The point is, our visit here reminded me that it’s OK to cry and be sad and I don’t have to keep pushing forward all the time, I can stop and reflect and if I collapse into tears the world won’t end and things will push ever on.

And here’s the point of the post: I want to talk (OK, rant, really) about the South and how people like to make fun. I’m sure at least one of you rolled your eyes at the idea of a cemetery for a specific breed of dog.

There’s some debate as to whether Kentucky is part of the I was glad to see all veterans honored.South. Well, not for me, because, um, no, but for others. It’s pretty (because apparently places other than the South can be pretty) but it isn’t the South. Cave Hill Cemetery, the final resting place of Colonel Sanders (not a real colonel, by the way), has a Union cemetery and a smaller… area… for Confederate veterans.

The South proper, though, gets made fun of — a lot. It has a tough history, because for some, it’s the only time America lost a war (I guess we still count Vietnam as a draw, eh?) and that’s kind of embarrassing for us. How can we be an awesome superpower if we lost a war? Slavery didn’t help, either, because what legacy that leaves the South is a black population historically disenfranchised and still trying to catch up. And, of course, we have a different terrain, different food, and we talk funny.

DSCF5917

That’s OK. Life is different down here — in the Deep South and Florida. We all talk funny, unless we’re from Somewhere Else. We do have different terrain, and also, humidity. It changes how you look at life. I can’t explain it, but it does. We move slower; it’s hard to get excited when it’s 95º in April and awful damn moist out there to boot. We have a connectedness to the land (or the sea) you don’t see in, say, Indiana. That’s no disrespect to Indiana, but please, until you’ve been wholly and completely at the mercy of a hurricane or watched the sun break over the Everglades, you don’t get us.

And then we have to deal with you making fun of us. We’re funny, right? We eat grits, Florida has all these weird-ass criminals, you’ll see rebel flags flying and what the hell does that “Forget, hell!” bumper sticker mean, anyway? We’re backwards bigots, right? Just a bunch of Southern assholes who all vote for Donald Trump and aren’t smart enough to fight our way out of a paper bag.

None of these things are true of every Southerner or every Floridian. But I will grant you this: We live life different down here. You don’t get it. That’s cool. We’re a bit off. I get that. What you may not realize is that the South was settled by a different sort of European. I could get all history on you about how different European migrations found different parts of America, and I could tell you to read David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, which details in beautiful, excruciatingly exacting language, why the South is different than, say, Pennsylvania, and why it has hunting dogs and Pennsylvania has Quakers (I know, I know, people in Pennsylvania have hunting dogs, but it isn’t quite the same, now, is it?)… but I won’t. The least you need to know is this: Like the rest of America, Southerners are not like everyone else. Southerners are flawed and exquisite people, and they have their own cultural history.

And that history is why Southerners have a coon dog cemetery. So you can make all the jokes you want, but until you can understand the beauty of a special cemetery for their (sometimes) hunting dogs, you don’t get the South. DSCF5920#EndRant

The Worst Girlfriend Ever

If anyone out there reading this ever dated me, I’d suggest you get down on your knees and thank the deity of your choosing things didn’t shake out between us. I am, indeed, the worst girlfriend ever.

I love the Florida Keys and have a tradition of going there every year. El Cap, too, loves the Keys and from day one has enthusiastically joined me on my annual pilgrimage. This year I wanted to see the coral spawn, which happens on the reefs during the August full moon. As I no longer receive a regular paycheck, I had the (I thought) brilliant idea to go camping at Bahia Honda State Park.

Friday morning, we packed the RoadTrek with meals, reading material, cameras, and swimsuits. Friday evening, we arrived at the park, which – thanks to not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Tropical Storm Erika, remained relatively empty. Friday night, we used a touch of bug repellant and had no real issues when we took Calypso and Banyan for a walk to the beach by the marina. We swam, frolicked, gazed at a summer moon from the transparent water… basically, it was paradise.

And then we woke up Saturday morning. El Cap stepped outside to walk Banyan, and when I opened the camper door to go outside, he looked frantic.

“Get back inside!”

The look on his face was sheer alarm, so I did. My first thought – because this is where my mind goes first – was that he’d found a dead body behind our camper. My second thought – because this is also where my mind goes – was how shitty it was of him to hog a dead body all to himself. My third thought was that he loved me enough that he would never not let me share in the moment of finding a dead body. This last thought gave me enough peace that I stayed put until he returned inside.

“Mosquitoes!” he said, opening the camper door and ushering Banyan inside – along with a small colony of the Florida state insect.

“I’m sure once the sun’s up they’ll dissipate,” I tell him, and walk outside and cover myself in DEET. We take a bike ride, hang out in the camper, but the one thing El Cap is noticing (and I am not) is the way the mosquitoes don’t seem to abate. We are both covered in chemicals, but the chemicals only seem to work for me. (I should note that even when I don’t wear eau de DEET, I get bit less than most people.)

Saturday night, I want to repeat Friday night and suggest such. El Cap, at this point thoroughly not amused by the mosquitoes that he swears continue to plague him, dons his rain gear (yes, rain pants and jacket, and yes, it’s the Keys in August, so you can imagine how pleasant that was for him) and we walk down to the beach. Except, unlike the night before, the walk is punctuated by El Cap’s staccato swatting and slapping and puffing as he bats at what I am starting to suspect are imaginary mosquitoes. He is dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman and I am wearing a sheer sundress. I think all of four mosquitoes approach me, which leads me to believe these mosquitoes have somehow heard of me, or El Cap may be overreacting. I grow steadily more irritated at what I’m perceiving to be some made-up trauma, and I tell him in short, clipped words that once we get in the water, the mosquitoes will abate.

They do not. He removes the Gorton Fisherman gear and runs, screaming, into the water. This is a man, I’d like to remind you, who has been bitten by a rattlesnake. The mosquitoes, he said, chased him in the water and stayed there. He keeps dunking under the water to relieve their apparent biting, but he tells me, “I can only hold my breath for so long.”

We shower and return back to then camper, with El Cap’s self-flagellation growing increasingly more frenzied. The mosquitoes still show almost no interest in me. All I keep thinking on the way back to the camper is “He needs help, because he’s imagining things. Therapy can help him. He’s so stubborn. He’ll never admit the mosquitoes aren’t real.”

We get back to the camper. He removes his rain gear.

He has so many mosquito bites on him that his back, chest, scalp, fingers, toes, and legs look like the most severe case of the chicken pox you have ever seen. His face has so many bites on them it just looks like red, puffy skin with two nose holes, a slit for a mouth, and squinty eyes.

At this moment, I realize I am an asshole. I also realize we have anti-itch spray but not antihistamine. Why would we? I haven’t reacted to bites in years. I had no idea I lived with the human mosquito magnet.

“I know you didn’t believe me,” he says quietly, “but they really were biting me.” At least, I think that’s what he said. The puffy bites around his lips made it difficult for me to understand him.

Sunday morning, at El Cap’s gentle suggestion, I check Hotels.com to see if there are any reasonable hotels around. That’s where I discover the Islander, which is not only the first place I ever stayed in the Florida Keys but also a hotel I love dearly but rarely visit, has ridiculously low rates. It seems the same tropical storm that ruined my chances of a moonlit snorkel to watch coral reefs have sex also drove people away from the Keys, which may be why I snag us two nights at about half what I would expect to pay.

The Islander is atypical Keys lodging in that it has a hot tub, two pools, beach, restaurant, bar, screened patios, and – this is crucial – no mosquitoes. OK, so really, it’s the beach and the no mosquitoes thing that makes them stand out for us.

El Cap had a dream about mosquitoes chasing him last night.

This morning, though, the welts have started to fade, although the memory, I’m sure, will live forever.

 

I Am Not Lucky.

Everyone wants to be successful.
Word.

I am not lucky, so don’t you dare say I am.

I had this thought last month while driving home from an almost-all-expenses-paid trip to the Florida Keys. TV5, from Quebec, had me down to talk about the nature of Florida tourist attractions. They paid for my room and my expenses there and back. I paid for my food, except a local historical society director bought my dinner.

For those of you playing the home game, this two-day trip is, in essence, my dream. So while driving home along the Tamiami trail, drunk on saltwater and high on sunshine, I had  the passing thought, “I am a lucky son of a bitch.”

My next thought followed immediately, and it was supremely angered by the first thought: No, I’m not.

To be clear: I don’t have bad luck. I’m not unlucky, not by any means. But me being down in the Keys, or having a book deal, or being able to write for a living, has nothing whatsoever to do with luck.

Let’s be clear: I love my life. Every damn day I wake up, delirious with pleasure that I don’t sell insurance or work for a government agency (any more). But I didn’t stumble upon it; I gave up a lot. And I worked hard.

Which was not always the easiest choice. For those of you who think freelancers sit on their ass all day, cherry-picking the best assignments… um, no. It would be a much easier life if I went back to a nine-to-five job.

I’m not built that way. And that’s OK. I love my life, but not because it’s easy.

I’ve earned a master’s degree, and despite what some people say (“Oh, you have a master’s degree in Florida? What was your thesis, eating key lime pie?”) I worked hard to get it. I spent a lot of money and went without going out after work (because I had to read five hundred pages a week, on average), didn’t go on “regular” vacations because every trip was a field trip (yes, I loved them. That doesn’t make them less work), and had to find something new to say about Florida for my thesis (no, it couldn’t be on Florida Man).

As for the book? After having one publisher ignore me completely – and I mean completely, I didn’t even get the courtesy of a form rejection letter – I prepared a proposal package that was more research and writing than most people do to get a bachelor’s degree. And after THAT, after I had a contract, I had to rewrite, then edit, then deal with advance reviews and decide which parts of those were worthwhile and which weren’t, and edit again. And meanwhile – let’s not forget – I still had to work, because only about three people have ever made a living being an author with a conventional publishing company. One is Stephen King, one is the chick who wrote those fake bondage “shades of whatever” books, and one is a guy in Tacoma pretending to be James Patterson. That’s it. So on top of the idea I may never get more than a couple thousand dollars from this book which, by the way, has been my dream since I was nine, I still had to freelance, which means I still had to find work that would pay me.

And I did. But not because I have been lucky. I have worked when other people played, I have written about things that made me want to set fire to my eyeballs (incest, rape, murder, you know, your garden variety injustice), I have gone without the trips to wherever most people my age without children get to go.

To be clear, I don’t regret a moment of it, only that it took me so long to give up a conventional life to pursue this one. I am happier than I ever imagined. I do what I love, and it’s OK that I will never be wealthy or have a company-supplied pension. I am living my dream.

I write about Florida, and sometimes people pay me to come talk to them about Florida. I write about Florida, and, more and more, people pay me to write about Florida. This year, I’m also working on a series of fiction books about – here’s a shock – Florida. El Cap has offered this year to me as a gift to me, and I accepted.

This is my life, and I am blessed beyond measure. Blessed, happy, deserving, dedicated, determined… use almost any word you wish.

Any word but lucky, that is. Luck isn’t a factor. It never has been.

Hold Your Judgment, America: Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos (Hard Candy, Redux)

As of Friday, the United States Coast Guard officially ended the search for 14-year-old fishermen Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, the two boys whose capsized boat was found far north of where the boys were last seen. I cannot imagine the immensity of the pain ripping through their families and their community in Tequesta, not just today, but for years to come.

I’ve followed this story closely. El Cap and I have a life geared around Florida, boats, and the water. Everyone seems to have disdain for the parents and what they did wrong in regards to the boys in the boat. I’ve read and heard a lifetime’s worth of disdain and scorn about those parents. Perhaps you are one of those people who feels the parents may be partly to blame, that allowing two 14-year-old boys alone a boat was begging for this type of tragedy.

Please, Internet, hold your judgment. I know we’re Florida and the popular dog to kick right now, but odds are, you have no clue what you’re talking about. El Cap works for a tow boat company; I’ve worked for several different boat companies. Couple that with the time we spend on our own boat or kayaks, and rest assured, we’ve both seen more than our share of stupid boating tricks. I can tell you that I’ve seen teenagers on boats and I’ve seen adults on boats, and every stupid human trick I’ve seen on a boat involved grown-ass men.

Did Perry and Austin have good parents? I have no idea; I don’t know them. I do know this: Allowing two boys with local waterway knowledge and experience to take a boat they’d run many times into the Loxahatchee River and along the ICW doesn’t make their parents bad parents.

See, people in boats on rivers and in the ICW is what we’re about down here. People move here to offer their kids the kind of life Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos had from an early age. Unless you live in south Florida and know the water as they did, I’d bet money these boys would put you to shame in the water. Did they misbehave and venture out of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway)? Perhaps. Clearly, they left the ICW but why or under what circumstances remain unknown. No one knows what happened. But even if they did leave intentionally, it was misbehavior on par with a teenager from Oklahoma sneaking out after curfew to have some beers with a friend.

To those of you who don’t understand this, sending teenage boys like these two out in a boat on a Florida river or the ICW is absolutely no different than kids in Montana being able to go sledding or snowmobiling, or kids in Ohio being able to ride their bikes around town. Florida – south Florida especially – is a glorious tangle of rivers, lakes, bayous, and bays, a patchwork of dredged land held together with salty sinew. We have more water than land down there. To those boys, the water wasn’t a scary place. It wasn’t a dangerous place. It was as familiar to them as their own street. They knew the local waters; likely, they could read a chart better than most of you.

If they did intentionally leave the ICW – if they hadn’t lost steerage or had an incident that brought them there inadvertently – they were simply being teenagers, pushing the limit, testing boundaries. I’ve talked to a grown man who used to head over to the Loop Road, close to Miami off US 41, until his dad found out and put a stop to it, lest the young kid be killed. Odds are, every one of you reading this did something foolish, too, as a teenager. Drinking and driving? Jumping off the roof of your house? Showing your ass in your new car? Riding your bike in between traffic? Every one of those things could have killed you. Boys will be boys. Teenagers will be teenagers. Just because Florida boys play in boats and not on land doesn’t make their parents any worse than yours, or any worse than you are.

If you are a parent, I guarantee your kid will do something stupid that maybe could kill them one day, too. And I hope it ends better for you than it looks like it will for these two families. If it doesn’t, I hope you are shown compassion many of you are not showing these families today.

So how about you hold that judgment, eh, Internet?

The Recipe File, One Month of New Food, & Feta Shrimp Fusilli

Instead of a recipe box, try file folders.
Instead of a recipe box, try file folders.

I have a habit – I freely admit I get this from my grandmother – of collecting recipes. Not just online (thank you, Allrecipes.com, for making my recipe file feel lighter when, in fact, it’s just getting worse) but in real life, where my once-slim and once-tidy bright pink binder… well, it kind of exploded.

Once we finished the kitchen remodel, I moved my recipe books into my new pantry (Why would two adults need a third bath when what really matters is having a way to store baking goods, that’s what I always say. Well, not always, but this time.) One small problem… the binder wouldn’t hold all the recipes anymore. It was the metaphorical blister on the glossy new lips of my new kitchen.

And so I weeded. I tossed recipes I tried and hated, purged ones that no longer held any appeal, and filed the remainder in sleek file folders.

One folder, the “TRY” folder, taunts me. This month I vow to try each recipe and file or pitch it. If it’s worthy, I will post the results here.

Last night I made this, though, with rave review from El Cap, a/k/a The World’s Pickiest Eater.

Feta Shrimp Fusilli

  • 2 cups fusilli
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled
  •  1 pound Key West shrimp
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup diced cherry tomatoes
  1. Set water to boil for pasta and shrimp (two pots, people, this isn’t one of those Pinterest one-pot meals) and add a dollop of olive oil to the pasta water to keep it from boiling over the lip.
  2. Peel and vein shrimp (or have El Cap do it, as is my preference)
  3. Boil pasta to desired tenderness.
  4. Boil shrimp for three minutes.
  5. Drain pasta and return to bowl with one tablespoon olive oil.
  6. Crumble feta over pasta; mix.
  7. Add shrimp and tomatoes.

Publishing: Conventional v. Indie (And a Cool Book Group!)

“Asking a writer about his work is like asking a cancer patient the status of his disease.”
– Jay McInerney

I’m kind of a snob. Not about clothes, or about money, but about weird things, like intelligence or whether you use bottled tomato  gravy (that’s usually labeled “sauce”). And, until the past year or so, self-publishing.

When I worked at Barnes & Noble – which was not actually all that long ago – we didn’t carry self-published books. Period. Why? Because they were something called POD, which stood for “print on demand”, which meant we couldn’t return unsold copies. If a customer came in and wanted a self-published book, we’d only order as many copies as they would purchase in advance.

Back then, if you had read – or tried to read – a self-published book, you quickly realized many – MANY – of the self-published books suffered from arrogance. Arrogance that the writer didn’t need beta readers, or an editor, or (I swear) to re-read what they wrote before shipping it off. Self-published books, it seemed, were just crap: A shortcut for shitty writers to get “published”.

That was 2007. Today, the game has changed. My feelings about the self publishing industry have changed, in part because I wrote a travel narrative and have a publishing contract with (what I would have called) a “real” publisher a few years ago. Sound weird? Stay with me.

As excited as I am (which is over the moon excited), the realities of it are not quite what you might think. Publishing a book through conventional methods takes time. A LOT of time. As in, I submitted my manuscript proposal in July of 2013 and we’re still a good year away from something people can hold in their hands (or read on the iPads).

I don’t fault the process. I’m thrilled to have the editor I do, I’m fortunate to have others in my industry (Florida) read the book and offer pre-publication insight, and I am wholly and completely overwhelmed with gratitude that in a day when publishing houses grow more and more restrictive in who and what they published, one of them has chosen my words as something worth their investment.

Because make no mistake about it: I (or, rather, my book) is a commodity to my publisher. They’re gambling (much like the stock market or blackjack), and the gamble is that if they invest money in editing, publishing, and marketing my words, they’ll get back more money than they put in to the effort. Because I worked as a freelance writer for many years, I’m OK with this and I’m happy to make whatever concessions they ask to make sure they get a good return on their investment (because that means I get more money, too).

Nevertheless, I am about halfway through the rough drafts of three serial romance mystery books that I intend to self-publish. Why? Several reason. One, the book at my publisher is pretty unique, whereas romance/mystery is not exactly a barren playing field. I’m a realist; I have a better chance of getting that book in front of more eyeballs on Amazon than I do shopping it to agents and publishers and then – if I’m lucky enough to get a contract – competing for shelf space in bookstores. A Florida travel narrative will absolutely benefit from a conventional publishing house that specializes in Florida; romance novels about a mythical Florida town where murders sometimes happen? I believe they’re likely to do just as well – if not better – on Amazon.

It helps, too, that the rules of self-publishing have changed. Writers who want to make a career off their self-published (let’s call today’s process indie publishing to separate it from the horrors of 10 years ago) work use beta readers, hire editors, pay for cover designs, and generally treat their work like as much of an investment as conventional publishing houses do. That’s not to say the crap doesn’t still get published; it does, but thanks to Amazon’s review system, things like that get revealed as such in short order, and the good stuff stands a chance of getting noticed.

My friend and colleague Jon Kile is proof; he wrote and indie-published The Grandfather Clock, and he’s working on the sequel this summer. Next month book is fodder for a new book club that focuses only on Florida writers. It’s called “Critical Drinking” and it’s sponsored by Wordier Than Thou, a literary group that’s not nearly as “Literature with a capital ‘L'” as it sounds.

I’ll let Jon tell you more about that in his blog post. If you live in Pinellas or the Tampa Bay Area, please consider joining us for the book club. Until then, read this “amusing in way that makes me sad because it’s true” blog post about things you should never, ever ask writers.

 

 

Strawberry Basil Mojitos: Mixology By Instinct

Strawberry basil mojitoI haven’t had a functioning kitchen since early January. I’m fantasizing about baking bread and making fish wrapped in paper the same way a teenage boy fantasizes about his first sexual experience.

Case in point: Last night, I went to Pasadena Produce for fruits and veggies. The owner, Mike, suggested some Bosc pears. We chatted for a while, mostly about what the hell I’m doing now that I no longer work at the local weekly paper and also a bit about the kitchen remodel, and then I told him how I would cook the pears if I had an oven that wasn’t sitting in my sunroom, awaiting the arrival of the electrician. I told him I would slice the pears in half, mix a touch of amaretto with pomegranate seeds and drizzle it over the pear halves, and then broil them for just a few moments.

Something in my description must have, um, been intense, because he looked at me for a long moment and very quietly said, “You need your kitchen back soon, don’t you?”

I do. Until then, I’m lucky enough to get to speak at Westminster Palms every month, where I combine Florida history with a few basic recipes. This Monday night I talked about US 41, then hopped over to US 301 in Plant City. My topic? Strawberries. We offered attendees fresh strawberries over angel food cake and, because last month’s sour orange margaritas made such a splash, I made strawberry-basil mojitos.

Now, I have to tell you a secret: My fellow foodie, Tiffany, has a sign in her kitchen that reads “Bake with science. Cook with love” or something like that, and that’s my modus operandi. Anyone can bake: It’s essentially the world’s easiest math problem. I cook with my senses, not my brain: Taste. Texture. Scent. Appearance. Sound. (Yes, sound – you can hear certain things sizzling the right way and know they’re ready for the next step.) That’s how I made my strawberry basil mojitos.

I can’t give you a recipe, but I can give you a guideline.

Here’s what I did: Cover the bottom of a cocktail shaker two layers deep with sliced strawberries. Add torn up basil and mint (enough to cover the red but not so much that some red doesn’t show through, maybe two or three big leaves) and a two count of simple syrup.

Muddle togther. Add ice and a five count of rum. Shake vigorously, then add soda water or regular water to fill glass.

Serve over fresh ice.

It’s a case of trial and error, so if it’s too sweet (this will vary depending on how far your berries traveled), use less simple syrup. Fresh herbs only. Seriously. Also, remember, this is a sipping drink. It will do bad things to your blood sugar if you pound two or three of them.

Salud!