Everglades Breakfast Pizza

Gotta frittata? You betcha!

Ever heard of Everglades tomatoes? They’re a teeny-tiny tomato perfectly suited to Florida’s growing season (read: all year) and taste like candy. They also make a perfectly delicious breakfast pizza, but because it sounds unhealthy to call it “breakfast pizza” I’m going with “Everglades breakfast frittata.” Recipe first, then we’ll chat about the tomatoes (your scroll finger can thank me later).

Everglades tomatoes ripe on a vine with a whisky barrel in the background.
I can’t get enough of these Everglades tomatoes – so much so that there’s rarely enough on the vine for a frittata, because I eat them as they turn red.


8 eggs, beaten

16 pcs. canned and quartered artichoke hearts, rinsed

3 oz. low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella, shredded

1 c. Everglades tomatoes or, absent those, grape or cherry tomatoes


  1. Coat a cast iron skillet with cooking spray and pre-heat oven to 400º.
  2. Whisk eggs in a bowl, then pour into skillet. Turn flame on low.
  3. For Everglades tomatoes: smush them over the skillet (so juices run onto the eggs) and drop them in the eggs at equal distances (you want a tomato in every bite). For grape or cherry tomatoes: Pierce each tomato with a knife over the eggs, then pull into pieces and scatter across the eggs in the same manner as above.
  4. Sprinkle the artichokes over the eggs. If you don’t like ‘chokes, don’t use ’em. Think pizza toppings here: If you like it on a pizza, throw it in.
  5. Sprinkle cheese over the eggs. The aesthetic is a pizza with an egg-type crust.
  6. Cook over low flame until edges set, then transfer to oven for 15 minutes. When you remove it from the oven, it will be slightly puffier than you’d expect, but if you’re not eating the whole thing, it’ll settle down by the time it cools and is ready to store.
  7. Cut like a pizza. Sprinkle with garlic salt and red pepper flakes. Layer slices with wax paper to store. Reheat for one minute in microwave.
Requisite photo of eggs and whisk.

OK, so now that you have the recipe, WTF are Everglades tomatoes? Scientifically, they’re Solanum pimpinellifolium, but that doesn’t really tell you much, does it? Some people call them currant tomatoes, but none of those people are here, and also, they’re wrong. They’re not currants; they’re tomatoes. They’re just… teeny. And tasty.

Our friend and neighbor, Bob, gave us a great wedding gift a few years ago; he called it a “salad a day” barrel. It was a half-whiskey barrel planted with lettuce, radishes, carrots, and other salad makings growing in it, and extra seeds. The idea was that as we picked enough for a salad, we added more seeds, and we’d have salad forever. We live in Florida, so forget having greens year-round, but every winter a few lettuce varieties pop back up, which is nice.

Bob also included Everglades tomatoes in that barrel, and a few years later I added some more seeds, and every year they keep giving us more tomatoes. In South Florida, they grow pretty much all year, but here in Central Florida, there’s a few months weeks where the vine almost – almost – dies, but then they’re back.

As for their taste, they’re almost candy-like, but not too sweet. They have almost no acid, at least not that I can taste, and they’re gorgeous on the vine. They’re small enough they won’t make a mess when you bite them, and while you’ll never get enough to make a spaghetti dinner (well, OK, maybe those of you with the wherewithal to not eat them as you pick them will, but I am not that person), they’re perfect in frittatas and other dishes. I’d caution against using them in stews or soups, because it’s a shame to share the flavor with other veggies, but in simple dishes, they really shine.

Here’s more info on my favorite Florida tomato ever, and if you want to get some, here’s where I order my seeds (although, again, the tomatoes simply keep coming back, which is nice, but maybe also an argument for container gardening.) They’re heat-happy and drought-tolerant, which I know because since we installed drip irrigation, anything in a container has to live or die by its own merits, despite my best intentions.

Alligator Pie

No alligators were harmed in the making of this pie.

As have so many people, cooking and baking is part of my quarantine routine. Perhaps not so much like many people, I’ve been sifting through my grandma’s recipes. These are recipes I saved in my 20s, before she died but after she was able to talk to me about them. One by one I’ve made them and decided whether or not to keep them, alter them, or get rid of them.

Some of the recipes weren’t hers, per se, but ones she’d trimmed from one of her many magazines. Alligator Pie is one such recipe, although that’s the name I gave it. No, Grandma Rae saved the not-as-creatively named Ricotta Spinach Pie recipe. After I made the crust, I had some pastry left over, so I improvised with an alligator cookie cutter (hey, spinach is green, so it kind of hangs together!)

Below, find the recipe with my modifications.

2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup chopped shallot
1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 container (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 c. finely chopped prosciutto
Dash teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. sherry
Pastry for 9-inch double-crust pie (I made a gluten-free one but you shouldn’t if you don’t have to)

Preheat oven to 425º

In medium skillet melt butter. Add shallots and saute until translucent; cool slightly. Add spinach and sherry ; cook until all butter is absorbed and the sherry has cooked down. In separate bowl combine ricotta, spinach and prosciutto. Add eggs, Parmesan, prosciutto, salt, pepper and nutmeg; mix well.

Roll out half the pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate. Bake 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and add filling.

Roll out remaining pastry and place over filling; seal edges. Cut several slits in top. I used an alligator cookie cutter to fashion the remaining pastry into alligators. With oven rack on lowest position, bake 20 min-
utes. Reduce temperature to 350°F and bake 20 more minutes. Serve warm.

Randy Wayne White & The Sunshine Plate

The Sunshine Plate
From The New York Times, this recipe sat, unused, far too long in a binder.

Randy Wayne White. I discovered this guy in my twenties, when I was starved for Florida fiction and he happily provided. A few years back, he published a cookbook, and it has (among other things) one of the best recipes for a shrimp curry you will ever taste. I’m not posting it here because I feel strongly you need to buy his Gulf Coast Cookbook and test the recipes yourself.

White lives in Pine Island, which is near Sanibel without being anything like Sanibel. I wrote a piece about the cluster of small coastal towns that exist on the island once in 2009, for Visit Florida, and I called it “The Florida Time Forgot.” I wrote about it again on my non-food (mostly) blog, Just Keep Swimming, in 2010, and in my soon-not-really-soon-to-be-a-bestseller-book about Florida, I describe Pine Island as the tomboy little sister to Sanibel’s prom queen appearance. Lots of fishermen here, so of course I wanted the shrimp recipe when I saw it in The New York Times Magazine in 2010.

Of course, I didn’t make the Yucatan Shrimp (but I will) – I actually used the pork recipe beneath it. And, me being me, I modified it, and you can find my version of the pork with pineapple salsa below.

Pineapple Salsa

1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple, peeled and diced

1  jalapeño, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons ginger (I used the jarred stuff)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon fish sauce (You can add more if you want more heat)

Juice of one lime

One pork roast, cut into 3/4″ thick slices (the salsa will top eight pork steaks)

Salt and pepper (I use kosher salt and grind the pepper)



1. Season pork with salt and pepper and sandwich pieces of mint and cilantro between them. Set aside while you…

2. Mix salsa in bowl.

3. On a quite hot grill – makes no matter to me if you use charcoal or gas; we used gas this time but will use charcoal if the mood suits us and we aren’t too hungry to wait for the flames to start to die – grill pork about  3 minutes per side.

4. Top with salsa.

5. Share and enjoy!


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.


The Florida Derby

I’m still working without a kitchen, so we’re back to drinks. This one ties into The Mai Kai, Florida’s first (and, actually, the best) “Dinner and Show” experience has excellent food and excellent drinks.

The Mai Kai, takes their drinks as seriously than Trader Vic’s and the Beachcomber. Look on the Mai Kai menu and you’ll see they’ve tagged several of their cocktails with the ® symbol, indicating that they’ve registered the drink with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. According to current Mai Kai manager Kern Mattei, the Mai Kai watched the legal battles between the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s over tropical drinks and decided to play it safe and register their drinks. While this has undoubtedly prevented lawsuits over the years and keeps other Tiki bars from copying the drink, it has also done two other things: It keeps neighboring bars from directly competing with the Mai Kai by offering the same cocktails and it has kept a major bottling company from offering a commercialized, watered-down version of the cocktails in mini-marts across the country.

The Mai Kai serves a bevy of drinks; they take great pride in the entire process of getting a drink to the customer. Customers never see either of the two bars, which have so many ingredients that they look more like kitchens. A “master mixologist” makes their syrups in house and codes them. No one else on staff knows how to mix the syrups. While the Mai Kai codes their mixology in much the same manner as Beachcomber, they limit the coding to instructions like “use Syrup One.” They also admit that while they like the mystique coding mixology fosters, they use the syrup code to make the drinks more consistent, efficient to make, and to help control their inventory.

The cocktail experience at the Mai Kai continues with the girls who bring the drinks. Barmaids don’t work at the Mai Kai; instead the Mai Kai calls their servers “sarong-clad maidens” who, up until recently, had to have dark hair to keep with the theme of the South Seas. The Mai Kai seamstress custom makes each girl’s outfit. These “maidens” don’t mix the drinks. They simply take your order, disappear behind a wall, and reappear with your drinks. Spending time chatting with a maiden at the Molokai bar at the Mai Kai reminds you of talking to a true Geisha. Management chooses girls who have striking physical attributes, so much so that one might think they have pudding or sugar syrup instead of a brain, but they speak intelligently about Florida culture. It seems the Mai Kai has not only endeavored to perfect Florida drinks but also foster an air of Florida culture.

As for those drinks: You can choose from stunning array of drinks, over 40 cocktails in addition to beer, wine, and soft cocktails. They’ve pared that selection down from roughly 60 drinks they served when they opened in 1956. The original Mai Kai bartender, Mariano Liciudini, created the drinks in tandem with then-owner Bob Thornton. The Mai Kai serves up pricey cocktails; a Mai Tai costs roughly $11. However, the drinks outclass the lemon shooters available for less than half that along the beach bars not far away. They serve each drink in a different glass, including a shrunken head shaped mug and a Tiki shaped glass. True Tiki cocktails have some pretty strong alcohol to mixer proportions, and the Molokai bar and the restaurant both serve cocktails that patrons sip, not slam, and mixologists and bartenders don’t shy away from the alcohol content. They still use original recipes for almost all their drinks.

“If you make a good drink with the right ingredients,” Mattei says, “you’ll never have to change the recipe.”

The Derby Daiquiri dates back to 1961, when a Mai Kai bartender created it to enter into a contest to name the official drink of the Florida Derby. In the days predating Floridizing mainstream cocktails, the bartender made a daiquiri with Florida orange juice. The Derby Daiquiri won first place and the honor of “The Official Drink of the Florida Derby.”

The Derby Daiquiri

3 ounces rum

3 ounces fresh squeezed Florida orange juice

1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice

1 ounce sugar syrup (or 1 tsp of sugar)

Combine all ingredients into a blender, add 2 cups ice, and process until smooth. For non-alcoholic, substitute club soda for rum.


Margaritas, Sour Oranges, and Downtown St. Pete

Making sour orange margaritas
Me, muddling brown sugar, Tupelo honey, and key limes for my class. I’m kind of an awesome teacher.


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 WPA’s 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.

Sour oranges
A sour orange, soon to be a margarita for my students at the OLLI program at Westminster Palms.

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.

Florida Studies Margarita

a sour orange
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Ever since I took the Florida Foodways class (see Karma’s a Bitch for more on that) I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of a Florida cocktail. I even attempted to research it, which, according to my professor, didn’t work out for me, but hey, that could have been the whole itching powder thing a few years back or just crappy research on my part. Whatever. Anyway, when I couldn’t find a definitive Florida cocktail, I got to thinking that I could come up with one. I worked with key lime margaritas for a while, but when the Florida Studies program went to Fisheating Creek a few months ago, I grabbed a handful of sour oranges growing wild there. I wasted that batch on a sour orange pie that I didn’t really care for, but when the faculty went back last week two of them were kind enough to make sure I got a fresh batch. I’ll try sour orange pie again, but until then…

Florida Studies Margarita

Mull all but one slice of key lime covered with a healthy dose of Tupelo honey (purchased on north Florida field trip with the Florida Geography class); add to shaker.
Add ice, and then…
5 counts tequila,
4 counts triple sec,
and the juice from one sour orange.

See? Higher education… it’s a good thing!
Shake. Serve with or without ice; garnish with key lime slice.