Just Keep Swimming…

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.

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  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.

The rarest type of celiac

Update on the KAN-101 drug trial and why it’s no fun to be unusual sometimes.

I don’t qualify for the KAN-101 celiac drug trial. Since traveling to Miami to undergo the screening, I waited for confirmation of my Sept. 8 infusion appointment, 21 days after which I would, in theory, be able to eat gluten (bread!) with no ill effects for an as-of-yet-undetermined mount of time. When I saw the doctor’s cell number on my list of missed calls, I got excited. Very. Excited.

Dr. Saltzman’s voicemail, however, gave me pause: “I need to talk to you about your bloodwork.” No one wants that call from a doctor. I called him back and he gave me the not-great news: While otherwise healthy, I have the wrong celiac antigen in my blood and do not qualify for the trial. Which also means if and when this drug gets approval, it probably won’t work for me. The conversation went something like this:

Doctor: No one is more disappointed about this than I am.

Me: Oh, I highly doubt that.

Then I hung up the phone and cried. The Gabber office is about as big as a closet, so my staff had already figured it out. And yes, I know people have far worse health problems than “can’t eat bread,” but that does little to help my particular disappointment.

The wrong antigen — HLA-DQ8 — is uncommon in people with celiac. Really uncommon. My friend, colleague, and scientist-by-training Jen Ring explained it all to me in gentle, no scientist terms. The long and short of it is this: Five percent of celiacs have HLA-DQ8. As only one percent of the population has actual celiac, that means I have something that impacts five percent of one percent of the population, or: one-half person per thousand has the same genetic makeup of celiac and antigens.

This should have shocked me. Years ago, I learned I didn’t have the same RH factor as either of my parents. Rare, but not impossible. This, incidentally, prevented me from getting a specific treatment for an immune disorder (doctors now believe my undiagnosed celiac may have triggered that disorder) so instead of getting drug therapy, doctors removed my spleen.

And *why* did my celiac go undiagnosed? Because, friends, I have silent celiac, which — you guessed it — doesn’t happen that often. I didn’t have traditional symptoms.

The moral of this story? I really should look into PowerBall as a career strategy.

The Ghost Cat

I’m a creature of habit. I wake up early most days, feed the cats and dogs while I wait for the water to boil, and then sit down on the couch, sip tea, and mediate. I love the quiet of the pre-dawn hours; when, for whatever reason, I sleep past sunrise, I never feel as relaxed as I do on the days when I wake before the sun.

This morning, as I sipped my tea and got ready to meditate, I saw the shadow of a cat on the living room floor. I looked around, but saw no cat. The shadow was large, then small, and seemed to move across the floor independent of anything I could see in the room. My natural reaction was “we have a ghost cat” because of course it was. The idea of a ghost cat unsettled me more than a little; an indifferent ghost cat, I could handle, but I read “Pet Sematary” and knew how this would go down.

Anyway, my heart’s going full speed, and the last thing I’m about to do is get up an investigate and I didn’t need to because I knew – just KNEW, mind you – we had a ghost cat. The shadow of the cat kept twisting on the floor and I’m edging close to hysteria (why the idea of human ghosts don’t bother me this much, I don’t know) and then I see a flash of something.

Cat sitting on chair in dimly lit room
This.

In the chair, tucked just out of site under our bar, was Hobie Cat. I’d lit one of the those Christmas candles that make the house smell like pine and cinnamon, and it cast a shadow over her onto the floor. I couldn’t see her, of course, just her shadow.

Some may say she had no clue what she was doing, but those of you who know cats – specifically, Hobie Cat – know better.

Needless to say, I really needed that 15 minutes of Zen after that.

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.

#BecauseGluten: A drug to treat celiac?

I’m part of the first clinical trial for a drug that will treat celiac and let celiacs eat gluten

Ever since my December 2016 celiac diagnosis, I’ve longed for the day I could eat gluten again. If you’ve slogged through this gluten-free journey from the beginning, you realize that getting a celiac diagnosis changed my life.

See, I didn’t exhibit the typical signs of celiac. When I ate bread, my stomach was fine. I didn’t have what we celiacs politely refer to as “gastrointestinal distress” and also, in a kick in the ass from karma, I loudly and proudly scorned the gluten-free movement sweeping America.

I did have severe anemia and osteoporosis, and my doctors found that peculiar and alarming for an otherwise-healthy 43-year-old. My regular doctor referred me to a hematologist who referred me to Dr. Abithitch Patil, a gastroenterologist who exhibited far more patience with me than I deserved. Five days before I turned 44, Dr. Patil diagnosed me with celiac.

Happy birthday to me.

I stopped eating gluten on January 1, 2017. While I’m grateful to Dr. Patil for his diagnosis — I do have more energy and my bones aren’t crumbling to dust anymore, which by and large makes me happy — not a day goes by that I don’t resent my gluten-free bread and pasta. Yes, food chemistry’s come a long way but trust me, not far enough.

I have coped in various ways, not all of them healthy. I’ve gained almost 60 pounds I cannot seem to shake. I will smell bread when it comes to the table at a restaurant. Going out to eat is actively stressful. I have many thoughts about the ways the gluten-free movement has helped and hurt celiacs. I have investigated almost every gluten-free product available (see: gaining 60 pounds.) I’ve created workarounds for baking without gluten. I scour the celiac.org website in search of news about treatments on the horizon. I’ve signed up for every trial I’ve seen in the past almost-four years and have qualified for none of them.

Until now.

Kanyos Bio, a biotech company that has found a way to fidget with T-cells, has a drug that’s progressed to trials on humans. When Dr. Saltzman called me to tell me I’d been approved for the study, I had cautious optimism. It took me a few weeks to decide to try it, and after much deliberation, I decided to proceed. Monday I traveled to Miami for a screening to ensure I checked all the boxes. Here’s what I learned about the KAN-101-01 study.

After a few phone conversations with Dr. Saltzman about the study, we reviewed everything in person. He took my medical history, and his staff drew blood, took urine, and did an EKG. We’re waiting on my medical records from my gastro to proceed, but I have the infusion date tentatively set for Sept. 8.

Here’s what I learned, in no particular order:

1. While I am either the first or second celiac in the study to get the infusion, they have given this to non-celiac adults in much higher dosages. One person (I believe) had slight gastrointestinal distress, but, again, this is at much higher doses than what I’ll get. Non-human primates tolerated the drug well, overall. 

2. My phase — Phase A — is what they call “open-label,” which means no one gets a placebo. 

3. The drug will alter the part of a celiac’s T-cells that cause the reaction that takes place when we consume gluten. The rest of the T-cell remains intact.4. The infusion itself should take no more than 30 minutes. I will spend the night at the facility and they’ll take my blood an insane number of times and make sure I’m not having any reactions. This is the only infusion I will receive.

5. I’ll return once a week over the following 21 days. Day 1 is a 24-hour stay. Days 4, 7, and 21 are shorter visits not unlike a doctor’s visit.

6. On Day 22, I am released from the study and should be able to resume a normal diet, gluten and all. They do not know how long the efficacy of the drug will last; indications point to anywhere from 6-12 months. 

They have several sites around the country; I am one of three celiac patients in Phase 1A at this location. They need more celiacs; getting people to travel to sites during COVID-19 has slowed the trial. 

The study still needs volunteers who have a celiac diagnosis via biopsy and blood. Here’s more information.

Finally, I’ll chronicle how it goes as I go through the trial — and what it’s like afterwards. Search this blog for #becausegluten to find more entries about my journey with celiac.

I’m buying the Gabber!

Happy May, Florida fans! 

How’s your Florida pandemic going? I’m spending a good amount of time in my garden (current crops-in-progress include beans, datil peppers, Everglades tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, loofa, and strawberries) and wondering why the weather’s so mild. 

Oh, and I’m buying a newspaper. 

Some of you may have read that I’m under contract to buy the Gabber Newspaper. The Gabber is a longstanding Gulfport tradition, published every Thursday.

That’s big news, and while both the Tampa Bay Times and Creative Loafinghave covered it, I’d like to tell you about how I made this decision and what it means for my life as a writer and speaker. So let’s go back to March, when the Gabber announced that, because of COVID-19-related advertising losses, they had no choice but to cease publication. This bothered me more than I expected; I worked for the Gabber Newspaper from 2003-2015, and I couldn’t quite picture Gulfport and the surrounding communities — South Pasadena, the beaches, and St. Petersburg — without the Gabber. 

wrote a piece for the Tampa Bay Times about the Gabber closing, and soon began receiving emails from people, asking what they could do. Among the emails were a few from people who knew the Reicharts, so I forwarded those along. Those exchanges led to a discussion of whether or not they’d sell the paper, and, after much discussion in our home, with my CPA, and with the current owners, my husband and I decided yes, buying the Gabber made sense.

Until the sale closes, I’ve assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the paper, and I’ve brought back the former editor, one of the former reporters, and hired a designer recently laid off from another newspaper. We’re publishing online daily, but on a limited basis until advertising picks up again. 

Everyone on the new team believes in Gulfport and the Gabber as much as I do. Over the next few months we’ll hire a salesperson and counter help, hopefully move into a new space, and resume publishing the print version of the weekly paper. 

But back to the Florida aspects of my life. What happens with my next book? My fiction? My lectures at Eckerd and elsewhere?

That’s all staying put. Writing and talking about Florida is as much a part of me as breathing, and I would be quite sad if that ended. No doubt, as the paper weathers the pandemic and I adjust to owning it, it’s going to take a good chunk of my time, but that’s OK, because I’ve found I need non-writing work to write well.

Some writers, like Stephen King, can sit down at the start of a business day and write. I have tried to do that, but it doesn’t work for me. I sit there and nitpick at words or — worse — don’t type anything at all. 

What does work for me is engaging the less-creative part of my brain early in the day. Only then, after the sun’s gone down and my left brain is wiped out, can I focus on writing. This is how I’ve become a spreadsheet junkie. I love to make spreadsheets and work out formulas during the day. Perhaps my regimented left brain needs to get a workout before the right brain side of me activates? 

Regardless of why that system works for me, it does. As long as I don’t have to write during the day, I can write at night, and that’s when my writing is at its strongest, too. I’m still working through the editing process on the next book, and when that isn’t occupying my time, I’m working on my fiction. (Beta readers, please reach out if you don’t receive chapters six and seven by Tuesday night!)

I’m looking forward to this new chapter of my life just as much as I’m anticipating seeing you all at a book signing or Florida lecture soon. 

One last thing — some people have asked if they can help. If  you feel so moved to support the Gabber as we move forward, there are three ways you can do so:

1. Buy prepaid advertising gift cards that people can redeem at the 2016 advertising rates. Businesses are buying these, but so are people who want to help their favorite restaurant/salon/shop — they’re giving them to local businesses. When they do that, they help two businesses: the Gabber, and whoever receives the gift card. Buy prepaid advertising gift cards of any amount here.

2. Donate to keep the paper running again now. People who simply want to donate to the paper now can do so at our Indiegogo fundraiser. None of this money goes towards the purchase of the paper; rather, it goes instead to pay the paper’s current expenses, including payroll. If the sale somehow falls through, it will go to the current owners to pay their bills. 

3. Make a low- or no-interest loan. While we’re using some of our own money to buy the paper, we’re also financing part of the sale. We’ve benefitted from a few private loans, with interest rates between 0-5% and a one-year grace period. Please email me if you want to help in this way, because I’d rather pay any of you interest than a bank. 

Stay safe, and we’ll see each other soon-

Walking in a time of Coronavirus

Every day I walk. Before coronavirus — and that’s how I think of everything now, before and after coronavirus — these walks happened sandwiched between work, a way to escape the dozens of daily tasks pulling at me. My FitBit compels me to walk 15,000 steps a day, bumped up from 12,000 right before it all went to hell earlier this month. The steps don’t matter as much as the mileage: I shoot for between four and six miles every day, and, with little exception, I get those steps in Gulfport.

If I take the most direct route, it’s a mile from my house to O’Maddy’s, which is across the street from Boca Ciega Bay. I rarely take the direct route because — as the savvy mathematician will note — that would only give me two miles, half of my minimum. Before COVID-19, I’d walk through downtown, but it’d be a challenge to get the steps in because I’d stop at the Beach Bazaar to say hello, or at Stella’s for a shrimp omelet, or Sumitra for coffee. Yes, I was moving, but the shrimp and feta omelet with a side of grits erased any  good the extra steps did. Also, El Cap wondered why it took me four hours to walk three miles. 

So I started walking elsewhere. Now, Gulfport’s not a large city; geographically, it takes up two-and-half square miles between St. Petersburg and the unincorporated area of Pinellas County. If this leads you to believe, as my friend Amanda said, that I’d run out of new places to walk, think again. 

Gulfport has alleys. Lots and lots of alleys. They’re not always the prettiest, and they’re rife with that fine Myakka soil, which is to say I have to wear actual shoes (not my Columbia flip flops) if I want to walk the alleys. That’s fine; on the days where I feel the most anxious, I’ll walk seven or eight miles, and I only did that once in those flip flops before my knees reminded me that age may be a state of mind, but not for them.

Even when I’m not anxiously pacing the city for eight miles, there’s plenty to discover on these walks. Yesterday I found a cul-de-sac I had no idea existed. Last week I found a stash of dock pilings, free for the taking. Since January, I’ve found about six bucks in spare change, including a five dollar bill. I’ve listened to about four or five audiobooks, although I can’t bring myself to cue up The Handmaid’s Tale right now.

I love this town, I really do.

I’d forgotten, I think, how much fun it can be to roam through Gulfport with no real purpose. I’m finding Gulfport Easter Eggs everywhere — an alley fence decorated with old signs, a mural hiding in plain sight, little fairies perched in tree branches. Every street, every alley, every walk is a game of hide and seek, and I never know what I’ll find. Skeleton wearing headphones and Spock ears? Check. A fence with a Dr. Seuss quote? Check. A bejeweled mailbox? Check. I see so many of these I started posting them on the Gulfport Chamber’s Instagram page with the hashtag #GulfportScavengerHunt. Nothing soothes my soul more, it seems, than seeing Gulfport doing what Gulfport does, and these little surprises on my walks epitomize what I love so much about this city. 

Those pilings? When I mentioned them to my neighbor, she casually asked me where they were. I assumed she wanted some (we both have an affinity for nautical decor.) Not even 15 minutes later, she came to our door and told El Cap she had a present for us; she and her wife took the kids and their big-ass pickup truck to get three for us (look for a new mailbox soon!) That five dollar bill? I didn’t feel right keeping it, so I went to A Friend Who Bakes. El Cap has a scone problem and Brittney is his enabler; I figured I found the money in Gulfport, so I should spend it in Gulfport. 

These walks, in more ways than one, are a balm for my soul. Walking Beach Boulevard these days is panic-inducing; Gulfport’s downtown looks like it used to look when I moved here 17 years ago: Plenty of parking, a few — but not many — people on the streets, and businesses devoid of customers. Those who aren’t open all display a variation on a sign we all know well, about COVID-19-related closures. I can’t stop in Stella’s for an omelet on a whim (although I can get one to go.) I can’t walk along our beach. I can’t stop and see Deacon at GulfPerk, order a chai, and pretend I’m not going to order a gluten-free donut. All the things I can’t do as I walk downtown trigger a fight or flight response in my brain and, honestly, the shortness of breath that comes with panic attacks is not what I need right now. 

Here’s the thing, though: Walking through the rest of Gulfport makes those walks downtown less panic-inducing. Everything is horrible, but at least we know everything is temporary. 

Everything, I hope, except Gulfport. I would miss the walks.

I Love Luci (still)

“One is silver and the other is gold” always sounded like a passive aggressive thing to say about either your new friends or your old ones. I was never sure which, but since I’m a white gold kinda person, it really doesn’t matter.

Either way: In the summer of 1983 — that’d be 36 years ago — my fifth grade teacher felt bad for me because I was such a geek and had so few friends (mostly Dee. In fact, pretty much ONLY her) that she decided she’d introduce me to a fellow schoolteacher’s daughter.

My mom probably figured a schoolteacher have a polite, smart daughter, much like the one she was trying her damndest to raise as well (any failings are on my part, not hers.)

When I walked into Luci’s bedroom for the first time, I met her pet rat and I thought that was the coolest thing ever (I was only allowed a parakeet) and also I met one of my oldest, dearest friends.

While Luci’s ma did indeed raise a polite, smart woman, Luci has also proved well-matched for me in many other ways. We’ve seen each other through some, ahem, adventures, like the Dunkin Donuts Debacle of 1991, the Really Spicy Chinese Food At That Really Sketchy Place, the Illegal Hairpin of 1991, the Great Divorce of 2002, Cathy’s First Incredibly Painful Tattoo, The Great Divorce of (we think) 2012, The Weird Al Cover Story… the list goes on and on.

And, of course, one of Lu’s brilliant daughters is our live-in cat sitter while we’re on the Great Southeast Adventure. Sitting and talking with her is like talking to a slightly more sophisticated version of twenty-something Luci (no offense, sweet cheeks, but your daughter is all dry clean only and you and me, we’re cotton kinda gals) Only slightly, though, because she’s already offered to help me get rid of a body.

TL; DR: Happy birthday to one of oldest and best friends. You’re white gold to me and I love you!

Flaming Tampon Pepper

Note: I didn’t write this, but I wish to god I did. The writer did send it to me, inspired by a post I made on Facebook about an ad for a tampon that is healthier for you because you can set it on fire.

Cecilia “Cici” Watkins is no Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, or even Gregor Mendel. She is not an expert in plant breeding and genetics. Professionally she heads branding for a national firm located in Asheville, North Carolina. But a combination of sharp eyes, fertile imagination,  branding chops, and frustration with her husband led to create a new hot pepper variety that is terrifying men and being celebrated by feminists with a sense of humor (and, contrary to rumor, there appear to be quite a lot of them based on her 2019 seed sales). 

Somewhere around 1995 her husband became obsessed with hot peppers. Not just eating them, but raising them and trying them out on his beer drinking buddies. Cici didn’t mind a fresh jalapeño on a nacho now and then, but her husband kept ordering seeds for the some of the worlds hottest peppers. Then, inspired by new record breakers, he started his own plant breeding experiments in an effort to raise ever hotter peppers, a cause Cici found inexplicable because she believed most of those peppers peppers are virtually inedible. By 2000, virtually three-quarters of their garden plot was occupied by hot peppers. The supply of tomatoes, zucchini and other fresh vegetables had dwindled. Her husband was happy, but the garden that had supplied a lot of fresh veggies in the summer had slowly turned into an experimental pepper production unit. It was bad enough that the veggie supply was drying up but “his buddies kept goading me and my girlfriends to try some of these ridiculously hot peppers. Why? I don’t get it. “

When he was working on some of his Intense hot sauces is the kitchen it filled with fumes that made it nearly impossible to breathe. She learned to stay away, but in 2002 she happened to notice a squat green pepper that looked Somewhat like a jalapeño but which was more oblong, less pointy. It had faint ribs just like a green pepper but it was only about two inches long and she remembered thinking at the time that it looked like a shiny green tampon. She didn’t think much of it until the following year when her husband went away on a business trip. When he came back he complained that all the super hot hybrid jalapeños that he had planned to pick while Green had matured and turned red. Prior to that time Cici hadn’t understood that green was not necessarily the ultimate color for hot peppers.

That’s when inspiration hit and Cici conspired with a girlfriend Eki Samuels to start their own plant breeding project. EKi Was divorced and had plenty of garden space so they did some research and found that some hot peppers are striped or mottled, while others can veer towards a darker, chocolatey color. Working with seeds from the squat peppers her husband had been working on over the course of five plant breeding seasons they developed a pepper that kept the original dimensions of the fruit she found in her husband‘s garden and created a pepper that when ripe was variably carmine and deep red with occasional darker mottling . It wasn’t an outrageously hot pepper — in fact it’s only twice about as hot as a jalapeño. But the appearance was startling and Cicii used to branding background to create the Worlds first “Flaming Tampon”. 

In 2012 they were ready. At a hot pepper competition Cicii surreptitiously set out a plate of her selectively bred peppers with the Flaming Tampons label and, to her delight, nobody tried them.  She had bred a hot pepper the tough guys wouldn’t touch, (even though it wasn’t all that hot).

Her female Friends loved that their macho males were reluctant to even pick one up and they demanded seeds. In 2016 Cici and Eki ramped up production are now selling small batches of seeds, presumably to women who were comparably fed up with MHPO (male hot pepper obsession). 

Cici’s Main challenge is now is growing enough plants to produce the seeds women want, and making a decision about whether to challenge or sponsor a local band that has taken to calling itself the Flaming Tampons.

Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach featured in Mary Kay Andrews double murder mystery

This Tampa Bay cozy mystery lets us visit all our beloved St. Petersburg haunts.

Mary Kay Andrews has real Tampa Bay ties. She set one of her earliest books — Lickety Split — in St. Petersburg, and if you go to her beach house in Georgia, you’ll find Munch’s ketchup squeeze bottles on the table.

I loved her books even before I knew any of those things, and I love her more now for it. Whenever review copies of her books show up at work, I can’t wait to get home and read them.

Sunset Beach was no different. Except that, instead of being set in any of the other amazing Southern places, Andrews set it in Sunset Beach, in Treasure Island. Of course, she threw in a one night stand, murder, and another murder.

And Sunset Beach is a pretty cool little beach. It’s the new McMansions mixed with old beach cottages, and Andrews captures the vibe of the two worlds perfectly. 

Sunset Beach brings Andrews back to Tampa Bay, to the area of Treasure Island known as Sunset Beach. And while I’d love to give you all the plot, well, no. You’re gonna have to read it.

And read it you should, because Sunset Beach is Andrews in high form.

I will say this: You can revisit the Sandman Motel, the St. Petersburg Police Department, beach bars and a prominent St. Petersburg law firm if you read the book.

And, uh, it’s up to you to decide what’s real. But even if it’s totally fake — or even if it’s all real — it’s a fantastic read, and hey, who doesn’t love a beach read?

Even if there are dead bodies on the beach.

This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing