How I Spent My Florida Vacation, 2011 Edition–and “Kitchen Classics” Launch!
[Warning: Extra, extra, extra-long post. Feel free to portion it out in smaller doses. . . or simply take your time and revel in the sunshine.]
[Nope, no alligators in this Florida body of water. (And no, that's not the HH at the pool!)]
Um, so, yes, I have been rather MIA the past week or so (I’m referring, of course, to the established acronym for “missing in action,” and not the edgy, avante-garde, new-mama songstress of the same initials). Well, a few days before Valentine’s Day, I simply couldn’t stand this cursed frosty landscape a moment longer; and, since I am on holidays from the college at the moment, I entreated the HH to join me for a spontaneous (albeit short) junket to the same place we sojourned last February: Sunny Florida!
Unlike last year’s pitfall-filled trip, however, this year everything ran smoothly. I made sure to leave my threatening keychain at home and packed my suspcious toothpaste in my checked baggage, so we breezed through the security checkpoints; our plane took off and landed on time, with a turbulence-free flight in between; our hotel was lovely; and we got to spend a great deal of time with my cousins Marketing Guru and CBC in Sarasota (the former lives there and the latter was visitng). Even the weather cooperated after an initial protestation and presented us with sunny, temperate days (in the low 70s F, or 22-24 C).
While I won’t bore you with every little activity and event as I did last year, I thought I could encapsulate the trip in a few key photos and captions. So here goes:
I. Trivial Pursuit–Florida Edition:
Who knew that the Tropicana factory was in Tampa? As we reclined in our Airport Taxi being transported from Tampa to our hotel in Sarasota, our driver, Roderick, provided an ongoing (and constant) narrative about the scenery and locale. In addition to the Tropicana trivia, we also learned that most homes in the area have automated sprinkler systems to water their yards at night, when it’s cheaper; that Walgreen’s and CVS are the two most popular drugstores in Florida; that driving from New York City to Miami takes about 24 hours if you drive nonstop with two drivers (one sleeping as the other drives); and that one of the biggest Pythons ever found in the Florida Everglades had eyes bigger than its belly when it tried to eat a fully grown alligator; when the alligator got stuck, it exploded and they both died. Oh, and that Roderick broke up with his girlfriend the second he found out she owned a pet snake–just walked out of the apartment and never looked back.
[Would this breakfast sustain your for more than 12 hours? Me, neither.]
Because our plane was taking off at 10:00 AM, we had to be at the airport by 8:00, which meant leaving our house at 7:30. Since The Girls had to be dropped off at doggie daycare by 7:00 AM (“Mum, we like it there and all, but we really didn’t appreciate having to stay for three full days. . . they just don’t dole out the treats the way you do“), we were looking at a wakeup time of 5:30 AM. It seemed early, but not impossible. When the hour arrived, however, I was so rushed I had no time for breakfast and blindly grabbed the last (plain, unfrosted) whoopie pie I’d made the week before as sustenance on the way to the airport. All I can say is, “Foolish, foolish girl.” Of course, it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be absolutely NOTHING I could eat at the airport; I assumed I’d be able to buy an apple, or some nuts, or something.
For some reason, though, the airport restaurant offered only pre-cut fruit plates that featured mostly melons (not allowed on the ACD); I just couldn’t justify paying $7.95 for two pieces of pineapple when I’d be throwing away the rest of the fruit. And there were no plain bags of nuts in sight (only sugar-coated–another no-no). Ah, well, no worries; I knew we’d be landing by 1:20, so I reasoned I’d buy something once we arrived at the hotel, around 3:00 PM.
As it turned out, by the time we met up with Roderick, drove to the hotel, checked in, picked up a rental car and got back to the hotel, it was after 5:00 PM.
Which meant I hadn’t eaten for almost 12 hours.
Before we called my cousins, before we unpacked our bags, before we looked through the tourist pamplets, before we marvelled at the fact we no longer needed our coats, before we even used the washroom–yes, before anything else–we drove to Whole Foods so that I could stave off starvation (okay, I’m being overly dramatic; really, it was so that I could stave off fainting from hunger and crumpling in a heap in the middle of the hotel lobby). Once there, I bought a trayful of prepared dishes (curry quinoa salad, raw kale salad, garlic tofu and baked beets), a celery-apple-beet-ginger juice and a wheatgrass shot, and downed them all before I even remembered to snap a photo. Then (and only then), we proceeded to the hotel dining room, where the HH had his dinner and I sipped, quite calmly, on green tea.
Note to self: no matter how late you need to stay up the night before a trip, be sure to pack a bag of food that you can eat to take with you.
III. My Relatives Make Great Tour Guides.
[St. Armand's Circle, looking very un-circular.]
Despite a short (3-day) trip, my relatives made sure the HH and I saw a lot of the surrounding sites. On our first afternoon, we were taken to St. Armand’s Circle, an upscale shopping area where “epicurean delights tantalize your taste buds.” We stopped for a relaxing lunch at Venezia, where we ate pizza (everyone else) and salad (me). We later embarked on a walking tour of the Sarasota downtown district, where we learned that the library looks like an opera house, there are sculptures dotting the urban landscape, strangers will let you pat their dogs if you’re in canine withdrawal, the actual opera house itself is fairly nondescript, squirrels in Florida are angular and skinny unlike our fat, round ones here (they don’t need to fatten up for the winter–there is no winter!!) and, according to my cousin, Sarasota is the cultural hub of the entire state.
Our last full day started out at a local deli where my cousins shared a huge pastrami plate, the HH munched on a Reuben, and I scooped up hummus with carrot sticks. My cousin had actually chosen the place because they promised a “gluten free menu” which turned out to be a typed list of things on the menu that were NOT gluten free as a warning to those celiacs among us. (Bizarrely, the list included “Rice” under the “Do Not Eat” category; when I questioned the hostess about this, she noted that it referred to “wild rice.” “But wild rice is also gluten-free,” I countered. At that point, she wrinkled her nose, pretended she didn’t hear me, and began to search for our table.)
[Not a bad place to spend an afternoon.]
After lunch, my cousins drove us around the Siesta Key area as the HH and I gawked at the stunning homes on the water and then strolled along Siesta Key Beach, one of the most appealing beaches I’ve ever seen, with sand as fine and white as talcum. We strolled under the soothing sun beside the gurgling tide and relaxed into our holiday.
IV. Sarasota is a Cultural Hub; but Sadly, Not a Culinary Hub.
[Our hotel breakfast table: three kinds of artificial sweetener and only one kind of real sugar. HH, I think we're not in Toronto any more. . . ]
After my success finding so many fabulous ACD options last year in Miami, I assumed I’d have just as easy a time this year. Well, you know what they say about those of us who assume. Perhaps it was because I was in the company of omnivores who love their meat; perhaps the HH and I simply didn’t find the “right” restaurants there (and many thanks to those of you who proffered suggestions–which I wasn’t able to frequent). After the first night’s Whole Foods escapade, I made do with the few options available wherever we happened to be. In our hotel, where breakfast was included each day, I was able to pick out roasted potatoes (one day, they were sweet potatoes), fresh pineapple, and green tea. It wasn’t until the last morning there that it occurred to me to tote along my own accoutrements to add to the pot of cooked oatmeal, thereby re-creating a familiar favorite, like so:
In fact, the best “restaurant” meal of the trip turned out to be the takeout Chinese my cousin brought home for Valentine’s Day, after all the restaurants he tried were booked. The four of us shared food out of cardboard boxes (well, we spooned it onto plates first) and gabbed for a few hours. Perhaps not the most romantic V-Day, but one spent with three people I love. And we were in Florida, away from the snow, ice, cold, wind, frost, snow, slush, grey skies, and snow.
Well, that was enough to warm my heart.
V. There’s No Place Like (the food at) Home.
[The Girls getting back into their post-Florida groove. ("We missed your treats--I mean, we missed YOU, Dad!)]
While we had a fantastic time with relatives and sunshine galore, one thing I learned from this trip is that Florida squirrels are skinny you should always wear sunscreen Pythons’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs we are really blessed with fabulous food options in Toronto.
And so, in honor of a dish that I often order at a favorite restaurant here in town, and one that we make at home all the time, I present you with today’s recipe for Pasta Arrabiata. It has nothing to do with Florida, per se, but I sorely missed being able to order something that is both delicious and which I could safely eat at a restaurant while away during the past week.
The pasta recipe also introduces a new feature here on DDD: Kitchen Classics! So often, we in the food blog world spend most of our time seeking out novel or unusual recipes, those we consider “blog worthy” or those that will stand out from the throngs of dishes being highlighted on other food blogs. We sometimes overlook those recipes we make all the time–the “favorites” or “go-to” recipes we turn to when we want something comforting, or consistent, or reliable.
I consider as “classic” any recipe for a dish that’s common across most of the continent, for which most people have one “favorite” recipe in their repertoire. Everyone has their own favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie, right? Or how about a favorite Guacamole? Or Chili? Those are the classics!
I’ve also gone through the blog archives and tagged any existing DDD recipes that apply (such as those above), including Best Home Fries Ever, Chocolate Tofu Pudding, Soy-Free Vegan Whipped Cream, Fluffy Fruited Pancakes, Classic Green Smoothie, Coleslaw, Cheesecake, Oven Baked Root Vegetable “Fries,” and a bunch of others that have become my standard recipes when I’m looking for a classic taste. (You can see them all by clicking on the category, “Kitchen Classics,” at right).
This Arrabiata has been in the DDD lineup for quite some time–I seem to recall cooking it for the HH on one of our starry-eyed early dates–and we tend to have it at least once or twice per month. You can cook up the sauce in a jiffy while the pasta boils, and have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. The result is a lively tomato sauce that won’t weigh you down, yet is thick enough to cling well to your pasta. The addition of red bell pepper provides a subtext of sweetness that’s a perfect counterpoint to the spicy chili pepper. It couldn’t be easier–and it always delivers a tasty, satisfying and quick dinner. And there’s no need to fly in an airplane to get it.
Ah, it’s good to be home. . . .
Classic Pasta Arrabiata (adapted from Moosewood New Classics): ACD Stage 2 and beyond
Diet, Dessert and Dogs (http://dietdessertndogs.com)
No matter how often I eat this, I am always happy to have another dish of Pasta Arrabiata for dinner. The sauce is a perfect blend of tomato, onion, pepper and spice, with an ascerbic undertone from the tomato and a hint of sweetness from the pepper. It also works well with additions such as broccoli, mushrooms (if you can eat them), or faux meat.
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 tsp (5 ml) dried red pepper flakes
2 small or 1 large sweet red bell pepper, chopped
1 large can (28 ounces or 450-500 ml) diced tomatoes, with juice
1 large can (28 ounces or 450-500 ml) crushed (puréed) tomatoes
fine sea salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp (45 ml) chopped fresh basil
enough cooked pasta of your choice for 4-6 servings (I used rice rotini)
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat; add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onion is browned and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the pepper flakes and red pepper and continue to cook for another 2 minutes, until the pepper softens. Add the tomatoes and heat until the sauce begins to simmer; lower heat and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the basil; cook until heated through, another 5 minutes or so. Serve over pasta. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Flash in the Pan: Egyptian Fava Bean Breakfast
Two Years Ago: PS I Love You: V-Day Dinner 2009 (Celeri Remoulade and Tempeh Meatball Stroganoff)