Herbal oasis in Wimauma

One of the reasons I began writing this blog was to share some of the "other stuff" that never makes it into my column. Usually, it's due to space limitations.

Like all the photos I took this morning at Colorfield Farms in Wimauma.

It was my first time out there, and the second time I'd met owner Anne Pidgeon. Her plant nursery has been on my list of places to visit for some time. Since my next newspaper column is going to be about herbs, I decided to make a visit today. 

This gorgeous basil made me yearn for a tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil sandwich on a hunk of crusty ciabatta bread.

If you like mangoes, you'll be in heaven at Colorfield Farms! Anne told me she has about 40 different varieties. In fact, in July, she's going to host a mango festival.

I could't resist taking home a few pots of Florida-friendly herbs.

I was truly impressed by Anne's huge selection of ready-to-stick-in-the-ground annuals, perennials and bedding plants and some gorgeous ready-to-stick-on-my-patio, decorative arrangements.

8221 S. R. 674 Wimauma, FL
Open 7 days: 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
(813) 833-2545


Part deux.....

My friend Pam really knows how to catch AND cook fish. Here's another good recipe (Paula Deen look out!)


It's how I roll...

For two weeks, I've been walking every day and eating smart.

"Cutting the crap," as Mariel Hemingway says in her book "Healthy Living." That means reducing my sugar intake, examining my caffeine habits, reducing chemical additives, etc.

I must say, it's a gradual process.

Several days ago, I ran across this recipe in my Maxwell House cookbook. Unable to shake the craving for something gooey and sweet, I made a coffee jelly roll this morning. (But don't tell anyone.)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon instant coffee
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on the cloth towel and over the jelly roll
1 cup apricot jam or jelly (I used raspberry, because that's what I had on hand.)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 15- by 10-inch baking pan and line with wax paper; butter the wax paper. Mix the flour and baking powder in a small bowl; set aside. Heat the water, butter and instant coffee in a small saucepan on medium heat until the butter is melted; set aside.

Beat the eggs, vanilla and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer set on high speed. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating until thick and light in color. Gently stir in the flour mixture. Add the butter mixture and gently stir until well blended. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Generously sprinkle a cloth towel with the powdered sugar. Turn the cake out onto the towel. Carefully remove the wax paper. Trim any crisp edges, if necessary. Roll the cake up in the towel, starting with the short side. Cool completely on a wire rack. Unroll the cake. Spread with the jam, and re-roll the cake. Before serving, sprinkle the cake with additional powdered sugar, if desired. Cut into slices to serve.

Source: Maxwell House Coffee Drinks & Desserts Cookbook


Grass is dead, but lemon grass, very pretty...

A year ago, I attended a small dinner party hosted by my friend Elena, who was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. We had a choice of several beverages, including freshly made lemon grass iced tea, which was something new to me. Sipping the light, lemony drink on a warm summer evening was totally refreshing .

Elena told me the first time she drank this tea was while she was visiting her sister in Chichirivichi, a coastal town near Caracas on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. She had gone to help her sister plant some bamboo, yucca and lemon grass.

After working half the day, they went home to rest and freshen up, but first her sister put the ingredients for some tea into a pot to simmer. After their siesta, Elena woke to find the entire house filled with a wonderful aroma. It was the tea, which her sister served in tall glasses with lots of ice.

Finding a lemon grass plant was a challenge. After a few phone calls and a trip to Home Depot, I discovered that Susan Bishop and Kathy Oliver, co-owners of My Mother's Garden, an organic herb farm in Wimauma, had a plentiful supply. Researching online, I learned you can also find lemon grass in Asian markets and at some specialty grocery stores.

The two, tiny lemon grass plants I purchased are now monstrous! I sure could use some recipe ideas, other than for tea.

Lemon Grass Iced Tea
2 or 3 stalks fresh lemon grass
2 quarts water
8 oz. hard cane sugar
2 limes

Cut lemon grass into 2-inch pieces, then place into a pot with the two quarts of water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool, strain and add the juice of the two fresh limes. Cool in the refrigerator. Just before serving, add a splash of seltzer water or club soda and lots of ice.


It's b-a-a-a-ck!

I'm excited. After a several-year hiatus, the Ruskin Community Market has re-opened, only this time across from the Ruskin Post Office. And it's a win-win all around for produce shoppers, bargain hunters, area growers and local artists and crafters. You just can't trade the experience of chatting with the folks who grow your food.

Right now, it's a small market, with only a handful of vendors, but the potential is there for 70, with ample parking.

Check out the homemade "Fickle Pickles" and...
some amazing summer squash, tomatoes, pickling cukes and pecans.

There's even music by local musician Gary Tatlock on his keyboard.

The Ruskin Community Market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Don't forget to take your reusable shopping bags. I keep a few in the trunk of my car.


Best chips in town

A funny thing happened when I moved to the small community of Ruskin. I began to appreciate the small pleasures of life.

One day, as I was trying to avoid the pot holes in front of the Ruskin Post Office, I accidentally discovered the Alvarez Tortilla Factory. I went inside and met store owner Tito Alvarez.

Tito opens his shop every day at 6 a.m. to make corn tortillas and tortilla chips. For a $1.75, you get a bag of the fresh corn tortillas chips AND homemade salsa to boot! The chips are fresh and crisp; and the salsa is addicting. Such a deal!

Alvarez Tortilla Factory
17 Seventh Ave. N.E.
Ruskin, FL
(813) 649-1230


One sweet assignment

To promote National Hospital Week, employees of Palms of Pasadena Hospital in St. Pete participated in a bake-off this afternoon. I was one of the lucky judges, with personal chef Bob Parrinello and Jeff Fredrickson, director of food and beverage at the Trade Winds Island Resorts.

The three of us had the tough job of testing pies, cookies and all sorts of cakes. About half way through the tasting, I made the comment that I might need my blood sugar checked. Is there a doctor in the house?
Donna Pierce tied for first place with her Nutty Orange Coffee Cake.

Turtle Invasion was a winner with its broccoli trees and tinted coconut grass. Clever!

A light cheesecake and blueberry cheesecake were also entered in the contest.

Baklava! Need I say more? YUM!

Winner Eileen Peters made a Hershey Cake with Mocha Fudge Frosting.

Also winners were Debby Culp and Elizabeth Bostak, creators of the Turtle Invasion.


Faux mashed potatoes, made with smoke and mirrors

Back in January, I visited the Saturday Morning Market in St. Pete and bought this small container of smoked sea salt. My mission was to dress up the celery root puree soup I was making. If you'd like the recipe, it's in my recipe archive. Just click on the rooster on the right side of this page.

Smoked sea salt is also a delicious way to add flavor to faux mashed potatoes. After steaming a head of cauliflower in the microwave, I throw it in my blender, whirling until the contents resemble mashed potatoes.

Then I lightly sprinkle the smoked sea salt on top, which adds a very mild, but distinct flavor.

Smoked sea salt can also be found on the shelves of most grocery stores or gourmet food shops.


Taking charge of the blender

Our local strawberry crop ended in March, but I pureed the last flat of the lush, ripe berries I bought. I simply washed, hulled and threw them in the blender for a few seconds, and then stockpiled the puree in several Ziplock bags in my freezer. They take up less freezer space this way and are handy for sauces and drinks.

In the cabinet above the refrigerator is a bottle of tequila I purchased but never opened back in August. On Mother's Day, as the outside temps pushed 90 degrees, previewing Florida's four-month summer inferno, I thought "What better excuse for strawberry margaritas?"


Waterside Grill delivers*

Most restaurants, I assume, have inevitable kinks and bugs to iron out the first few weeks they are open. And normally I wouldn't dare set foot in any restaurant on opening night.

BUT, I wanted to include the new, upscale Waterside Grill in Apollo Beach in a column I'm writing, and my deadline and the restaurant's opening collided.

I think owner Julie Enos was feeling more relief than opening-night jitters.

My dining partner ordered the Fruits de Mer (fruits of the sea) — sauteed jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels and scallops tossed with penne in a light seafood nage. She said the dish was exceptional.

I had the appetizer spinach salad topped with carmalized onions, slivers of crisp, Granny Smith apples, croutons and a maple-bacon dressing. Not a speck was left in my bowl. I could have stopped with the salad, which could have been a meal in itself. But I couldn't resist the Bermuda Crab Cakes. Made with both colossal and jumbo lump crab, they were finished with a lemon beurre blanc and made exactly how I like crab cakes — lots of meat, very little breading and browned and crispy on the outside.

By design, of course, we hit happy hour (4 - 6 p.m.) and ordered $3 house wines and enjoyed it so much, we each had two glasses. Without tip, our bill total came to $62 — a little more than I would normally spend on a weeknight dinner. But was it worth it? Yes.

The food and service were spot-on.

Waterside Grill
250 Apollo Beach Boulevard
Apollo Beach, FL
Tues. - Sat. 4 - 11 p.m.
Sun. 4 - 10 p.m.
(813) 645-7300

*July 12, 2009 As a follow-up to this blog entry I have learned that, sadly, this restaurant is no longer open.


Candy and the Swamp Thang

I was chatting with my friends Susan Bishop and Anne Davis last Friday, and somehow we started talking about a candy recipe Anne's daughter, Cyndi, makes using a food seasoning called "Swamp Thang."

Swamp Thang is a mixture of paprika, sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and herbs that can be ordered from My Mother's Garden online market.

There is something about the combination of salty and sweet that toots my horn. And I always like a recipe that's incredibly easy, and only three or four ingredients.

Cyndi melts a bag of white chocolate chips, folds in an eight-ounce container of cocktail peanuts, and then adds Swamp Thang — as little or as much as you want, depending on your heat tolerance.

When I tested the recipe, I added four teaspoons of Swamp Thang, next time I think I'll add a little bit more.

Anne likes to add Craisins to her mixture.

Dump the mixture onto a piece of wax paper, keeping it in one big blob. After refrigerating for 20 to 30 minutes until hard, break it into bite-size chunks.

When I asked Anne what Cyndi calls this concoction, I learned it didn't have one. So the three of us — all creative, talented, professional women — came up with the ingenious "Swamp Candy." Original, don't you think?