Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, December 27, 2013

English Toffee

I’m not a big cookie baker so the likelihood of warm cookies in the shape of pine trees decorated with red and green sprinkles showing up on a platter was not likely to happen.  Needless to say, Betsy was bummed that baked goods were not going to be on her holiday menu.  Instead, I was more interested in making candy, spurred by a recent trip to the grocery store when a Heath bar fell in the basket unbeknownst to me.  So I set off to find a toffee recipe and happened upon one that was easy and delicious.    

When the toffee was ready to be eaten, I protected it like a momma cat with teeth and claws and, once again, Betsy was bummed when she found only a small smidgen was for her.  My plan was to give the toffee to the park office staff and spread some holiday cheer to those working over the holiday.  She played the role of happy elf during the transfer of sweetness to the staff but made me promise I would make more for her.  I must admit I too wanted some more so I happily obliged her request.

Ingredients


  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼  cup water
  • ½  teaspoon salt
  • ¾  cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coarsely toasted almonds (or pecans)
  • sea salt (optional)


Directions


  1. In heavy saucepan, combine butter, sugar, water, and salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches the hard-crack stage (300°F).
  2. Immediately pour into ungreased 13"x 9" sheet pan.  Cool the toffee until hard.
  3. Place chocolate chips in a metal bowl placed over a sauce pan with water and melt over simmering water.  Pour melted chocolate over cooled toffee and sprinkle with toasted almonds and/or sea salt.  (If using sea salt, make sure the chocolate is cooled so the salt does not dissolve.)  
  4. Cool toffee and chocolate at room temperature for 2-3 hours or in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Break into pieces and enjoy.

WARNING:  This is addicting and not very good for you . . . but you should make it anyway.  And best to do it before you have to make the New Year's resolution because that will make you feel really guilty.




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Holiday Spirit

Who says you have to be in the frigid north to get into the holiday spirit?  Palm trees decorated with colored lights and sparkling bulbs are just as pretty as pine trees adorned in them, in my opinion.  The holiday spirit is in full swing down here in the Florida panhandle.  We have been to art fairs, holiday bazaars, tree lightings, Christmas parades, and seen Santa everywhere. 

Even the post office got decorated



But the sure sign of the holiday season is when the RV’s in the campground are all decked out in holiday garb ranging from a three-dollar shopping spree in the dollar store Christmas isle to an explosion of Southern Living Magazines' version of a twinkling and glowing southern Christmas.  

 

When I told my sister, we were thinking about a little tree but didn’t have ornaments (and don’t want to pack the RV with another useless thing we only use once a year), my sister suggested we decorate with popcorn and cranberry garland.  What a great idea!  But further discussion and a few minutes of reasoning brain power yielded an unappealing picture of raccoons and bears coming out of the woods to indulge their glutinous appetites with our Christmas cheer.  Or worse yet . . . Spirit eating popcorn, string, and pine needles that would all come back to life sometime in the middle of the night on my newly cleaned carpets.  So we bought a poinsettia.  

Have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday!


Monday, December 23, 2013

RV Park Review – Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Gregory E. Moore RV Park (Santa Rosa Beach, Florida)


Overall, this is a great state park that has the feel and amenities found in a private RV park.  Sites are paved, level, full hook-up and have tons of comforts including: cable (75+ channels), free wifi (in designated areas), a non-heated swimming pool, beach access with tram service, club house, camp store, bike/kayak/canoe rental, laundry, shuffle board, and a host of park activities and ranger-led tours.



The park has 156 sites with full-hook-up (mostly 50 amp but some 30 amp) that can fit rigs up to 45’.  There are 22 tent sites with an elevated tent pad, fire ring, water spigot, and electric hook-ups. There are also one and two-bedroom cabins for rent year-round.  
cabins
cabins have screened in porches with rocking chairs and a picnic table and grill outside 
Park roads are paved and easy to navigate in a big rig.  Camp sites and patios are paved with picnic tables.  There are no fire pits but you are allowed to have a fire if you bring your own pit.  All sites are level but some of the concrete is cracked and pretty uneven.  The fair majority of sites are back-in but there are a handful of pull-thru sites.  The water sewer and electric hook-ups are all well-placed at the site.

typical back-in site
Most sites have towering pine trees offering shade and hedges provide privacy, although some sites are fairly close together.  We were able to get satellite at our site (#75) and the Verizon cell service and hotspot worked great.    

typical pull-thru site
The restroom and laundry facilities are clean and seemed adequate to handle the crowds.

restrooms
laundry
The campground is located ¾ mile from the beach which is accessible via a walking/biking trail or a tram operated by the park.  During the winter months the tram runs every two hours, but during peak season it runs once an hour.  Once you are on the beach you have miles and miles of unspoiled white sand and blue water to enjoy.

Walkway over the dunes to the beach
The beach!
bike path
Park activities and ranger-led talks/tours occur multiple times during the week and we eagerly took advantage of these.  There is an on-site camp store offering everything from t-shirts, drinks, RV supplies, books, souvenirs, etc.  For the active type, you can rent bikes, stand up paddleboards, canoes and kayaks.   There are numerous ponds and lakes scattered throughout the campground for the fishing enthusiasts.

The park is located within a mile of a Walmart (with food), gas station, Subway and other restaurants. Within 5 miles are tons of shopping opportunities, movie theater, restaurants, grocery, etc. 

What we really liked about this campground are the level, paved, full-hookup sites and the fact that it is in a state park so you have access to miles of hiking/biking and a gorgeous beach.  The beach here is the most beautiful in Florida and can be completely empty in the winter.  The park is 1,640 acres so hiking/birding opportunities abound.  Yet, within just a few minutes drive are plenty of restaurants, shops, and grocery that make life easy.  

The not so good things about this park are the cost and how crowded it can be in the peak season.  During peak season this park is very busy.  With all the amenities it attracts lots of people and some sites make you feel right on top of your neighbor.  The pool can be super crowded and you may have to walk farther down the beach to find a quiet spot.  The cost is $42/night (unless you are a Florida senior resident and then it is half price) which is high for state parks . . . but compared to other private parks in the area that is reasonable.  

Spirits two cents:  the trails are great for letting her run and sniff whatever her nose finds.  (Dogs are required to be on a 6-foot leash.)  Dogs are not allowed on the beach in the state park so that is a bit of a bummer but there are plenty of places to walk dogs in the campground and on the miles of trails.  In addition, there is an off-leash dog park just a few miles away.

More pictures . . .
shuffleboard
outdoor amphitheater

swimming pool
playground
tram stop in the campground

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Pizza Philosophy We Love

You may have come to know us girls as hamburger loving, diner-driven chow hounds obsessed by a hamburger book that is bound to clog our arteries.  But, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression and think we discriminate against other food groups. 

First, let me clarify something . . . my food groups are quite different than the USDA’s boring food pyramid that has whole grains, dairy, vegetables, etc. outlined in a neat little design with recommendations that we never seem to follow.  Yes, I did get an “A” in my nutrition class in culinary school, but I choose to redesign the pyramid and customize it to put pizza in a category of its own.

We traveled across the country and have had some amazing pizza but we are ecstatic to be back within a few miles of one of our all-time favorites.  Bruno’s Pizza has created an imprint on our taste buds and culinary cravings that has us longing to come back to the Florida panhandle just for pizza.

 
The best way we found to enjoy the diverse menu is at the daily buffet.  An assortment of Bruno’s pizzas are available for tasting and include such unique pies as buffalo chicken, ranch chicken, taco, 4-alarm fire, ultimate veggie, in addition to the other popular favorites like supreme, pepperoni, and cheese.  There is even one with slow smoked Boston butt!  Thursday’s are Ladies Day where we dainty gals can indulge in all-you-can eat pizza, salad bar, cinnamon knots, and soft drinks for a mere $5.  And we can eat from 11-2.  (Not that we have even the entire time, mind you – but we could).


Jeff working the phone and counter
in between checking on customers
and running a great restaurant.
We love the owner Jeff Goodman’s philosophy which is proudly tattooed on the door – “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem.” He invites newbies to come in, eat what you want and then settle up before you leave.  He proudly claims, “It is on the honor system here.”  Inside tables are community-style with people happily indulging in hot pizza and sticky cinnamon knots or you can dine outside on the patio under the sun.  Everyone seems to enjoy the vibe this place has which is credit to Jeff, and his partner Mark Williams, who are a customer’s dream always asking you if there is a certain pizza you want on the buffet.  Whatever you want, they will make it and put it on the buffet for all to enjoy. 

The restaurant recently moved and was closed for a couple of weeks but just when we were starting to go through Bruno’s de-tox, the joint re-opened a little farther down the road in a nice, fresh space that was worth the wait.  


We love the new restaurant and Bruno’s Pizza continues to rank as one of our favorite pizza joints in the country.  It's no surprise that the restaurant has been voted "30-A's Best Pizza for 21 Years!"


Sorry if you now are salivating and craving pizza - that is the sadistic part of my blogging that I enjoy.  If you were smart, you would come join us on the panhandle for delicious pizza and cinnamon knots.




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More Fun and Fire Dancing

Our social calendar is not clear just yet and probably won't be now that we are having such fun.  Gail and Don (a couple we first met at the Nealy’s party) invited us and the rest of the gang we have been hanging out with for a few days to their Phaeton for wine and dessert.   Yea, I really don’t think that is an invitation we would pass up.

They were nice to share their wine with us that they collected during their travels.  Gail told us that they are never short of wine and showed us four more cases of wine in the bedroom.  Maybe they should just ask Tiffin for a wine cellar in the closet and ditch their clothes.  

Little did we know that in addition to great company we were going to be entertained by Cherie (Technomadia) and her fire dancing routine?  Wow, this was so cool and a first for us as far as campground entertainment goes.  

The beauty of the fire on a full moon night near the beach and
the sounds of the swishing flames made this magical.
Cherie is very talented and has done this at Burning Man in Nevada.


That's my "I'm angry at dirt" face.
But I don’t want to give you the impression that the RV lifestyle is all laughing, drinking wine and fire dancing, because it is not.  Sometimes there is work to be done and a nagging domestic urge in me was itching to come to fruition.  Yes, it was time to shampoo the carpets and extract the dirt and dog hair that was not meant to live there.  The warm, nearly humid-less day made it a perfect opportunity to open the windows and fire up the steam cleaner.  I pulled my hair back, put on an old t-shirt and got down and dirty with the pile.  As hard as Betsy tried to convince me to seek therapy and repress my cleaning desires so we could do something fun instead, I was unflappable.  The job must be done.




Monday, December 16, 2013

Social Butterflies

The last few days our social calendars with RV’ing buddies has been full.  Our friends, Rhonda and Susan (No Bad Days RVing blog), stopped by to camp with us for a few days on their westward journey across Interstate 10.  We met this great Canadian couple a few years ago in southern Florida and have kept in touch ever since.  Rhonda’s always game to grab her camera or binoculars and join us for walks in the woods with Spirit and Sue is always good for keeping us company with a few good laughs and a vodka concoction or two.  The girls split their time between Ontario, southern Florida and where ever else their big 5th wheel takes them.  We share their enthusiasm for enjoying the nomadic lifestyle and clicked from day one.  They have been a tremendous resource guiding us to some of the best campgrounds, cities to visit, and where to find the best seafood pizza in the world.  Gotta love those recommendations!  We are super glad they decided to hang out with us for a few days as they travel across the country. 

Me, Rhonda, Betsy, and Susan at the Red Bar in Grayton Beach

We also met up with the Jennifer and Deas Nealys (Nealys on Wheels) again when they invited us over to their house for a sunset party.  The party was a great mix of their friends (some RV’ers, non-RV’ers, and RV’ing wanna-be’s).  The group melded perfectly and we had a blast meeting their friends who included Cherie and Chris from Technomadia blog.  Their awesome beach house was filled with fun people, great food, and hours of laughter. 

Betsy, me, Gail, Don, Cherie, Chris, Deas, and Jennifer
Our waiter, Billy, trying to explain the menu to
a rowdy crowd.
Next up on the social schedule, was a visit to the Red Bar with our old and new RV’ing friends.  The Red Bar is a legendary eatery and drinking establishment that matches its’ eclectic d├ęcor with local characters that perfectly transforms the building into a funky mix of fun.  If you have ever been to this area and not made a pilgrimage to the Red Bar, you have been living in a world too small and boring.  We took in a great lunch filled with the sounds of Dread Clampitt – a band as much a part of the Red Bar’s character as the ripped album posters that grace the ceiling. The band pulls off a soulful mix of bluegrass, rock & roll, blues, jazz and Bayou funk that keeps the crowd clapping and the floor vibrating.  Just when the crowd thought the day was going perfectly, in walked Sam Bush, a Grammy Award winner famous for his American bluegrass style to continue the jamming. 


Sam Bush jammin' on the fiddle with Dread Clampitt

Ah, the day was not quite done.  After a hike with Spirit to rectify our fish and chips lunch, we were ready for our next gathering at the Local Catch restaurant.  More good food and music with great friends and we were back to Rhonda and Sue’s for a night cap with Kinky Vodka and Chocolate Cake Vodka.  Good times . . . all to be repeated another time, I'm sure.  


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sandy Paws, Frosty Face, and Happy Feet

Confession time!  In the last post I conveyed how much I love hiking through the pine forest in the state park where we are camped.  And believe me, I do . . . BUT, there is another place I like better and that is the soft, sugar white sandy beach that stretches forever and rarely has any other visitors this time of year.  


After all, we are camped along the most beautiful stretch of beach in this country.  I better pause for a moment because I feel the harsh objections flying my way from some of you countering my ruling with a list of other spectacular places.  What about the Florida Keys, California’s Big Sur, Miami’s South Beach, the Oregon coast?  Blah, blah, blah.   

It only takes one visit to this spectacular area to know just what I am talking about.  The sand is so fine that it squeaks, so white that it blinds, and the water so clear that your toes glow underneath the water.


So in this short four-month stay along the 30A region of the Florida Panhandle, I am taking every advantage of this gorgeous stretch of paradise and indulging.  I make an effort to get my toes in the sand at least once a day (and usually twice).  Early mornings start off with a cup of coffee in a to-go cup and an eager lab waiting to hit the sand to chase shorebirds.  Since we own property in the area, we were able to obtain a permit to take Spirit on the beach.  It has been well worth the $45 fee.  Dogs are restricted between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. but that works just fine for us as we get to enjoy the early morning sunrise (when everybody else is sleeping in) and the glorious afternoon sunsets.


Now I’m not sure Spirit likes the beach as much as chasing deer in the pines, but she gleefully walks along and finds unsuspecting sandpipers to send aloft and forgotten flip flops to steal so we will chase in pursuit.  She’s not much for venturing in the pounding surf but seems to like running on the soft sand and can’t help but bring a little bit of the sandy beach home with her.

Oh, the poor great blue heron who is about to be ambushed.

We got her from Blackrock Labradors in Indiana as an 8-week old pup and took her straight to Florida so I guess she has the sandy beach imprinted on her.  Seems she let go of her mid-western roots pretty easily and took quite well to the sandy shores of Florida.