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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Vanilla Rum Custard

I found this recipe on Saveur website and knew it was one I needed to try.  It sounded delicious, looked easy, and felt like a perfect light dessert (if there is such a thing).  And when I say easy, I mean it!  No tricky mixing or folding of temperamental ingredients, no crazy hard-to-find ingredients, no obscure cooking utensils required, and no wacky instructions that require a culinary dictionary to figure out.  And here is an added bonus . . . this dessert can be made ahead.  You can make the batter the day before you plan on serving it and keep it in a jar overnight in the refrigerator OR you can go ahead and bake the custard and keep that in the fridge overnight.  Easy, peasy.


Best of all, this recipe has only seven ingredients, two of which I love – rum and vanilla.  The seeds from the vanilla beans add a nice contrast in color and lets your guests know that vanilla is in the dish.  As for the rum, they will discover that when the spoon hits their mouth.  For added vanilla flavor I adjusted the recipe to include vanilla extract.  If you want to omit the vanilla bean, you could simply double the amount of vanilla extract. 

Since I live in an RV, I have considerably less baking dishes than when I was surrounded by bricks and mortar.  You full-time RV’ers know what I am talking about.  I dug deep into the RV baking dish arsenal (which did not take long) and found two, two-cup ramekins that worked perfectly.  (The recipe makes enough to fill a 3-quart dish).  The two ramekins were enough to feed four of us one night which meant I had enough batter to keep overnight and bake the next day. 

Enjoy.

Serves 8-10

INGREDIENTS
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 5 Tbsp. light rum


INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla extract and vanilla seeds.  Whisk in cream and rum.
  3. Transfer mixture to a 3-qt. baking dish (or whatever size dish you are using) and set inside a roasting pan.  Pour boiling water into pan so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the custard dish.
  4. Bake until slightly loose and wobbly in the center, approximately 40–50 minutes.
  5. Remove dish from pan and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  Take the custard out of the refrigerator 10-15 minutes before serving.  Garnish with fresh fruit and serve.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Family Fun

After Betsy’s brother left, we were family-less for a couple of weeks.  Luckily it was not too long a wait before my sister and her husband (Lora and Joel) came to Florida for a visit and to discover why we are so content in this little known stretch of Florida called “30A.”  Maybe it was the snow, cold weather, or too many snow days leaving kids cooped up in the house that propelled them to book tickets south, I don’t know but we were rockin’ glad they booked it.  They must have really been desperate to leave Baltimore because five inches of the fresh white powdery stuff had to be shoveled from the driveway in order to get to the airport.

Lora, me and Joel enjoying warm weather and great company (the wine was good too).


The first morning they were here, we were off and running.  I had to start them off with our weekly ritual that involves visiting to the Seaside Farmers Market for delicious pastries that have become a must for Betsy and I.  A genius baker at Crust Artisan Bakery had the brilliant idea to stop throwing away scraps of croissant dough and put them to good use in a muffin tin filled with ooey, gooey goodness.  Hence, the “cruffin” was born.  Croissant dough lovingingly wraps itself around blueberries and lemon curd or strawberries and dark chocolate or apples and walnuts and quickly disappears from the paper it is wrapped in.  Now isn’t that worth getting out of bed on Saturday morning for?

"Hello yummy cruffin you know I can't walk past you!"

What better way to top off a breakfast of cruffins than to fill ones stomach with gumbo? Yes, that is correct . . . we moved from sweet pastries and bold coffee to savory gumbo and cold beer in less than three hours.  The 25th annual Sandestin Gumbo Festival was a lively event that involved eighteen local restaurants vying for the coveted quest to be crowned best gumbo in the area.  Mix a couple of hours of gumbo eating with zydeco music and a cold draught beer or two and you can visualize our afternoon.  The immense spectrum of flavors were immensely palate pleasing and the small tasting cups were empty soon after they were placed in our greedy hands.  Lora and I approached each booth like ravaged dogs while Joel proclaimed he was pacing himself.  There were times we just had to leave him and his self-restraint behind and push on to the next booth (after all, there were eighteen to try).  We ate our 20 bucks worth of gumbo and had to keep moving for fear that we would fall into a  food comma on one of the many beckoning benches.  Guess Lora and I should have paced ourselves!


Showing family and friends around this area is a real treat for us.  We have visited the “30A” area of the Florida Panhandle many times over the last fifteen plus years and have come to know the happenings, the happy hours, and the not-to-be-missed.  Of course we had to take them to The Red Bar on Sunday afternoon for live music, happy hour at Wine World (which carries on from “12-6, Monday thru Sunday”), 2-for-1 entrees at CafĂ© Thirty A, and tacos at Cowgirl Kitchen.  The restaurants never disappoint. 


Our week quickly flew by.  In between the eating, walks on the beach, introducing my family to our 30A  friends, and cocktail parties, there were a couple of rounds of golf for Joel while us girls went shopping, perused the galleries, visited historic sites, and checked out the million-dollar model homes. What a fun, busy week.

 How did we end up in the candy store?

We are so glad they came for a visit and got to enjoy some of the warm Florida sun before heading back to the cold and snow.  Hopefully, there will be no more shoveling for them and they will schedule a visit next winter as we will find ourselves right back here.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hot Dogs, Round Lakes, and Beads

Well I can’t believe it has been ten days since I have last posted a blog.  That might be a record set by me for ignoring RV-A-GOGO.  Shocking!  It’s not that we have been holed up in our fiberglass box avoiding the Florida sun, sand, and fun.  On the contrary, our days have been jam packed with activities . . . dog walks on the beach, dinner with friends, strolling around one of the world’s “roundest” lakes, catching beads at a Mardi Gras parade, and meeting new people.  Whew, yes we have been busy! 

The famous "Chicago style"dog.
But now it is time to share all this fun with you.  Let me start with our visit to the oldest hot dog stand in Florida. Visiting joints with superlatives like that are right up our alley.  Our friends, Kelly and T, invited us to join them on a trip to Defuniak Springs (Kelly’s home town) and just a short drive inland.  They enticed us into the car by proclaiming we would have lunch at the H&M Hot Dog stand – a long-standing tradition in this town of nearly 5,500 people.  After all, when we know food is involved we will go almost anywhere!  
H&M started in 1947 in a 12 by 18-foot metal building.  Throughout the years it has changed ownership many times but remains a fixture in Defuniak Springs.
Satisfied with hot dogs in our belly’s it was now time to take the dogs for a walk around Chipley Park and get a firsthand look at this famous lake.  Kelly mentioned that it was one of the roundest lakes in the world.  Sure enough that lake looked pretty darn round and is recognized as one of the two almost perfectly round spring-fed lakes in the world (Switzerland is home to the other). 
 
Yep, looks pretty round to me.
Just so happens that the day we were there was also the towns’ annual Mardi Gras parade.  Being New Orleans girls we had to check this one out and Kelly got us front row seats parking at the starting line.  The floats were festive, the outfits colorful, and beads were flying – a perfect reflection of small town fun.  (It is amazing how people can be civilized and well-behaved at Mardi Gras parades!)


We shared our bead wealth with our dogs.  Pearl (far right) was not impressed with her beads!
We had a great day exploring this charming town that we have driven through many times but never stopped to see.  Thanks girls for a great day (and sharing the pictures).




Sunday, February 9, 2014

Oysters and Tan Fannies in Historic St. Andrews, Florida

Some friends told us about an oyster restaurant in the historic town of St. Andrews so obviously we had to go.  We had driven by the “Historic St. Andrews” sign a few times before while getting the RV serviced in Panama City but paid no attention to the little bay front town established in 1827.  Of course, that changed when we had a restaurant recommendation in hand.  As the day unfolded we discovered there is more to this town than just food.  But first we had to try the grub at Hunt’s Oyster Bar




With our appetites satiated on baked oysters, buffalo shrimp and onion rings, we quickly texted our friends to tell them how culinarily satisfied we were at this legendary family-owned restaurant.  A quick text back said they were pleased we liked the joint but to stay away from “Tan Fannies.”  Wait, this is Florida and there are supposed to be tan fannies everywhere, in fact, I would like to have a tan fanny.  We were confused about their strange warning . . . until we walked out the front door and looked across the street.  Thanks for the head’s up . . . maybe I don’t need a tan fanny after all.
 
A topless bar was not what we expected in the historic district.
But, I will admit that I love that name for a strip club.
With Tan Fannies and oysters crossed off the list of things-to-do (for different reasons, of course) I was determined to maintain my reputation of finding the towns best attractions.  Betsy thought we were done with the town once seafood was in our bellies and we took a stroll along the waterfront and marina, but not so fast I said.

We have not seen the Panama City Publishing Museum or the four-headed palm or the 250-year old oak tree or the historic church and bank.  I got a puzzled look about the four-headed palm so off we went for a look.   


This rare four-headed palm is called a "pindo palm."  While it looks like it is growing through playground apparatus, that structure is there to support the palm branches.  Why is looks so weird and has such an odd shape may be because it used to be growing next to the sewage treatment plan and was transplanted here!


Also located in this park is a 250-year old live oak that majestically dominates the park.  The tree is called the "Old Sentry" and the plaque reads, "It was standing during the War Between the States as if a sentry standing guard over Old St. Andrews Bay."


Native Americans had long inhabited this area living off the bounty of the rich sea.  The first European settlement came in 1827 when retired Georgia Governor John Clark and his wife built a home on Beach Drive along the bay.  Few people resided in the area during the early years.  They earned a living making salt, fishing, and providing room and board to vacationers who came to the area for the excellent fishing and “healthy sea baths.”  By the mid 1800's the summer population was between 1,200-1,500.  The old Clark home was converted to a hotel known as the “Tavern” and more businesses followed.    

Salt making was always a large part of the town’s history and during the Civil War it was a strategic supplier of salt to the Confederate troops, which made it a target for the North.  Many raids were made in the area by Federal troops and eventually the town was destroyed in 1863.  The town rebuilt and once again flourished with salt, fishing, boat building and shipping along the gulf coast.  St. Andrews became annexed to Panama City in 1927.  In the late 1980's St. Andrew received a number of grants to help revitalize the area which has allowed it to retain its charm and historical character.

After walking through the park we strolled around the main street to see some of the historic buildings that the town proudly has restored.  One of the oldest town buildings still standing is the historic St. Andrews Church, completed in 1887.  


The Bank of St. Andrews was the first bank in Bay County and has served as home to many businesses over the years and is once again a bank.


Last but not least was a stop in at the Publishing Museum and Visitor Center.  The Panama City Publishing Company building was constructed in 1920 by George Mortimer West.  West was a publisher, writer, horticulturalist, economist, and entrepreneur who is credited as the "founding father" of Panama City and making it an economically viable city.  The building is beautifully restored and has interesting displays from the city's past and printing history.




The fog finally burned off and the sun shone on the beautiful bay front town.  A trip to St. Andrews turned out to be a great outing and offered a lot more than just oysters. 


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Spirit, the Next Orvis® Cover Model and Poster Child for Canine Cancer Research?


Our friend Kelly shot this stunning photo of Spirit last weekend.  We had a doggy play date on the beach and in between four dogs rolling each other in the sand and chasing through the water, Spirit tired just enough for Kelly to collect this winning shot.  Thanks Kelly!

Spirit with Leroy giving chase.

We always thought Spirit should be an Orvis or L.L. Bean dog but when Kelly emailed this picture to us there was no question it had to be submitted for the Orvis Cover Dog Photo Contest.  (Of course, Spirit will share her winning prizes - dog food, a bed, and gift card - with her beach playmates.) 

The contest is actually a fund raising campaign for canine cancer research.  A mighty and worthy cause.  And one that is of interest to us since our last dog, Otter, died of cancer at the young and still playful age of 8 ½. When Otter was diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma she was at an advanced stage and we had just a few months with her before the heart-heavy decision to put her down had to be made.  For her sake, not ours.  We were not ready for the tears and constant crying that overwhelmed two ladies who lost a companion, friend, playmate and – especially to me – a soul mate.  

Most people don’t know that Spirit is named after Otter – her full name is “Otters’ Spirit.”  Betsy’s clever naming talent shined through on that one.  Betsy believes that Otter, from the Rainbow Bridge, had some kind of input into what puppy would come into our lives.

Otter (and Spirit) came from Blackrock Labradors kennel in Indiana.
A walk shortly before she died.

Now more about the canine cancer research . . . as of March 2013, over $910,000 has been raised by Orvis and its customers to help raise money for canine cancer research.  Orvis has partnered with the Morris Animal Foundation—a global leader in supporting scientific research that advances veterinary medicine— using the funding to develop early cancer-detection tests and safer and more effective chemotherapy protocols for dogs.  The Morris Animal Foundation has helped fund 150 canine cancer studies at 28 colleges and universities and is committed to funding the Canine Lifetime Health Project and the groundbreaking Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.   Click here for a link to the contest and donation page if you would like to contribute to this campaign to fight canine cancer research.  

Don’t worry Spirit, even if you don’t become the Orvis Cover Dog you will still grace the computer screen saver and we already know what a wonder dog you are.



Sunday, February 2, 2014

Meet "Baylor"

Baylor is a handsome 20-month old labrador
and golden retreiver cross.
Meet Baylor the new guide dog and companion to our friend Ron.  I introduced you to Ron, his wife Tina and the Guide Dogs for the Blind in a previous post and am happy to bring you an update about Ron’s new guide dog, Baylor. 

Ron and Tina are blog readers that we met for lunch one day and instantly liked them.  We spent two hours getting to know them and became fast friends.  Ron's previous guide dog died a short time ago and he was in the pipeline to get another dog when we met him.  We were excited for Ron to meet his new companion and asked them to please keep us updated.  After all, we are dog people. 

Tina emailed me letting us know that Ron is currently in San Rafael, California meeting Baylor and the bonding has well begun. About the experience Tina wrote, “He's getting along great with Baylor. When they first get their guides they use "tie down" at night, which is simply a lead that is attached to the leg of their (human) bed, that is clipped to the dog's collar, so they learn to stay close to their new person and don't wander away during the night.  Ron woke up this morning to find Baylor ON the bed with him, with the lead stretched taut--there was just enough length to allow him to sneak up onto the bed.”  Way to go Baylor!

Guide Dogs for the Blind is an incredible organization that we have become more familiar with thanks to Ron.  Numerous times we have seen people with these special dogs, but hearing Ron’s story compelled me investigate the organization deeper.  So I put my fingers to the keyboard and started the internet search.  No question, this organization has an amazing mission that deeply affects and transforms people’s lives.  These animals are trained to do tasks and behave in such a way that allows sight impaired individuals to conquer tasks that they would not be able to do (or comfortable doing) by themselves.

Ron posing in front of an adorable puppy.  ( Ron you are cute too but girls just dig adorable lab puppies.)
But what is really amazing about this organization is that their services are free – which extends well beyond the pup – and is supported entirely by donations.  Those who qualify for a dog must attend a two-week session at one of the training campuses in San Rafael or Boring, Oregon.  Here individuals meet their prospective dog where they get to know them and work with them.  The campuses house students for two weeks in dormitory facilities which include dining rooms, libraries, computer centers, exercise rooms, and social areas.  And from what Ron tells us – excellent food!  During this time, there is extensive training where instructors work with prospective dog owners and dogs to ensure that the newly formed team is compatible in every way – from communication styles to personalities.  After two weeks, if the two are a match then the deal is done. (Photos courtesy of Guide Dogs for Blind website.)

Private rooms open to a sitting area and large play/exercise yard. 
Common area
Guide Dogs get excellent veterinary care and screenings.

We are so happy for Ron and Baylor and can’t wait to meet him.  If you know someone who is sight impaired and is in need of a Guide Dog, please pass along this information and their website.  Ron and Tina speak so highly of the organization and testify to the benefit of having a Guide Dog . . . or as Guide Dogs for the Blind calls them “soul mates.”