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 26, 2015

Finding Fun Festivals

Festivals are definitely on our radar and bleep loudly just like hamburger joints and maritime museums.  In fact, we go out of our way to play tourist at these events just like the time we planned for months so we would be in Rockland, Maine for the Lobster Festival.  (Is anyone surprised that Betsy orchestrated that?)  Festival subject matter spans the spectrum from food to animals to historical figures.  In Montana we went to the cleverly named “Testy Festy” (a festival celebrating testicles), Maryland had the Sheep and Wool Festival, Azaleas were celebrated in Wilmington, NC and tamales were devoured at the Tucson Tamale Festival.

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Last weekend was our second year going to the Sandestin, Florida’s 26th Annual Gumbo Festival nicknamed “Do the 038Roux.”  We easily talked our foodie friends and restaurateurs, Jennifer and Nikki, (owners of Cowgirl Kitchen and a few other awesome joints) into going with us.  It is safe to say that one taste of this event and they were hooked and heading back next year. 

Here’s how it works, you pay $20 and get to eat all the gumbo you want plus listen to great zydeco music. Twenty dollars for an all-you-can eat may sound high but it was well worth it.  This year had 17 contestants vying for the praise of having the best gumbo.  Nearly 2,000 people turned out for the event and got to weigh in for who they thought deserved the “People’s Choice Award.”  One of our favorites had cream added to it which is quite the novelty.  A Mexican restaurant added their twist of placing an empanada on top, and a seafood restaurant added sea scallops to impress.  There was also a judges award and one for “Best Display” which may explain why one group was serving gumbo out of a toilet bowl. 

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You might not think there is much to gumbo and they taste pretty much the same.  But spend some time in the south (especially Louisiana’s Cajun Country) and you will quickly learn there are more flavors of gumbo than RV’s in Quartzite, AZ in January.  The premise is simple – start with a roux (the thickening agent), add vegetables, seasoning, stock, meat, and cook.  But once you start sampling gumbo you realize the complexity of the flavors that shine through when a roux is carefully constructed  (time, heat and color make a difference), just the right type and amount of stock and seasoning are added, and meat is perfectly cooked – it is then you understand how diverse gumbo can be.  Most common meat ingredients are chicken and sausage or seafood, but look around and you will find that anything can go be thrown in like alligator, coot, duck, nutria, and other oddities. 

How does one find festivals?  Here are a few websites that will help you discover what is happening in an area.  Whether you are interested in beer, BBQ, jazz, garlic, or mules, there is a festival for you.  Definitely check out the local paper and find your city/towns tourism department website when you first arrive.  But if you want to do a little pre-planning and make a festival your destination, turn to the web.  Here are a few websites that encompass all different types of festivals and allow you to search by subject matter, location, and date.
If you are looking for music festivals there are plenty of good websites and here are just a few.
The Gumbo Festival reminds us of how much we like to travel and eat and when we can share that with friends or family it is even better.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Apple Pie

I follow the food blog Candid Appetite and when the author Jonathan posted a recipe and fabulous picture of apple pie I got hungry.  So I baked. 

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Our friend Chris (who splits her time RV’ing and in her newly purchased house in nearby Panama City Beach) was coming for dinner and that seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a pie for dessert.  Much to Betsy’s dismay, I am not much of a pie baker so this was sure to score some points with her.  The Candid Appetite's recipe was my inspiration but some changes were made especially since I was using a mini pie plate. I'm sure his is very good so you might want to give that a try.

Apple pie is an all-American icon that is included up there with hot dogs, baseball and Coca-cola.  Serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you will make just about anyone happy.  But since we didn't eat all the pie, I cut up the remainder and combined it with softened vanilla ice cream – how’s that for serious apple pie a la Mode?

This recipe makes one 9-inch pie or two 5.5–inch pies.

Ingredients:

To make the crust:

2½   cups unbleached all purpose flour

1    tablespoon granulated sugar
¾  teaspoon salt
1    cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5    tablespoons (or more) ice water

To make the filling:

4   large apples (a mixture of granny smith and pink lady)
  cup light brown sugar
¼  cup granulated sugar
3   tablespoons cornstarch
1   teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼  teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼  teaspoon cardamom
a pinch salt
1   teaspoon lemon zest
1   tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2   tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1   egg, beaten with a teaspoon of water
1   tablespoon raw sugar (turbinado sugar)

Directions:

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar and salt.  Add the cold diced butter and combine with your fingers (or a pastry cutter) until coarse pea-sized crumbs form.  Add the ice water, mixing until the dough comes together (adding more water if needed).  It should be slightly sticky.  Divide into two, flatten into a disc and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight. (Note: pie crust can be frozen and saved for later.  This makes enough pie crust for one 9-inch pie or two smaller pies.)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Peel apples and slice thinly.  Place the apples into a large bowl.  Add in the sugars, cornstarch, spices, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and stir.  Set aside and roll out the dough.

Working with one piece at a time, place the chilled dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Roll out into a large circle about 12 inches.  Carefully transfer the rolled dough into a 9-inch pie dish, trimming off the excess dough and leaving about 1 inch of dough to hang over.  Fill dough with the apple mixture.  Dot with the cubed unsalted butter.

Roll out the second dough into a large circle, about a quarter of an inch thick, and trim off the rough edges. Carefully transfer the rolled dough on top of the apples, tucking the dough underneath the bottom crust.  Fold and crimp the edges or seal with a fork.  Brush liberally with egg white wash and sprinkle with raw sugar.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour or until bubbly and golden brown all around. Remove from oven and allow to cool down before cutting and serving.  Will keep wrapped at room temperature for one day or in the fridge for about five days.

So now turn on a baseball game, eat a hot dog and enjoy some apple pie!



Friday, February 13, 2015

Eating Out and Saving Money

Food is important to us.  And I’m not talking about the nutritional aspect that is required to keep us alive but from the fact that we are gastronomic travelers.  Yes, that means our stomachs lead us around and sometimes dictate which city we land in.  Newly discovered restaurants rank right up there with world class museums and national parks.  We will turn this bus around when we see a divy burger joint with a full parking lot or a drive-in that has been in existence for 60 years.  But, my obsession with cooking means that we don’t eat out a whole lot so I can fulfill my culinary hobby; however, when we do, it better count.  Over-priced and uncreative just does not cut it and makes us sad.  It is so disappointing to pay lots of money for food that is just not that great.

019Restaurants in the area where we are staying are really good but expensive.  There are dynamite restaurants ranging from fine dining to casual beach side seafood joints to gourmet grilled cheeses from Airstreams.  A hamburger can run you $12-15 dollars and entrees at white tablecloth restaurants can easily reach $35.  To satisfy our desire to sample local fare we have found some ways to indulge in the finer food side of HWY 30A and avoid draining our wallets. 

Here are a few tips we have discovered. 

Half priced entrée or two-for-one deals.  Numerous restaurants near us offer great food specials if you are willing to eat between 5-6 pm.  We’re starting to think about dinner around 3 o’clock anyway so eating early is not a problem.  Lucky for us, numerous fine dining restaurants offer half priced entrees.  So now we can sit down to perfectly poached butterfish or yellow fin tuna with crispy Lyonnaise potatoes without worrying about the bill. 

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Check for coupons.  Look in the local paper or brochures  in search of coupons or specials.  Most campgrounds offices/stores have racks with brochures and local information that advertise free appetizers if you purchase an entrée or maybe a 10% off deal.  The other day we came out of a movie and tucked under the windshield wiper was a coupon for free Italian Nachos – a $9 value – and no requirement to purchase an entrée.

Happy Hour Specials.  Again, if you don’t mind eating early (or a late lunch depending on how you look at it), you can score some great food and not bust the bank.  Recently, one of the local (and favorite) restaurants, Cowgirl Kitchen, started a $5 menu from 2-5 pm.  So the other day, Betsy and I split some awesome drunken shrimp tacos, cheesy queso and chips, and each got a beer for total15 bucks (tax and tip not included).  We were stuffed and satisfied.  As another bonus, on our receipt was a 20% off wine coupon good in their affiliated gourmet food and wine store called Feed and Supply.  Score!

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Ladies Day.  Sorry gentlemen but sometimes it pays saves to be a lady.  Pizza at Bruno’s on Thursday is a tradition.  And yes, we do eat pizza every week.  For $5 you can settle in to the unlimited pizza buffet, salad bar, and soft drinks and eat to your desires from 11-2.  We are frequently there at 11 since the place is so popular and we just can’t wait to eat there.  Don’t worry guys, for you the deal is a mere $8.50 and based on eye witness accounts lots of men are getting their money's worth. 

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Special offers.  These seem to pop up because of places we work like here and our last job in Maine.  Take here for example.  If we wear our Florida State Park volunteer shirt to one of the 048local restaurants adjacent to the park, The Donut Hole, they generously take 50% off our bill.  Now that’s a great deal!  And, totally irresistible because they make an awesome corned beef hash.

Eat out for lunch instead of dinner.  We have found that eating lunch out is a great way to try local fare but not run up the bill.  Lunch entrees are typically less expensive than those offered at dinner.  Plus, we tend not to drink alcohol at lunch (there are exceptions though) as opposed to dinner when we like to have a cocktail and a glass of wine thus sending the bill way up.

Splitting.  Another great way to reduce cost is to split entrees . . . that is if both parties can agree on what to order.  Beware of additional charges applied to splitting items.  Most menus will indicate if there is a charge, if not ask your server. 

Eating out can be enjoyable, satisfying, relaxing, and a nice treat.  But when food becomes so expensive that you worry about the bill, the experience is diminished.  With a few money saving tips you can enjoy your dining out experience and keep a little more of the greenback in your pocket.




Monday, February 9, 2015

Jalapeno, Bacon, and Cheddar Baked Oysters

How can you go wrong with a recipe that has the classic combination of spicy jalapenos, salty bacon, and gooey cheddar cheese?  You could put that trifecta on cardboard and it would be good.  But much to Betsy’s delight and our digestive health I switched out the cardboard for oysters.  We scored some yummy, plump Louisiana oysters that were the perfect avenue for my triad of deliciousness.


We were first introduced to this baked oyster combination at our favorite beach-side restaurant in Pensacola Beach called Peg Leg Pete’s.  The restaurant has a great vibe with an open air patio, nautical paraphernalia hanging on the ceiling, an extensive cocktail list, and oysters cooked eleven different ways.  Their version is called Spicy Lafitte's and they are delicious.  There are many reasons to go to Pensacola Beach and Peg Leg’s is certainly one of those.

Back to the oysters.  This is a super easy recipe with a delicious reward.  Shuck the oysters.  Mix up the four ingredients. 



Bake.  Enjoy!  It’s that simple.


Ingredients:

1      dozen oysters
1 ½  cups cheddar cheese, grated
4      slices cooked bacon, crumbled
2      tablespoons pickled jalapenos, chopped
1      tablespoon Creole seasoning 


Directions: 


Preheat oven to 450°F

Combine the cheese, bacon, jalapenos, and Creole seasoning.  Distribute evenly over the oysters.  Bake in the oven for ten minutes until cheese is melted and oysters are steamy. 

Note:  My RV oven does not have a broiler so baking at a high temperature is my only option.  You certainly could use a broiler, just decrease the cooking time.