Friday, September 26, 2014

Anne O'Malley's - Where the Locals Eat

Today we had a long lazy day at the beach.  The weather has been spotty so we grabbed our sunny day while it lasted.  Knowing we had 7:30 tickets for the Ripley's Ghost Train we headed into town at the last minute for a bite.  We were hoping for a pub with fish and chips but when we sat down at Anne O'Malley's we realized it was sandwiches and beer.  Oh well. We are suckers for any place playing Celtic music as we are a family descended from strong Anglo stock and love anything Celtic!

The service was casual - so don't be in a hurry.   I ordered a corned beef reuben with homemade thousand island dressing.  My hubby got the turkey club and my son ordered a pastrami on white.  They were all great and quite filling.

While we ate, the pub filled up with locals as it was Thursday's trivia night.  We knew they were locals - young and old - by how they greeted one another.  The pub is perfectly located at almost across from the Fort so we were able to quickly walk down the street to Ripleys.  We could have easily strolled the Old City from there as well.

Hoping to come back to St. A's next year we will come in on a Thursday night when we have more time!

  Ann O'Malley's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goodbye Girl - When Joy and Grief Meet

Life is a series of moments of great joy, moments of great grief and moments somewhere in between. This week we are living large at a beach in northwest Florida and have the images captured forever in film to prove it.  If you are following me on Instagram or FB you'll see the Sun and the Moon playing in the sand, visiting local tourist attractions and jumping in the surf.  It is easy in the land of social media and blogs and instant communication to show only our joys.  But really, isn't that what we always show?  Our joys in life are meant to be shared.  We wear our joy on our faces and they radiate out for all to see.  The grief.  Well, the grief is held close.  Grief is an intimate emotion.  It is rarely captured in film.  It is only shared with those closest to us and even then it is difficult.  But, I would be lying if I said our week here was perfect.  You see, there is grief mingled with our joy - it is LIFE and it is true.

In 1998 we were given a black cat with a patch of white on her neck named Akasha.  The story goes that she was the runt of a large litter (13 perhaps) born on Halloween.  She belonged to friends of ours and due to their living situation they had to give away one of their cats.  As the other two were litter mates, she was chosen to go to a new home.  She was a tiny furball who hid for days behind the washing machine only coming out to eat and use the bathroom.  Nathan finally coaxed her out and she and our cocker spaniel Bailey soon became best friends.

She was a terrible cat.  She was.  I won't lie.  She was aggressive to guests and only used the litter box part of the time.  Our furniture became her scratching post no matter what tactics we used to curb her habit.   She would tease our guests and convince them she was a loving animal, rubbing against them and purring.  When they reached down to pet her she would strike.  Don't think we didn't warn them.  We did.  Repeatedly.  But, most of our visitors through the years were convinced they were different and that she really meant it with them.  Oh, she meant it all right.  She meant it when she drew blood!  And, in protest of bringing home a new "kitten" - our newborn son Noah - she ran away for a couple of weeks in what has been the coldest winter we've had in years.  It took her about 5 years before she allowed him to come near her.

Regardless of the issues, she was quite loving toward Nathan and I and became quite the "lap cat" with both of us, nestling down each night in bed between us.  We had a good 15 years with her.  And, despite the issues, they were good years.  She eventually warmed up to Noah, who like his father is an animal whisperer, and once we had Arwyn she began to rotate between all three beds at night, always able to find a warm body who welcomed her demands for love.

Two nights before leaving for the beach she told me something was wrong.  She did.  I voiced it to Nathan but then attributed it to my normal anxiety attack that I have before leaving home for a week. We drove down to our condo on Saturday and spent all of Sunday basking in the sun.  It was Sunday afternoon when the call came.  My sister found Akasha lying in our den, unable to move and much worse.  She crated her and rushed her to the emergency vet who called us quickly to let us know that our beloved cat had a "neurological episode" to which there was most likely no recovery.  I knew immediately when the call came that a difficult decision, made even more difficult by our distance, must be made.  But, make it we did. We let the children know that their beloved companion was ill but waited until sunset on the beach, when we all four gathered, to break the final news.

It is hard to fathom.  A full day of sun on a glorious beach.  A difficult decision.  A yummy dinner. Then tears on the beach and for the rest of the night.  Each day this week I have shared our joys and our triumphs for the world to see.  But today, our share our grief as well.

Peace to you in this first week of fall.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pizzalley's St. Augustine

After a day of sightseeing in the Old City in St. Augustine, we gave in to our children's pleas of pizza. I am not a huge fan of pizza (tasty but harsh on the tummy) and so at home we only order it about once a month. Having already spotted Pizzalley's and seen the Chianti Room reviews online, we asked the park rangers at the Castillo de San Marcos what they recommend. Pizzalley's.

We arrived just in time for happy hour and music. We did not take part in any happy hour specials, but I must say they were good. BOGO on all drinks plus a slice of cheese pizza for all partaking of the drink. In addition, if you are having alcohol, you get $5.00 off a large pizza. Not bad!

The kids each wanted their own pizza and our little one had a kids pepperoni ($4.99) and we ordered the 10-inch personal pizza for our 12 year old. The kids pizza (which we could have ordered for the 12 year old) was quite large and we regretted ordered the $10 individual for him when he could have eaten the kids portion. The hubby and I ordered the Garbage Can with pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms and black olives. Normally we go in for a Greek or Margarita, but we went all out. Oh my! The pizza was delicious, the crust just the right blend of think and thin and slightly crunchy. The toppings were numerous. In addition to the pizza we ordered breadsticks while we waited as this was a late lunch/early dinner for our family and we knew we would not eat again that day. The breadsticks and olive oil were perfect as was my sweet tea!

Our son (remember the 12 year old) reminded us that we never order dessert and that we are on vacation. And, our 8 year old was entranced by the singer setting up shop in the corner. So.....creme brulee, chocolate toffee mousse cake and another glass of sweet tea were ordered. We heard a few songs, ate dessert, boxed up our leftovers and headed to St. Photios to finish out our day.

Pizzalley's Chianti Room on Urbanspoon

Sunset Grill - St. Augustine, Florida

While we are definitely eating "at home" for most of our trip, we are eating a few favorite local/tourist spots this week.  Last night we headed to Sunset Grill.  It had great reviews by both sets (locals and tourists) and we had a few folks who are regulars to this beach tell us eat there.  After a long day at the beach we dressed in what I am calling "upscale beach" and headed into town.  Sunset is a delightful restaurant and due to our off-season travel, we were able to get a covered seat upstairs. Oh!  We went on a Monday night, so again, great seating.

We started the meal with appetizers, which we rarely order as we are, well, budget conscious. Mozarella sticks and coconut shrimp were tops on our list.  Our daughter was allergic to most of the options and the Mahi was only served rare, so these were what we decided upon.  To be honest, they were both pretty standard though they were reasonably priced.  My hubby and I ordered sweet teas while the kids ordered sodas.  The teas were good but not the best I have ever had (if you've ever read my blog you know I'm a sweet tea snob).

The orders were placed as follows:

Our 8 year old had fish bites and fries which she very much enjoyed.  The portions were ample and she now has a second meal for lunch tomorrow!

The 12 year old got All-American burger with a loaded baked potato.  The cheese sauce on the potato looked as if it came from a can but the meal itself was large and he has leftovers for lunch as well.

My husband ordered the Grouper in the seafood cream sauce with a grit cake and corn.  He very much enjoyed it I would say as he left nothing on his plate but we both agreed the grit cake was somewhat bland and the grouper would have been better with a lighter hand on the sauce.  It had a great taste but was a little too much.

I had the fish and potato wedges.  The fish was GINORMOUS!  It was a tasty piece of fish.  The wedges were hand cut and fried.  The tartar sauce was just right.  Not sure if it was made in house but it seemed as if it was.

The service was excellent!  I don't know that we would come back here but for a newbie to the area, it's certainly a place to try.

Sunset Grille on Urbanspoon

South Beach Grille - St. Augustine, Florida

We headed down from Nashville last Saturday to Crescent Beach in the northwest corner of Florida.  After a long drive and many hours to determine where we wanted to eat dinner once we pulled into the St. A area, we settled on South Beach Grille which was 2 miles from our condo.  Nashville is a major foodie town (according to every major magazine and newspaper in the country and from persona observations).  And I consider myself a fairly skilled home cook, so it has to be great to impress us (especially my husband who I can assure you is quite spoiled by my cooking).

We like to vacation in the off-season and are at the beach in late September (another benefit of homeschooling).  So, there was no wait at 8PM on a Saturday night.  We asked to be seated outside and were quite cozy despite the lower evening temps and storm that blew in that evening.

Sweet teas were ordered all around which were really just okay (sweet teas snobs) and proceeded to order our entrees.   They were as follows:  our 8 year old had the fish bites (fresh and breaded in-house) and apples (which were also sliced fresh btw); 12 year old ordered an adult burger and fries (the burger was hand-patted and substantial and the fried delicious, though probably not hand-cut); my husband had the fish tacos which did indeed have a fresh made salsa (which he loved) and I had the crab cake dinner (crab cakes where house made and though different from a Maryland crab cake and I would definitely order them again).   The entire family thoroughly enjoyed their meals!

The service was great and the meal was only around $65 with tip.  We are hoping to go there again on our final night here.

South Beach Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We Are Not Consumers - Revised

There was a time, not so very long ago, okay, maybe 15 years ago, that Nathan and I decided we would live as simply as we could and take as little as possible from the Earth.  We don't have solar panels, we don't live off the grid (appealing but too much work) and we don't ride walk/bike everywhere.  But, we do live fairly simply.  Our largest expense is our grocery budget because we tend to only buy foods that use sustainable practices and do not not harm our bodies.  Looking around my large den, I can only spot two pieces of furniture that were purchased new.  Bookcases and the parsons chair here at my desk.  Everything else was gifted to us gently used or built for me by my father.  I know, having furniture built counts as "new" but we did not spend hours browsing furniture stores, comparing prices, wondering what our friends would think.....and our entire home is furnished in this fashion.

All of our bedroom suits are heirloom pieces handed down through generations.  All of our dining furniture was gifted or purchased used...same for the kitchen.   It is all recycled, repurposed, refinished!

It's been on my mind - this lifestyle of ours - as I have been thinking of ways to earn extra money - run an at-home business, to sustain our path of homeschooling our children.  For many years, I have tried to make a go of direct-sales and for a while I was even getting somewhat successful, building a down-line and earning about $500 a month.  But, I never could stick with it.  I think it's because so many companies are based around customers purchasing things that do not necessarily enrich their lives. 

What I mean is this:  when I'm selling purses or tote bags or beautiful trinkets for the home, it is purely a consumer mentality.  That's just not me.  I buy a purse when my old one breaks or looks so worn that it is embarrassing.  I buy new tennis shoes when the toes of the old ones find themselves with a hole.  New pants?  We rarely go to the mall, we buy only what we need and when we need it.  There is no room in our lives - for many reasons - to shop for the sake of shopping and some of the companies I have attempted to work with have promoted shopping for the sake of shopping.  Folly on my part to be sure!

Right now, as we have made the move to the path we are on we are looking at our own habits more closely.  How do we have what we need to survive and indeed be happy without taxing the resources around us?  What are our options to bring in extra cash without urging people to shop for the sake of the  moment?  Are there opportunities for me to work with products that truly will enrich my life and the lives of others?  If you have the answer, let me know, meantime, I'll be wandering in the wilderness searching for the answers. 

***Disclaimer:  I am a huge fan of Pampered Chef, Arbonne, Usborne and Barefoot Books.  I do own products from the Utility collection from Thirty-One that I use each and every day.  This is not an attempt to speak ill of direct selling, it is more of a reflection on how to be a healthy consumer and bring additional income into my home. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Whisperings of Fall

It's almost here you know.  Fall.  I've heard it everyday for the last week.  When I was getting out of my car in the light of the full moon, I heard the whispers around me as the veil thins.  Our home is surrounded by trees but there is one who speaks when the seasons change.  I can hear her rustling with anticipation, especially now that her leaves are beginning to drop.  Yesterday, my children and I decided to skip church in order to commune with nature and with God as a family at a local nature center.  It reminded me of a previous year when we walked there just as fall was beginning its march toward winter.  And, it reminded me of one of my favorite fall quotes.  Do not endure the wonderful approach of fall inside.  Indeed, be at one with the seasons today!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Benefits of the Garden

The obvious benefits of the family garden:

The not-so-obvious benefits of the family garden:

I'm from a small Tennessee town.  My parents live in the country.  These are not new to me but we certainly see more interesting specimens now that we have a lovely garden filled with flowers and vegetables.  Love that feeding ourselves means feeding the bugs, birds and other wildlife as well!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hoe Cakes on the Horizon

I'm not a food blogger.  There.  I said it.  I've been blogging about food on and off since 2008 but I AM NOT a food blogger.  In fact, far from it.  I'd go so far as to say I suck at it.  I just don't have the perfectionist gene in me and food is typically an organic affair in my home.  No, not in the way that it is grown (okay, that too) but in how I prepare it.  Though I have lovely Williams-Sonoma measuring cups and spoons and handy-dandy Pampered Chef batter bowls (both sizes, thank you), I find it difficult to pull them out with any regularity.  In fact, forgive me if I've told this to you before, until I was about 14 years old I had NO IDEA that measuring cups existed.  My mother had them but she never used them.  Same for a chopping board.  What she had was an instinct about food.  She chopped onions in her hands - with a sharp knife - and so do I.  There was little perfection in the presentation and Gordon Ramsay would have cringed at her plating skills - though I have no doubt she could have run rings around anyone on any cooking show.  This, my friends, was how I learned to cook.

With those things said, it has been my dream for many years to write a cookbook.  I'm in the beginning stages.  The beginning stages look like a series of hand-written recipes of my creation that are going into a book (thank you Becky Higgins and Project Life).  You see, every day I open my spice cabinet to pull out salt or turmeric or garlic or thyme and I see a hand-written recipe for my Mother's yeast rolls.  It was written later in her life when things such as writing had become so difficult for her but it is still her handwriting that I had come to know so well.   My children may not want things in my handwriting.  Who knows?  But, I am giving this gift to them regardless.  The gift of handwritten recipes from their childhood that they can do with what they wish.

So what about the hoe cakes?  Tonight I wrote my first recipe in my new cookbook.  It's something I cook ALL OF THE TIME.  Hoe cakes.  A simple bread to go with dried beans and whatever I harvested that day from the garden.  These are a Southern treat though I have no doubt they are found in other parts of the US and greater world (did you read my post on white beans and universal consciousness?) They are also simple and imperfect and there is rarely one left on the table by the end of the meal.

The recipe goes something like this.

 Prep Time:  10 Minutes
Cook Time:  6 Minutes each batch
Serves:  4 (recipe is easily doubled)

1 cup yellow non-gmo corn meal
1/4 cup flour or baking mix (I use Pamela's GF Baking Mix)
1 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise or 1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp butter

Mix all ingredients together.  Heat 1 tsp butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Drop batter in heaping teaspoons into skillet.  Lightly pat down with spatula to make thin disks.  Cook 3 minutes or until browned (I like golden brown - you may prefer it darker).  Flip cakes and cook an additional 3 minutes.  Remove and place on towel lined plate.  Repeat with remaining batter.