First Time Bartender at the Island City Art Walk

Last night, Wilton Manors held a party.

It wasn’t strictly a “Wilton Manors Party” it was more like a bunch of parties strung together all at once, all along the Drive.  This is the basis for the Island City Art Walk.  It’s not an official event held under one official banner. 

Each individual store that decides to participate has artists with their works on display at their store to show off the art.  Some shops are always hosting artists, others drop in and out as time allows. 

It’s a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and wander through some shops that normally you would not be able to go to.

Ok so that’s basically the gist of how I see things as a resident and sometimes participant.

What happened with me was a bit different, at least as far as my own experience shows.  I’m not a bartender, I have never played one on TV.  I have tried to get a friend up to Wilton Manors so he could get to see it and those plans fell apart early last week so we went to the Wilton Manors Main Street offices to “help out”.

Kevin delivered some cheese, chips and salsa from GFS Marketplace, another member delivered some wine and ice, and we set things out for the coming throng.  We were ready.

As time went on, Kevin, Krishan and I were playing host to a steady stream of people.  I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Vice Mayor Tom Green and a number of others as I was standing behind the bar and as time went on, we got our first lull in the traffic.   Krishan excused himself as things were quite under control for a bit of time out on the town. 

As parties go, they always have a lifespan.  Start out slow, build to a peak, then fade out slowly until the last one is kicked off the couch or told that since they crashed there all night it is their responsibility to make breakfast for everyone.

Make mine a sausage and cheese omelette, please.

Just as the party begun to build, a full 15 minutes into it, Kevin’s phone rang.  He ran out to take a “quick call” and I was pouring wine and serving cheese.  I’m looking back at it and have to say it was “different in a good way”.  I was able to basically host a party on my own introducing people to the artist, and telling them where we are on the Two Lane Initiative for Wilton Drive as far as I knew. 

That quick call was 45 minutes long, so I was on my own for a while.  On the other hand, it was a chance to visit with some friends in the neighborhood that I only partly knew and get caught up.  Funny how time will stretch and compress when you’re having fun. 

The salsa was a hit, GFS had some good stuff, and the leftovers will go into the salsa chicken that is today’s dinner.  I think we’re going to have that chicken on top of chips with a layer of cheese chunks.   Funny how versatile “snack food” can be.  The recipe is simple – add to a crockpot 8 frozen chicken breasts and enough salsa to coat and then press cook.  Shred when done with two forks.   We used chicken from GFS that we picked up last weekend at the Fort Lauderdale store so this meal is all from them.

Considering what I experienced, I would say that the people who came in are expecting some changes in the city.  There was heavy interest in what the Two Lane Initiative was all about and what it’s status was.  Basically, we have applied for a grant, and we are waiting to see if the grant application is going to be approved.   In the meantime, the City has a committee made of community members who meet to formulate plans to proceed.  Many questions also were being asked about the businesses that were closing on the drive in this difficult economic downturn.

We are basically waiting to see where we’re going, and the people who I spoke with were very happy to hear that it hasn’t died.

Once Kevin’s 45 minute call was over, Krishan immediately appeared and I was off duty.  I got to enjoy the party by greeting guests from a chair while helping them find the artist and answering still more questions about what went on with the Art Walk and with the Two Lane Initiative and important things like where is the nearest ATM.

Both artists who exhibited their works at Wilton Manors Main Street were well received and were both saying that they’d like to come back.  I would say that the Exhibits as well as the Art Walk was a success.

The experience was a fun one, I did enjoy playing bartender but I’ll have to remember next time – softer shoes!

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Tis the Season to Bake Cookies

It is December.  The Holiday Season.  It means that while everyone else is running round ragged at shopping malls, growling at people who took that last gift that they needed for just that special person…

We’re baking cookies.

Last week, we baked Pizelles, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip Pecan, and Gingerbread Cookies.   We still have more of all to make between now and the New Year and will be making Pecan Brittle and roasting a lot of extra coffee.

Why all of this?  I got started being the odd man out years back when I was getting ready for parties.  I’ve always had something of an aptitude for baking as those who have tasted my goods will attest.  It got to the point where in the summer I was hearing about last year’s cookies and “will you please just give me a box of cookies for xmas?”.  I turned myself into “the little old lady with the recipes” a while back and told everyone that they were getting “Care Packages” of baked goods for one holiday and that I encouraged those who were getting one to try to be creative in kind.  Not everyone can bake, but I did get some home made goods that I have to this day from friends and family. 

That was back in the 1980s, and I’m still doing it to this day.  A batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies is around 100 cookies, add pecans and it becomes around 144.  A tray of Pecan Brittle can be as much as 3 pounds of sugary goodness. 

Now when a home cooked meal means stopping in the first aisle by the door in Publix near the house at Five Points and getting a pre-roasted Chicken, some Red Velvet Cake, and a bottle of wine on the way home, a little something truly made by hand can be unexpected.  While Publix is an excellent supermarket, I find that the reality of the profit motive means that they skimp a little and use ingredients that aren’t quite as good as I would.  Ironically I do buy my ingredients from Publix as well as GFS, so I do know what they can do if they applied themselves.

Somehow I don’t think they are going to be churning butter to make a cake. 

I on the other hand can say “Been there, done that.” The home churned butter really does change the flavor of what ever you’re baking.  It is well worth the extra 10 minutes.

After all, if you’re going to bake for someone for the holidays you had better make sure that it’s going to be “Mindbendingly good”… even if I do say so myself!  😉

Now all I have to do is decide if I want to send along Decaf or Regular home roasted coffee…

So what is this bar thing at the bottom?

Simple. 

It allows you to chat, if someone else is there you can even talk to someone else.

The bar at the bottom will talk with Facebook and show you the group that I set up.

There will be a map that shows you where the last few people are who hit the page.

There is a link on the bottom that shows you how many people liked the page.

That’s the short and sweet.  I have been wondering who if anyone has been reading my blog.  I sit down after I make my coffee in the morning, before I do the job search, and I check things out.  Each page that I write, the blog entries are basically a “Brain Dump”.  I sit there and think of a topic, or post a picture and write about it.  I have wondered whether or not there was a reason for me to continue, and knowing that there’s someone who I don’t know in Washington who has been reading me daily for a while, does make it worth it. 

I know when I posted something about GFS, it wandered all through their corporate HQ and I got a real spike in traffic.  Great shop by the way, if you have a GFS nearby, go and explore.  Their food is high quality and if the other stores are anything like the one in Fort Lauderdale, they’ll be just as amazing as well.  Real nice folks down here, I’m sorry I didn’t go in earlier.  Very helpful and very friendly.

There are some posts that get hit more than others of course.  The ones I wrote about the Poang chair last summer constantly get hit more than every other day.  The one where I basically trash a Swiffer gets hit a little less but there is a lot of interest in those as well.

I’m not a corporation, I haven’t earned a penny from the Blog, but knowing that people are interested keeps me going.  Being able to track what everyone likes to read is good for me because I can write more about that sort of thing.  This is all opinion, and if I’m wrong… well I’m wrong and it won’t be the first time.

I will hop in the chat bar every so often.  If you see someone in there say hi.  I’ll be surprised but happily so.

If you are on Facebook, feel free to join the group.   I’ll post the day’s link in there as well as in my own FB page.  It isn’t a very popular blog, I’ve got around 100 readers, which is surprising as well.   I hated to write in school and writing here was a pleasant change of pace for me. 

Being a Project Manager, I’ve found that this is a good outlet for me to write instructions to folks who have technical questions.  If I get long winded, well that’s all part of the job I guess. 

For now, the immediate payback is that if I get this to work, I’ll add this sort of thing to a client’s web page and be able to help that group touch other people’s lives with their own message. 

So feel free, read, and enjoy.  By all means, let me know what you think!  I’ve got almost a full year (next week will be the anniversary) of postings and they’re all online in the archives.  My personal schedule is to put up one new posting a day, at 8 in the morning, my time in Florida. 

Plantains are on my Plate Today

Labor day in the US.  A Summer Bank Holiday where everyone goes out and has cookouts and eats way too much.  Outside of the United States, people are probably saying what’s different from every day?

Snide comments aside, it is a fun holiday.  If you enjoy cooking, this is a chance for you to get your favorite recipe and try it out.  There’s always extra so the neighborhood ends up being a giant rolling feast or a pot luck dinner party if there isn’t anything official.

Later today, I’m planning on having burgers, fries, boiled yuca and probably something else for lunch.  This afternoon I’m thinking about baking a Key Lime Pie

This is Florida after all, and I’ve been making them since the early 1980s.  I went to GFS yesterday, visited with Vanessa there and the rest of the friendly folks in Ft Lauderdale, and got five ready made graham cracker pie crusts and that means that I’ll be making a lot of pies over the next month.  I will do a post once I get the recipe all figured out.  My sister made it for a friend up in Cherry Hill, NJ, and it turned out wonderful.

Since I’ve been down here, I’ve been exposed to new foods.  Most of the new foods I have enjoyed.  The problem is that while I am not a professional cook, I am detail oriented enough to want to try the recipe myself.  If you turn a Project Manager loose in a kitchen you get some interesting results.

If I like it, and you can make it, why can’t I make it too?

I have always enjoyed going to a specific fast food restaurant here and having boiled yuca, rice and beans, and a half chicken.  It comes with Candied or Sweet Plantains.

Plantains are the big ugly brother of the banana family.  Kind of like me.  They can be cooked, I’ve had them raw and they aren’t as sweet as the usual “Cavendish” variety.  They’re usually about twice the size of a large banana, and are sold Green, Yellow, and Black.  Each color has a different use.  You can make them into savory dishes, have them mashed for breakfast which is something I’ll try in the future, or sweet.  Basically each of those choices for each of those colors respectively.  Your Mileage May Vary.

My favorite is the sweet plantains.  You get golden chunks of fruit cooked, served typically warm with a sweet coating.  I never knew what was on them or how to even attempt to cook them until I finally decided enough was enough and pursued it myself.

If you want to try this, read this narrative at least once – there’s a lot of judgment in how I made these things.  Basically I was done when they just looked “Right”!  Also remember, I’ve done this a couple times and got it right each time – its a very forgiving fruit and unless you burn it, it is hard to get it wrong.  Since I am writing from memory – you will want to use your own judgment.  Yes, there’s that word again – if you burn your kitchen down well, it makes for a great story and it is at your own risk just like anything in life, come on back and write in my comments about it!  🙂

So here we go, this is what I found.

The setup is that I used a non stick pan which is not really traditional.  I don’t like cleaning goo off of my good iron skillet so to the teflon I went.  This recipe is easier in a non stick pan.

To the skillet I added about a teaspoon and a half of butter and put the thing on medium heat. 

While the skillet was melting the butter, I sliced the Plantain.  Everywhere I have seen it done in thick chunks, about 4 to 8 per Plantain.  I wanted more so I sliced them thinner.

Remember Thin Slices Cook Faster!  This recipe takes about 5 minutes more or less to cook.  It’s quick!

Now that the butter was melted, I added the chunks of plantains to the skillet.  On top of the chunks I scattered about a teaspoon of sugar, and eventually added more.   The idea is to get some on everything, and mix some up with the butter.  Flip the chunks around so the sugar gets on the bottom of the pan and mixes in well.   Stir the chunks around and now you basically have a sauce forming of butter and sugar.  

What you have is a skillet bubbling with plantains cooking and a toffee sauce, butter and sugar, in the base.

When the plantains begin to turn a golden brown on the bottom side, flip them and repeat.  When you flip them, dust the entire skillet with Cinnamon Powder if you like it.  Stir the plantains around to get the cinnamon mixed in the toffee in the bottom of the pan.   Flip them if you like – the goal is to get everything coated with cinnamon, sugar, butter and cooked well.

The plantains are ready when they’re cooked to an amber color, tender, and coated with that sugary goo.

Remove the plantains, serve warm with the syrup from the bottom of the pan if there is any left. 

My plantains were actually a little bit crispy because the syrup turned into a brittle candy on the outside.  I liked the effect and will try for that again but it will require more butter and sugar than I used.

Ingredients:
Skillet – I used a 9 inch non stick skillet.

1 or 2 plantains at the yellow to black stage.  Each one serves two people.  Sliced to 4 to 8 or more slices per fruit.

Butter – minimum of 1 teaspoon per fruit.  You need to cover the pan lightly and the butter will be the sauce they’re served in.

Sugar – minimum of about 1 1/2 Teaspoons per Plantain.  It is traditional to use brown sugar but I used ordinary white sugar the last time and it was good too.

Ground Cinnamon – Dust to Taste.

If you try this, please let me know in the comments.  I love the stuff, I must be a crazy anglo but I really do enjoy these sweet things.

Hurricane Food Can Be Fun – For a Dog

One of the things that I didn’t have to prepare for Up North was bizarre weather.  Sure, we’d get some bad rains but they’d drain off downhill to someone else’s place.  We’d get 5 months of winter, three of which the grounds would be frozen solid.  For the most part nothing was strong enough to make us want to store up two weeks of food and water “just in case” things got bad.

In South Florida, and I suspect the rest of the Gulf Coast and the state, we are told that it’s not a matter of if but when a hurricane would hit.  Katrina started over that way about 25 miles off shore, rolled over head, and did a beautiful city with a rich culture a world of hurt.  Wilma started in the Gulf and came over land and visited here for about two solid days.  New Orleans is still recovering, and I notice here in Wilton Manors that the power “pops” at least three times a day with surges due to the creaky infrastructure caused by Wilma.

So in June, off to the big box stores we all dutifully go, getting the Extra Large containers of food that won’t spoil without refrigeration.  We draw down frozen food supplies, and watch the weather to know if we’re under the gun.

One of the quirks that gives us is that we get to buy “weird food” that normally we would not eat.  Last year I got Kimchi Taste! ramen that was so fiery hot that I couldn’t eat it with the spice packet.  I was down to about 1/4 teaspoon of spice per bowl.  I’m sure that the Koreans love it, and I enjoy Kimchi if I can find a good Korean Market, but not here in Broward.

Everyone here who doesn’t have a food allergy toward the stuff has a container of Peanut Butter.  Quintessentially American, people eat the stuff in many different ways.  Every so often that leaves us with a big “empty” jar to be recycled.

By Dog.

Show me a dog who does not like Peanut Butter and that will be the first one I have ever even heard of. 

Having a border collie means finding new and interesting ways to keep her entertained.  Here’s a trick for you.  When you finish that plastic jar, show the dog what it is and place at least one “cookie” inside of it.  Rattle the jar around so the cookie gets stuck to the peanut butter that you can’t get out of the jar and then set it on the counter in view.  The dog will watch it like a hawk then eventually walk away.  I can keep that game up for a while, but eventually when she gets the jar, she’ll work on it for about a half hour.  Mine will toss the jar in the air and get the cookie out when it bounces off the ground, but it can take a lot of time, especially if you have rugs.

I don’t, and every time that jar hits the ground it bounces around loudly.  Don’t try this late at night!

The standard peanut butter jars, she has learned to open in around 15 to 30 minutes.  This year for hurricane supplies we got the Extra Massive Size Jar from GFS.  I discovered that I prefer the GFS Store Brand jar of crunchy peanut butter to the big names.  Just as much flavor, if in fact more than the national brands.  This jar is the size of a small melon – 80 ounces.  I can’t even get both hands around that jar and I’m a big man – 6’4″ and 225 pounds myself. 

I took a small bit of peanut butter on a butter knife, put it on a cookie, stuffed all that in her Kong toy and then sealed it all up inside of the jar.   Rattling all of that together, it got glued to the bottom of the jar with the most impossible of all glues – Chunky Peanut Butter. 

Watching me intently, I set the jar on the floor.   Lettie being a Mc Nab Dog is incredibly patient.  She waited watching the jar wanting to be released from this torture by the magic words.

OK!

She tore into the jar but couldn’t figure out the lid so after an hour of her trying to chew this up, I took pity on her and removed the gnawed thing.

Remember Do This Under Supervision!  The jar lid did crack so when that happened, that was when I pulled it off.  A softer plastic would help, and the National Brand lids are better for this particular task.

That wasn’t the end of this task since the Kong was still glued to the bottom of the jar with a Peanut Butter Death Grip that super glue would be proud of!  She then stuck the edge of it in her mouth, picked it up and flipped it in the air.  When it came down, the Kong stayed put so she thought I’ll just lick the peanut butter off the jar and try later.  

This went on for another 45 minutes.   We’re at an hour 45 now!

Finally, the Kong’s suction broke and it popped out of the jar.   She went after the cookie inside for another 15 minutes and cleaned it out.  No more cookie, no more peanut butter, Lettie decided now it is time to go back after the jar.

She daintily picked up the jar and licked all the easy peanut butter off then realized there’s more goodies down deep and stuck her head inside the jar and licked away.  Had her head been a little smaller, I’d have to get the shears to get it off so it is a judgment call on your part as to whether this is safe – if your dog’s head gets stuck in the jar, it is on you.  I got lucky that all the parts were just the right size.

If you do end up with a dog stuck int he jar, you may have the next viral video on your hands…. I’m just saying ….

Obviously, larger dogs will shred the thing.  Smaller ones may just climb inside.  My dog is a 47 pound dog, a nice medium size.  Everything fell into place… but remember the dog’s safety first.  Don’t try this if you think there’s a chance your dog will get hurt.  This is obviously not a “normal” or “intended” use for a peanut butter jar so I’m not recommending it, GFS is not recommending it.  A “shatterproof” plastic jar is only shatterproof under intended use

If it works though, your dog will love you for it!

Banana Bread Recipe

Yes, I like to cook.  I just don’t like recipes that take forever and have many fussy ingredients. 

I’ve always shied away from Banana Bread, and now that I’ve broken down and made some, I don’t know why. 

I love Cavendish bananas and their cousins plantains.  I even have a banana tree in the back yard in a tree prison next to the pool.  The poor tree is screaming “Free Me!  Let me out of this POT!!!” every time I go out back. 

I was in the mood to cook yesterday and made a number of strange things, all of which were simple.  I knew I wanted some different food and when I was at GFS Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, I found the ingredients I needed to make them over the week.

Here’s the store if you want to see it.  If not, just page down.  🙂

The Banana Bread came around because they had some “perfectly ripe” bananas on sale.   A bunch for $1.75.  A hand of bananas with speckles that promised sweetness also produces its own problem.  You just can’t eat seven bananas in two or three days.  I could freeze some for later baking or make a pudding out of them but this time I decided to try the banana bread.

The rules were no strange preparation, no strange ingredients and I wanted to try it in the bread machine.  I had found a recipe that worked out perfectly.   I only mashed the bananas a little because the machine did that for me except one rogue chunk that refused to stay down.

You can’t keep a good banana down, apparently.

The recipe was simple:
Toss all the ingredients into the bread machine in order,
Run on Dough cycle for 5 minutes to make sure that the bananas are all mashed and everything is mixed.
Press “Light” for bake setting
Press start,
Walk away until done.
Enjoy.

The ingredients are:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (don’t get these two mixed up, I have and it never is pretty)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas peeled and halved lengthwise

That’s it!  I had a slice this morning with some home churned butter and it was wonderful with the coffee.  I’ll have to make more once this loaf is done.  After all, I still have more bananas and they’re not getting any younger!

The Emperor has no Clothes or Shopping at a Warehouse Club

If someone takes a little time, you can find some amazing buys these days.   There are a whole laundry list of specific industry and market websites as well as many general purpose sites that are geared towards finding you the best price on a given item.   Many companies have websites that are designed to be the best in their breed and be better than their competition.   There are companies who make all their money by writing software so that the store can beat their competition by having a better experience for the web shopper.

So why is it that there are still stores that you have to pay to get into when the prices are really not THAT much better than the market price?  Here in South Florida, I have a GFS Wholesale Store nearby.  I shop that place before I go to the slightly more distant BJ’s Wholesale club because the quality and some of the prices of the merchandise is better at GFS.  GFS is Free, BJ’s costs me $40 to get in the front door.  Costco won’t even let you on the sales floor without a card and are quite arrogant about that.   Those cards from what I can see are only there to give the shopper or Member a feeling that they belong to something special that others just can’t get into.

Seems to me that I’d feel happier with a kick in the pants.

I have been members at Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s.   I keep a card at BJ’s simply because I can get the dog food there at a slightly better price than other places that I have found in the area.   Their quality is average, and there is a disturbing amount of mediocre “Berkley and Jensen” captive brand merchandise there.  Costco I was wholly unimpressed with and dropped it after a year.   Sam’s Club was what I left for BJ’s about a decade ago, and did so because it was inconvenient.

So is it worth $40 a year for dog food?  Probably not.   The BJ’s on Powerline Road in Ft Lauderdale has Gasoline sold there.   That Gasoline irks me the most.  The thing is that while the local stores were selling gas at $2.61 a gallon the other day, BJ’s was at $2.63 a gallon.   I know there is a lot of variance in prices in gas in any given area, but BJ’s has this Member Price where you were made to feel special when you pay MORE than the market price.   If you are not a Member, and are there in an emergency (which is highly doubtful) you pay an extra 20 cents a gallon for the privilege of buying gas at a BJ’s.   Yes, $2.83 a gallon for gas which was 22 cents a gallon more than the Mobil station just down the road.

Basically there are a very few things that I can’t get anywhere else than BJ’s but every time I go in there I feel like I’ve been taken advantage of.   There is another disturbing trend at BJ’s with roving window salesmen.   You’re in there looking at what ever overpriced item you are considering and some eager young person, and they are always young… ALWAYS, will swoop over to you and start to sell you things that you don’t need.

BJ’s you are becoming the Tivo of the Wholesale Clubs.  It used to be that you’d pay to get in the door, and feel good because you had higher quality than average merchandise and all was good.   Now you have merely average, mass market merchandise at a giant aircraft hanger of a store, no sales support for “complex items”, not enough depth in the selection of the goods, and these annoying sales people wandering around throwing themselves in your path trying to get more money out of you.  Stop it.

Oh and those TV Sets at the end of the aisles with the constantly blaring commercials running really truly need to go away.  Give the sets to a needy school and give us all a break from that incessant advertisement.  I don’t feel like a Member, I feel like I’m trying to dodge the homeless on a city street.