Clearwater Beach is one of a series of beautiful barrier island towns that stretch along Florida’s Pinellas County Gulf of Mexico coast. Blessed with powder white sand it’s a favored playground for tourist worldwide.
At dusk throngs gather at Pier 60 to enjoy a typically stunning sunset that for residents is one of the perks of living along the Gulf of Mexico. Pier 60 juts over 1,000 feet into the Gulf. In the daytime it’s a popular fishing pier.
But after 5:00 p.m. it transforms into a free sunset party complete with buskers, musicians and vendors selling a myriad of arts and crafts.
After sunset walk over to Pier House 60 Hotel and take the elevator to the 10th floor. Jimmy’s Crows Nest Bar & Grill offers panoramic views of Clearwater Beach that at night are particularly impressive along with great burgers and drinks.
Florida, the Sunshine State, can just as easily be dubbed the Sunset State after spending an evening on Clearwater Beach.
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I dislike the term bucket list. I especially dislike it when it’s attached to travel. Adventure and exploration should be the impetus for travel, not checking off a predetermined list of must-see destinations.
Yet when it comes to life, reflecting on one’s innermost aspirations is healthy. How often do we express, especially to ourselves, “No, I can’t do that.” I’m not capable, talented, have no time, I’m afraid.
That’s the thought behind Saint Petersburg’s “Before I die…” wall located at 1049 Central Avenue in the heart of the Grand Central Arts District. A safe place to publicly express our aspirations shares a street bustling with cafes, art galleries and murals created by some of the city’s most talented artists.
A plastic bag of large colored chalk is available for all to use. The Before I die wall project started in New Orleans several years ago and has grown in popularity. I found it challenging, which sounds odd for a professional writer.
I also found reading the wall profoundly moving. I didn’t want to leave. I felt inspired and humbled by the aspirations of others in a way no bucket list blog ever achieved.
Saint Petersburg has been undergoing a major revival ever since the late 1990s despite the 2007 recession. Sprawling neighborhoods that radiated from a once decaying downtown were inconsequential to the trend towards the urban renewal of the 1960s-1980s, which often resulted in the destruction of low-rise residential and commercial streets. In the past decade a steady influx of young professionals with families, artists and entrepreneurs have found a treasure trove of Craftsman and art deco housing and sturdy commercial structures.
In an enviable partnership between business owners and artists – some who got their start defacing decaying buildings with graffiti – vast walls have been transformed into stunning murals.
The nearly 50 murals decorate walls in Saint Petersburg’s seven arts districts. And they’re not defaced. Provide a neighborhood with beauty and it will be respected.
Perhaps the greatest of human aspirations, when given a chance, is simply to be good.
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“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” is a simpler statement than posterity has endowed. In her monograph, “Blessed be he that invented Puddings,” (2013) Dr. Clarissa Dillon explains that it’s just an instruction not to under cook the pudding. Too little time in the water bath results in a loose mass rather than the firm ball that signifies proper texture. Of course, she’s not writing about Jello-O instant pudding in this case.
Clarissa Dillon, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Bryn Mawr College and the foremost authority on 16th through 18th century English and colonial American cooking and household industries, tackles the often confusing interpretations of our shared culinary past. For centuries, puddings were virtually any mixture of ingredients from sweet to savory including meats, seafood, fruits, oats that were blended, wrapped in a casing and steamed. This included what we call today sausages. The casing could be sheep gut or heavy linen cloth.
Puddings were a major component of the English and American table during these centuries and often served as the foundation of a one dish meal in this age of cooking on an open wood fired hearth. In her monograph, Dr. Dillon covers the breadth of combinations that must have delighted an imaginative cook of the day. Puddings can also be seen as the casseroles of the era in so far as any leftover could be added to compliment ingredients creating a new dish.
In an age where few could afford to waste food, even blood from butchered animals combined with cream, eggs, oatmeal, herbs and spices created the famous Black Pudding, a sausage that still graces many a full English breakfast. Without preaching to the reader, Dr. Dillon’s “Blessed be he that invented Puddings” effectively dispels the myth that past diets were monotonous and tasteless. The recipes include a litany of herbs, spices and flavorings that many cooks today believe were either rare or reserved for the very rich – raisins, nutmeg, mace, oysters, anchovies, currents, gooseberries, almonds, saffron, sherry and, by the 18th century, New World Indian corn.
The genius of creating puddings to serve as the center piece of a one dish boiled meal proves that the cook of old was just as conscious of time management as any modern household. The recipe for a basic oatmeal pudding could serve as a savory carbohydrate for some meat and vegetables easily steamed in the same pot. Fortunately, we do not have to labor over the raisins today individually seeding them with a long needle.
An Oatmeal Pudding
This recipe in “Blessed be he that invented Puddings,” by Dr. Clarissa Dillon is from “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” by Hannah Glasse, London 1747.
16 ounces good quality oatmeal such as Irish steel cut (not quick cooking)
16 ounces suet – edible suet from a butcher, not what one puts out for the birds.
16 ounces currents
8 ounces raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large square of thick linen cloth at least 2’X2’
Finely shred the suit with a knife or the grater blade of a food processor.
Combine with the remaining ingredients.
Fill a large pot – 2 to 3 gallon size – with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat (or over a good fire if you have a cooking hearth).
Dip the linen cloth into the hot water and spread out onto the work counter. Coat the cloth with a handful of flour – this seals the fabric.
Place the oatmeal mixture in the center of the cloth and bring the corners up to encase the mixture into a ball and securely tie it with kitchen twine. Be careful not to make the ball to tight because there must be room for the oatmeal to expand.
Place the ball into the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 hours.
If desired, half way through cooking, add any meat you wish to the pot – pork butt, cubed beef, chicken – and root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, carrots and potatoes. Continue to cook until the ball of pudding feels firm to the touch.
Remove from the water and let rest on a sheet pan for a few minutes. Unwrap the cloth and slice the pudding, surrounding it with the meat and vegetables.
As one 18th century author, William Ellis, put it, “if they cannot dine on this with good boiled beef, or with pork, or with bacon and roots, or herbs, they deserve to want (skip) dinner.”
Chef Tal Ronnen, owner of West Hollywood’s Crossroads, and his executive chef Scott Jones demonstrated their flavorful vegetarian cuisine for well-healed foodies at Sun Valley Lodge. Although Sun Valley, a celebrity studded Idaho town, may be out of budget for many, Ronnen and Jones’ cuisine at Crossroads is well within the means of the average working American. Chefs to A-list celebrities, Tal Ronnen’s bestselling The Conscious Cook will intrigue any carnivore.
Chef Tal Ronnen’sCrossroads eggplant caponata over toasted buckwheat and black quinoa
Ingredients for the caponata
5 large sweet red peppers, roasted and diced
2 large eggplant, peeled and diced
2 medium to large white onions, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon minced fresh garlic
3 Tablespoons capers
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups tomato puree
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preparation for the caponata
Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C).
Place the red peppers on a lightly oiled or parchment paper lined sheet pan.
Roast the peppers for 30 minutes turning every 10 minutes.
Remove the peppers from the oven and place in a paper bag. Roll the top of the bag shut and cool for 30 minutes.
Remove the peppers and slip off the charred skin. Discard the seeds and dice the peppers. You should have approximately 2 to 2-1/2 cups diced pepper.
6. Heat a wide deep (4”) pot on medium high heat for a couple minutes. Add the olive oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the eggplant, onions and celery and sauté for several minutes stirring a couple times. Add the red peppers and cook for 3 minutes more.
7. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.
8. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook uncovered for 1 hour stirring every 8 minutes.
9. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: The caponata will stay fresh covered and refrigerated for several days and makes a terrific cold appetizer on crackers or topping for bruschetta.
Ingredients for quinoa
The use of black quinoa is for color contrast, not taste. Therefore any color quinoa is fine.
1 cup black quinoa
3 cups water or vegetable stock
1/2 Teaspoon salt
Preparation for quinoa
Place the quinoa in a bowl, cover with cold water and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain through a strainer and rinse.
Bring the water or stock to a boil. Add the quinoa and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. When done the quinoa will display a tiny white thread.
Drain through a sieve and return to the pan. Cover the pan and let rest for 10 minutes.
Ingredients for the toasted buckwheat
1 cup toasted buckwheat (kasha)
2 cups water
1/4 Teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
fresh ground pepper to taste
Preparation for the toasted buckwheat
If you have purchased untoasted buckwheat (kasha), place the buckwheat in a dry sauté pan and toast over high heat, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes.
In a medium saucepan bring the water, oil and salt to a boil. Add the buckwheat and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed.
Place a generous spoonful of quinoa and buckwheat, side-by-side, on a dinner plate. Place a generous serving of caponata on top but leave each of the grains still visible on the sides. Serve with a tossed salad or a Greek salad and a crisp dry Sauvignon blanc and you have a delicious vegetarian meal.
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A trip to the Pacific Northwest inspired this dish. It’s hard to ignore the glistening salmon, the allure of the sea and the moist forest scents of cedar. The forests and rivers provided the ingredients for this dish, common to the Native American cultures of the Salish Sea. Here it’s fused with ginger from the east captured in English inspired preserves. Most grocers sell ginger preserves, and it’s available through mail order.
The rich oils of wild salmon are excellent for absorbing flavors, and the aromatic wood pairs well with the tangy sweetness of the ginger and lemon. The slow caramelizing with sweet onion enhances the anise flavor of fresh fennel. The apple cider syrup napping the vegetables compliments the ginger glaze on the fish.
Cedar planks for cooking are available from kitchen supply stores, upscale grocers and by mail order. Never use cedar that has been treated for construction. Follow the instructions for soaking the cedar plank before proceeding with cooking.
Ginger Glazed Cedar Planked Salmon & Cider Glazed Caramelized Fennel
Ingredients for the cedar plank:
1 cedar plank
3 to 4 cups apple cider (water or wine may be substituted).
Two hours before grilling, place the cedar plank in a roasting pan large enough to fit.
Pour the apple cider over the plank and soak, turning once. Soak for two hours.
Ingredients for the fennel and sweet onion:
1 fennel bulb
1 medium sweet onion
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup simmering water
salt and pepper to taste
Cut stalks off fennel bulb. Remove and reserve fronds, discard the stalks. Slice bulb into 4 to 6 slices.
Peel and slice the onion into 4 to 6 slices.
Melt the butter in a 12-inch sauté pan, or one large enough to fit the fennel and onions in a single layer.
Arrange the fennel and onions on top of the melted butter.
Add the simmering water and cover. Reduce heat and gently steam for 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and cook an additional 15 minutes allowing the water to evaporate and the vegetables to lightly brown. Turn at least once.
Ingredients for the salmon
1 pound wild caught salmon fillet, ideally with the skin on
olive oil to coat
salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, zest and juice
4 to 5 tablespoons ginger preserves
Heat a gas or charcoal grill to about 350ºF or a medium heat-setting.
Remove the plank from the apple cider and place it on a baking sheet. Reserve the apple cider for the fennel glaze.
Place the salmon fillet, skin side down, onto the plank. Lightly coat the top of the salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Mix the lemon juice and zest into the ginger preserves and spoon over the salmon.
Place the cedar plank on the grill and cover the grill. Cook for 12 to 18 minutes. The salmon is done when it is uniformly pink in the center.
Preparation for the fennel’s cider glaze:
While salmon is grilling, pour the reserved apple cider into a sauce pan and reduce over high heat until it’s a light syrup, about a 75 percent reduction.
Plate the salmon and fennel:
When the salmon’s cooked, remove the plank to a cutting board. Slice the fillet into three portions and, using a thin spatula, separate the skin from the fillet.
Arrange on plates with the fennel and onion. Drizzle the apple cider syrup over the fennel and decorate the dish with chopped fennel fronds.
Usually cedar planks can be re-used once or twice until they become overly charred, cracked or impossible to clean. Clean under hot running water – do not use detergent – scrubbing off the skin and loose ash. Allow to dry on a rack and store with the grill.
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John Ringling was the greatest impresario of his day. He created the iconic circus venue of 20th century legends, and he knew how to make money.
Commenting on a huge portrait of Ringling in the grand hall of Ca’ d’Zan, the incisive social commentator of the 1920s, Will Rogers, said it was the first time he saw John’s hand in his own pocket…
The love of his life, Mabel, was also a savvy art lover especially of the popular Italian Venetian Renaissance era. With unlimited funds, John and Mabel prodigiously purchased great master artist of the era , furniture and a queen’s entire opera house. They employed top artist to paint original works of art throughout Ca’ d’Zan on ceilings, inside bathroom cabinet doors, on pillars – every square inch of this Venetian palace is art.
Ca’ d’Zan was Mabel’s project. It was meant from the outset to be a showplace, just like her husband’s circus. At a cost of $1,500.000 ($20,000,000 in 21st century dollars) the mid 1920s Venetian palace on the shore of Sarasota Bay is a palace.
Although Mabel died nearly a decade before John, he respected her wishes donating Ca’ d’Zan and its priceless art collection in his will to the state of Florida. Florida State University maintains the mansion, its art museum and the opera house as an integral component of its Sarasota campus.
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Tiffany conjures images of ultimate luxury. Diamonds and gleaming silver flood our minds at the sound of that name. Yet Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Tiffany & Company founder Charles, was an artistic polymath who put his stamp on paintings, shimmering glass, mosaics, architecture, pottery, bronze and objet d’art. He was the genius that reinvented interior design for the generation of the Gilded Age.
For lovers of Art Nouveau in America as envisioned by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933) mecca is the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art owns the largest and most comprehensive collection of Tiffany art in the world. Like the era that fostered both Louis Comfort Tiffany and affluent Winter Park, the museum is the product of a vast Gilded Age fortune.
Jeannette Genius (1909-1989) was the granddaughter of Chicago industrialist Charles Morse. Charles had a keen appreciation for art and warm Florida winters. First wintering and then retiring to this wealthy suburb of Orlando in the late 19th century, Charles Morse became a major benefactor and real estate baron in Winter Park.
Jeannette’s mother, Elizabeth Morse Genius, was an accomplished artist and patron of the era’s modern art – American impressionism, and Tiffany Studios. Jeannette inherited both wealth and an artistic passion, pursuing her own successful career as an interior designer. After spending much time with her grandfather in Winter Park she chose the town as her permanent residence.
Her family’s philanthropy had already made a mark on Winter Park’s Rollins College, and at the age of 27 Jeannette started a decades-long association on the Board of Trustees. More importantly she met and married a dashing Rollins art professor, Hugh McKean (1908-1995) who himself had an intimate connection to Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Tiffany had designed his magnificent Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall, in 1903 as a showcase for everything he loved. He intended that it would eventually become a residential institution to foster young artists. In 1930 a young Hugh McKean spent months at Laurelton Hall as one of Tiffany’s students. Although Hugh’s family was well to do, it was the match of love, art and Jeannette’s vast fortune that allowed the couple to fulfill their dream.
It’s difficult to believe that even before the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1933, his designs had become passé. During the 1940s and 1950s Jeannette and Hugh amassed a personal collection in every medium of Tiffany Studios designs. They established the Morse Museum and the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, which owns and funds museum operations. More importantly, through their work they revived the keen international interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany that grows stronger as time passes.
Upon hearing in 1957 of the tragic fire that destroyed Laurelton Hall they set out to salvage and restore everything they could from stained glass windows, architectural artifacts and Tiffany’s masterpiece, the Byzantine Chapel he designed for Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. The chapel was a creation of love and a marketing tour de force that catapulted Tiffany’s career to international fame. From its hand carved door, shimmering mosaics, stunning blue baptistery window to the revolutionary eight by ten foot, three dimensional Byzantine cross, the Electrolier, electrified with the aid of Thomas Edison, the chapel alone is worth a visit to the Morse Museum.
A visit to the Morse Museum is more than just gazing at beautifully displayed art. It’s meant to be an educational experience on Tiffany’s life and genius. Free detailed booklets in each gallery meticulously explain the exhibits. The lighting is stunning, illuminating objects in the manner intended for their original owners and eliciting sounds of awe as glass comes alive in shimmering glory. Archival videos and displays demonstrate the actual methods used by Tiffany Studio artists to create these magnificent objects.
An entire wing of the museum recreates as much as possible the feel of Laurelton Hall as Louis Comfort Tiffany would have wanted his guests to experience from the impressive entrance hall, his very modern dining room and what was salvaged of his beloved Daffodil Terrace. The Daffodil Terrace highlights Tiffany’s love for that flower and his skill in ceramics. In a glass walled enclosure complete with comfortable wicker chairs, the terrace invites museum visitors to relax, read and contemplate beauty. Contemplating beauty is the successful legacy of Tiffany, Jeannette, Hugh and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.
There are many parks in the United States but Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an animal refuge. It’s also enjoyable to visit.
From the Florida brown bear to iconic bald eagles, these animals were rescued after injury. What may at first seem like a zoo is a haven for these beautiful creatures.
What was once a zoo-like Florida attraction starting in the 1940s became the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the ‘80s. The goal was to give refuge to animals indigenous to the tropics of the western hemisphere with one exception. Lucifer, the locally popular African hippopotamus, first purchased by the original developers, was designated a Florida citizen by the state legislature. The 50+ year old hippo enjoys a charmed life at the park.
The Homosassa springs bubble up from the depths of the Earth at a constant 72° F. This warm water attracts an abundant variety of fish and aquatic animals. The Fish Bowl underwater observatory provides a unique experience to view life under sea level.
In some cases the animals heal enough to be released back into the wild. A park ranger told a story of one owl they thought would not be able to fly after its injury. To their surprise, it was gone one day. Yet the owl seems to miss this refuge. She returns frequently and sometimes stays the night.
Of great importance is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s manatee program. The endangered manatee, the object of many fatal encounters with Florida pleasure boats, receive expert health care in a state of the art facility. The park is one of the finest locations to view this massive gentle mammal.
Your visit to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park starts with a slow and picturesque barge trip from the visitor’s center on the Homosassa River. Thickly lined with vegetation the fifteen minute trip is visually beautiful with sunlight creating mirror reflections in the slow moving water. The barge docks at the entrance to the mile-long path that meanders through the various wildlife habitats.
The park is well designed for disabled visitors, and given the reality that Florida summers are hot and humid, there are sitting areas and concessions selling items from bottled water to ice cream. The air conditioned reptile house is a quiet place to cool down. Knowledgeable rangers are eager to share their stories.
A day at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an enjoyable education of what our Earth can be like when humans live in harmony with nature.