Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Early evening on Lake Harris

It's OUTDOOR WEDNESDAY and WATERSIDE WEDNESDAY again... Be sure to visit all the wonderful posts at Susan's place ( and at Barbara Jacksier's blog ( You will not be disappointed!

Earlier in the summer, I wrote about the Chain of Lakes in Central Florida and posted a couple of photographs of the sunset over Lake of these lakes. Lake Harris is such a beautiful place that whenever I visit my sister, we walk down the path to the lake to watch the spectacular sunsets. On this particular walk, however, I stopped to capture the beauty of her gardens and the land around the lake...

There is something magical about Spanish moss gently waving from the trees. It evokes dreams of days gone by...very "southern" and very coastal. The only time I do not like moss is after a hurricane...

Growing up on a lake near Tampa, our home was surrounded with cypress trees, filled with moss. With the high, hurricane force winds bending the flexible cypress trees, all the moss would end up on the ground...sometimes knee-deep. My brother and I were given the job of picking up this gray mass and taking it to the pit for burning. This job would take days!!! (We lived on 7 acres.) But it had to be done or the grass and bushes would die. Now please understand...this moss is not like the sterile stuff you buy at the craft's full of tiny "red bugs" which creep under your skin...and in the strangest places. The only way to kill these little critters is to suffocate them...and Mom always used fingernail polish. So not only did we have to do that dreaded job...we ITCHED for days...and had dots of bright RED nail polish all over our bodies (Mom's favorite color). Thankfully, we did not have many hurricanes!!!

This lovely pink vine is a Mandevilla Vine... It's growing up the trunk of
a Bay tree...a relative of the Magnolia. The deep color is striking all
spring and summer long and well into the fall, until the first frost.
There is Spanish Moss caught between the tree and the vine...natures way of framing her beauty...

The spiky grass-looking foliage are varieties of Day Lilies...They have finished flowering for this season, but when in bloom they are a mass of yellow-gold, red, and striped flowers.

This "ancient" turtle planter lays beside the
walkway to the deck. It is filled with
Sansevieria plant...also known as a Snake
plant...or Mother-in-Law Tongue (notice
the sharp points...I hope my tongue is not
that sharp with my daughter-in-law.

Here we are looking down a slope to the lake. There are natural limestone boulders incorporated into the garden. Here you see a variety of Ginger nestled beneath large oaks. Just beyond you see more cypress trees and the lake. Dotted along the lake are restaurants where you can tie your boat up to a dock and enjoy a meal...and often music. Our favorite little place is a "biker bar" (called that because there are always a large number of Harleys in the parking lot...but they're usually ridden by white-haired, young-at-heart Senior Citizens! Maybe they were with the Hell's Angels when they were young...). This dive has GREAT cheeseburgers.

As we strolled down the path, I noticed this "little" creature. He was enjoying a tasty meal. Isn't he wearing the most beautiful colors!
We hated to see him chow down on this plant, but he was so beautiful, we truly hated to disturb his meal.

In the warmth of the last rays of the sun, we spied this nest high in the branches of a Cypress tree. We were unable to tell if it was an Osprey or Eagle nest...but we did hear the sounds of young ones waiting for their dinner.

Look closely and you will see the pods that this tree produces. They are a pale gray/green.

My sister and I settle on the dock's benches to watch the show.
It's a different every night... and we NEVER get tired
of watching it.

As we walked back to the house, I looked down into the water to see what had just jumped, and I noticed all these Cypress "knees" sticking up from the water. Without the sun shining, the water was an eerie black color. The starkness of the gray knees and moss looked like something from a spooky movie... The night songs begin...frogs, cicadas, owls, birds... The little bats are swiftly flying about, catching their dinner... There are the flashing lights of fireflies in the rustling reeds...
And a very LARGE alligator glides by...time to go in!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Spanish Feast for 4

In an earlier Tablescape Thursday post, I shared with you my dilemma of serving a large group of people...12 to be exact. One of my dilemmas was what to serve...Well apparently many of you liked the menu and wanted the recipes I used...or ones that I would use to complete the meal. So here it is... A Spanish/Cuban Feast... downsized for 4. I apologize for the lack of precise measurements, but I do not measure when cooking...unless you count the amount in my hand or the amount that I see coming out of the shaker... When cooking for a large group, I like to use a few shortcuts with already prepared canned beans and packaged rice. (This photo is actually Arroz con Pollo, but it looks similar to Pollo en Cacerola - just don't use the red pimientos on top of the chicken.)

Chicken Cacerola (Pollo en Cacerola)
- adapted from The Gasparilla Cookbook and Clarita's Cocina, two of my favorite "Tampa" cookbooks, and from my childhood memories.
serves 4

4 chicken quarters (2 thigh/leg, 2 breast/wing...or whatever combo you like)
4 Tbsp butter
oregano (about a tsp)
salt (lightly sprinkle over chicken...just a little)
granulated garlic (lightly sprinkle over chicken...just a little)
2 Tbsp butter (or Olive Oil)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 medium Spanish onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped smoked ham
3 chicken livers, chopped (I omit)
2 potatoes, cut into balls with a melon ball scoop ( or cut into 1" cubes)
1/4 cup dry white wine (or more, to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
Petit Pois (little green peas - 1/2 of the smallest can, just toss on top of the chicken)
Parsley (optional)

Wash the chicken and pat dry. Season with oregano, salt, and granulated garlic. Bake the chicken in 4 Tbsp of butter for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until chicken is browned. When chicken is taken from the oven, strain the juices through a mesh strainer and set aside. In a medium saucepan, sweat the onion and minced garlic in 2 Tbsp butter (or Olive Oil), until soft and almost translucent. Add the ham (and chicken livers). Add strained chicken juices. Cook until the onion begins to brown. Remove from stove. Place chicken into a clay casserole (or heavy baking dish). Add sauce, potatoes, 1/4 cup wine. salt and pepper. Bake about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Garnish with peas and chopped parsley (if desired).

*You can use boneless chicken for this recipe...or remove bones from the breasts and thighs after the first baking. Keeping some of the skin on the chicken will keep it moist, but remove the fat.
**I do not measure most of my recipes...but I have tried to guess on amounts. Always, if you have a question about amounts, use a lesser amount, then add to taste.

To round out this menu:
Black Beans (Cuban Style) I often "cheat" and use El Ebro brand Black Beans in a can (2-3). They are seasoned "Cuban Style". If you do not have Cuban Food in your markets, you can order from
or you can make them from "scratch":

1 lb. black beans (thoroughly washed and cooked overnight in 1 gallon water)
1 onion, chopped
1-2 green peppers, chopped
1 chopped tomato
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp salt
1 oz white bacon
1/2 cup vinegar
Fry slightly the onion, green pepper, garlic and tomato in olive oil. Add to the pot of beans (and whatever water is left after soaking). Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT VINEGAR to the pot and let simmer until the beans are soft and tender and the liquid is of thick consistency. Add the vinegar a few minutes before serving the beans.
(This recipe is from Valencia Gardens...and my mom. VG just closed its doors after82 years of serving Tampa Bay.)

Yellow Rice (I use packaged rice from Vigo)
Chopped Onions (to put on top of the beans, if desired)

1905 Salad
(recipe from the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City...the Latin area of Tampa, FL)
Serves 4

1/2 head of iceberg lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
2 ripe tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup thin strips of Swiss cheese
1/2 cup thin strips of ham (2 ounces)
1/4 cup pitted green Spanish olives
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons grated pecorino Romano cheese

In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, ham and olives.

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, oregano and Worcestershire sauce. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, continually beating to form an emulsion. Stir in the vinegar and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad just before serving and toss well. Add the pecorino, toss and serve.

Crusty bread with butter (Cuban bread is best!)


Flan de Leche is my favorite dessert with this meal. There are many available recipes in cookbooks and online. Flan is easy to prepare in advance. All you have to do is unmold it before serving. You can make this in individual custard cups or in a 9" cake pan...and simply slice to serve.

For a VERY simple dessert - Guava Shells (you can often find them in the ethnic section of your grocery store) and Cream Cheese. Just put 2 guava shells in a sherbet/dessert glass and place a slab of cream cheese on top (about 1/2 inch thick). You can also serve Saltine crackers with this.

To drink...My son (a sommelier - "certified wine guy") suggests Garnacha de Fuego, an inexpensive, yet wonderful "old vine" Spanish wine.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sand Key

When I cannot get to St. Augustine for R&R, I slip over to my brother's condo on Sand Key. It's not quite the same...Gulf vs. Atlantic...gently lapping waves vs. noisy, crashing waves...but it sure is beautiful. It's a wonderful place to relax and regroup...and to breathe!

Sand Key is just south of Clearwater Beach, in Florida. It's primarily residential, with just a couple of hotels...a Sheraton resort right on the gulf (fabulous place to stay) and a Marriott on the bay. From the condo, you can view the beautiful bay to the east and the expanse of the Gulf of Mexico to the west. The sunsets are spectacular, the water is warm, and there are shells and sea life just waiting to be discovered. As I wade through the gentle waves, I do the "Sting Ray Shuffle"...a dance where you drag your feet to avoid stepping on sting rays. These gentle creatures bury themselves in the sand, hiding from their predators. They will not harm you unless you happen to step on the barbed area on their back...hence the shuffle. Today, a school of rays rise as one and flutter all around me. The fins tickle my legs...and they're gone. In the distance I watch several dolphins rise and fall in a graceful dance through the waters. A lone pelican dives into the waves catching his snack...and the gulls are laughing overhead. I am at peace......... and I can BREATHE.Please visit Barbara Jacksier and all the other Waterside Wednesday bloggers at . You never know what you will find. Also visit Susan and all the Outdoor Wednesday bloggers at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gorgeous Floral Arrangement

Isn't this the most beautiful arrangement? I saw this on the entry table at one of my favorite restaurants in South Tampa...Pane Rustica. The use of the pothos leaves was so unusual that I had to share it with all of you. If you look closely, you will see green hydrangea blooms, spider mums, green bamboo shoots and orchids...the only non-green flower.

Guess I will have to climb the ladder to get to the big leaves and try to recreate this for my table this weekend...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Twelve for Dinner... What to do?

Twelve for dinner... it must be last minute cooking...what to do? My table seats 8...need 4 more seats...dining room is too small...what to do? Everyone bringing a to set it up...what to do? Tablesetting...simple. What to do?

These were my chaotic thoughts this past week. We were the hosts for our monthly small group dinner and discussion. (We're discussing Crazy Love by Frances Chen...interesting perspective.) Twelve adults were coming for dinner and I had a lot of organizing to do.

The first question...what to serve? Hmmmm...Out come my favorite cookbooks... The Gasparilla Cookbook and Clarita's Cocina. (both local to Tampa). I decided to prepare a dish from my childhood... Pollo Cacerola (Chicken Casserole). Most Sundays, after church, my dad would take the family to a Spanish cafeteria in Ybor City, the Latin area of Tampa, FL. To my young eyes, Mercedes was a beautiful place ...not much to see on the outside, but inside there were Moraccan tiles, murals of the Spanish countryside, gorgeous antiques from Spain. The decor always made my childish fantasies soar...I was a Spanish senorita with a black lace mantilla draped over my long blonde hair... OK, enough about that!
My favorite dish, Pollo Caserola, was baked chicken with little round potatoes, diced ham, onions, garlic, and petit pois. (It had chopped chicken liver, too, but I never ate that!!!) The server, Henri, always insisted that I order my meal in Spanish...pollo caserola y pappas fritas. Even now, as I write this, I can smell the redolent spices of Mercedes. ( I was so sad that this was another memory I could not share with my kids...the restaurant burned down long before they were born.) The main course is to call the others and arrange for them to bring the rest of the menu... black beans, yellow rice, crusty bread, preferably Cuban bread, and a salad, plus dessert.

Next question... Where to seat 12 people? My dining room is one of those standard-sized rooms, designed for a 6- 8 person table. Well...time to flip the rooms. Our little used living room is BIG...
So, I moved the furniture around, added books to the built-ins, and made the dining room into a cozy sitting area....and the living room is now my dining room. I like this so much more that I am shopping for a BIG table to use in this space... For now I'll use the table for a card table for 4. It works!

How to serve? Buffet style works best. We have a long counter in the kitchen...perfect for a buffet. Set up three, cold drinks, coffee bar. Three locations. It works!

Now for the fun! The tablescape....
With this many people, I decided to keep it very and white, basic flatware, and a simple centerpiece of small vases with 1 flower, each and flat tealight candles. Done!
At the last minute. we had a cancellation...only 6 at the main table...This view is looking toward the front can see the new "sitting room" to the upper right.

Gerber Daisies are the perfect single flower arrangement. The vases are a mixture of tiny vases from Crate and Barrel and spice jars from Pier 1 imports. The pale green tealight holders are from Crate and Barrel...only $.95!

The napkins were recently purchased at Home Goods. The tablecloth is a length of upholstery fabric from JoAnns. (I should have ironed the folds out, but I was too tired...Hey, it was a casual night with friends! ) I like using fabric because there are so many more choices in patterns and colors. Sometimes, I finish the edges, sometimes I don't. The woven chargers are from WalMart. They look just like the more expensive chargers I have found in other home stores...and MUCH less money! The white plates (Pfaltzgraft) are some I have had for 20+ years. The flatware is Reed and Barton stainless. The glassware is Libby (don't know the pattern) purchased at Target.The card table was also dressed with upholstery fabric. The chargers were too big for the table, so I used one in the center. The vase was on the clearance rack at TJ Maxx for only $3. The small apples were rescued from a branch found in the trash at JoAnn's. The red tealight holders are from Crate and Barrel.

The tables were pretty...and simple! The food was delicious. The conversation was lively. Wish you could have joined us... Maybe next time!

Crazy Love photo:
Senorita Photo on Flickr: Jacqueline Roberts (artist)

Be sure to stop by Susan's at Between Naps on the Porch for a list of all the fabulous table designs. It's always inspiring!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What the Heck is a Cloche?

OK...I have asked that question and was told it was "something that covered and set apart something that was special"... Huh?

Using that definition, I asked my mother if she had anything that fit this description. it is and the story behind it....

In 1964, my younger brother P. , my parents, and I headed for New York City to see the World's Fair. It was a marvelous experience! After touring NYC, we continued up the eastern borders of the U.S. into New England, following the history of our great nation. (Daddy was a history nut!) Being thrifty travelers, we often stopped at grocery stores for breakfast foods, simple lunches, and dinners...saving our money for "special meals" like seafood cooked on the beach in Massachusetts, chicken pot pie at Durgin-Park in Boston , a burger at the Brass Rail in NYC (It's amazing how these memories return)...but I digress. Back to the grocery store food.... While driving through New Hampshire, we stopped at a market for a steak to cook for our supper and for cereal to eat the following morning. Along with our cereal, P. and I begged for Dolly Madison Cinnamon Crunch doughnuts...the kind that had a struesel crunch topping and Daddy obliged. (He was an easy touch, with his BIG sweet tooth!) The next morning, the four of us ate until we were stuffed. But alas, there was one doughnut left. No one could even fathom the thought of eating it. So the box got put into the trunk of the car...and forgotten. All through the next weeks of travel, whenever anyone mentioned being hungry, Mom would pop up with "We have one doughnut left!" This became the running joke of throughout the rest of our journey.

Once home, we unpacked the car and found the forgotten box containing the "one doughnut", now petrified (but no mold!), which Mom promptly put into a Candlewick covered candy dish (the cloche). For the next 15 years, that old "doughnut under glass" was handed to you whenever you asked "what's there to eat?" No one would ever go hungry at our house... We always had ONE DOUGHNUT!
But that's not the end of this story...
In the "80s, the parents retired and moved from the big house on the lake to a smaller condo, and the doughnut was accidentally thrown away by someone who did not know the significance of our special doughnut. Mom was devastated...and cried about that petrified doughnut for weeks. When Christmas came around, P. hid a specially wrapped gift for Mom under the tree... It was a child's replica of a Dunkin' Donut...the kind used in a play kitchen. With the biggest smile and the heartiest laugh, Mom immediately pulled out the Candlewick covered candy dish and placed the new doughnut in its new home.... where it remains today. And if you ever ask Mom if there's anything to eat, she will reply with "there's one doughnut left"!

Mom had one other "cloche"... a handpainted cake cover with plate... painted by me several years ago. Her "something special" that is usually under the cloche is a rum-soaked white fruitcake. Alas, it's been eaten this year...
Hope these two items count as a "cloche"...

Se sure to stop by to visit Marty at A Stroll Thru Life for the 2nd Annual Cloche Party. Already, there are some gorgeous cloches to see!


PS - The story of the doughnut is true... Makes one wonder what preservatives are doing in our bodies!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 a Parking Lot?

Welcome to Waterside Wednesday and Outdoor Wednesday...the day when we are encouraged to share our favorite photos of "watery" and outdoorsy things. A great big thanks to both Barbara Jacksier @ and Susan @ for hosting these fun posts.

While on a mission to find subjects for my paintings, I came across
a wetlands area, smackdab in the middle of a parking lot.
Thankfully, whoever designed this massive area reserved for cars had the foresight to leave this bit of nature for all to enjoy. On this particular morning, the pond was teeming with wildlife...10 varieties of wading birds, ducks, coots, and turtles. There was a family of osprey nesting in a tree and I'm sure that somewhere in the march grasses, a gator was hiding. (Gators are in almost every Florida pond!) It was a glorious day!

Below is a bird which captured my attention. He posed for me for several minutes, then turned to give me a different profile. I sometimes wonder if these creatures actually know I am photographing them. They always appear to be moving around so I can get their "best" side. The turtles, however, seem to sense my presence and race for the water. I'm not particularly interested in "shooting" a gator...the fake one from last week's post was more than enough for me!

And here is the rough beginning of his "portrait".
There's still much to do! I'll post the finished project when it's complete.

In the meantime, here are a couple of my bird paintings from our house collection...

This guy was actually scratching himself...
I have the photo from which this painting evolved hanging in my bedroom. It's one of my favorites!

This lovely is "Bubba the Egret" ( one of my earliest attempts at painting birds)... He reminds me of the beggar at the Casa Tina restaurant in Dunedin. Each day, Bubba comes to the backdoor alley entrance, begging for food. He's quite partial to fried pork... I find that rather interesting because Casa Tina specializes in vegetarian cuisine! Shouldn't they be feeding him tofu?

Please visit all the other Waterside Wednesday and Outdoor Wednesday posts. There are always beautiful things to see and to inspire...

I hope you enjoyed visiting the wetlands and my paintings. It is truly a pleasure to read your comments and thoughts.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gearing Up for the Game

Auburn vs. Alabama 1972
score: Auburn 17, Alabama 16
Punt Bama Punt! One of the most famous games ever played. You can read about this game on Wikipedia...ESPN lists this game as one of the top 100 games.

Once again, Susan at Between Naps on the Porch is hosting Tablescape Thursday...Thanks so much for giving us a place to share ideas!

It's that time again... SEC FOOTBALL is back! It's time to plan fabulous tailgate menus and head to the nearest stadium or television. College football is back!!!

At my house, that means getting out all the Auburn memorabilia; the football blanket, the helmets, and the pom poms, and get ready to feed a crowd. All the sons and their friends love to watch Auburn Football with my AU football fanatic Hubby. (I think he bleeds burnt orange and navy blue!) For those who have to work during the game, texting scores and big plays will definitely take place. Living so far from Auburn (Alabama), we only get there 2-3 times a season for games...thankfully college roommate still lives in town and is gracious enough to allow us to visit. (I will share tailgating with this group later in the season.) WAR EAGLE!

There's no doubt that Auburn fans live in this house! On the table you will find pom poms saved from games- gone- by. There's a bobble head doll, ticket stubs, a football classic book, autographed footballs, tigers, a tiger tail, and even condiments. On the side table you will find plates and cups ready for piling on the food. Yes...we do it up BIG at our house.

This hat was the first baby gift our first son received. He went to Auburn.

Footballs autographed by the team and by Coach Tommy Tuberville- usually they are proudly displayed on his office shelf.

This week's buffet-style tailgate menu:

Starters - Buffalo Wing Dip with corn chips (we like Dorito's Scoops)
Fresh Fruit
Celery Sticks and Carrot Sticks

Barbequed Pork Sandwiches with
"Grandaddy's secret sauce"
Bakery Sandwich Buns
Baked Beans
7 Layer Salad
Southern Praline Pecan Cake

ps: Hurley and Rowdy are already getting excited about football....notice their attire! And when we find where Hurley has hidden her AU t-shirt, she'll have that on, too!