Monday, September 29, 2014

Holy Flash Flood Batman!

The "plan" was to go camping.  It wasn't a terrible plan.  In fact, it was a pretty good idea. We would camp at Ft. DeSoto State Park, Jeremy would ride his bike from the campsite to the duathlon starting line, and the boys & I would meet him at the finish line after breakfast. Not a bad deal...grill out, sit around the campfire talking, let the kids play...basically, have some "quality time."  

The "plan" was to plan everything effectively, efficiently, and most importantly, proactively. We made lists, shopped early, organized our schedules, packed in waterproof Rubbermaid bins, and even planned no-fuss menus.  The "plan" was to get to the campground and be set up before nightfall.  We started our packing and prepping on Wednesday afternoon with the requisite trip to Walmart for supplies.  By Thursday evening, Jeremy had the Jeep packed,  and we had the coolers and other bins ready for loading into my SUV.  Jeremy was to get off work early, head to St. Pete, and get the campsite set up before the boys & I arrived. I would, then, pick up the coolers and the boys and head over after school. According to our "plan," Jeremy would get to the campsite one to two hours before us, and as of Friday afternoon at 5pm, EVERYTHING was running according to "plan."

As "planned," Jeremy had everything set up by the time we got to Ft. DeSoto.  I made beds, sent the boys to the playground, and began organizing my picnic table-kitchen.  Since we're in Central Florida, the possibility of afternoon rain is simply a part of life.  Yes, we watch the weather every morning, and we have rain/radar apps on our phones.  We check the weather frequently, but we don't really worry about it.  Simply put, we know it's going to rain, and we're fine with it.  

By the time dinner was cooked, the wind had picked up (nothing terrible) and it was drizzling on and off, but still, nothing to worry about.  We even told the kids to eat quickly because we would probably be chilling out in the tent in a little while, but still, nothing to worry about.  

As is often the case in Florida, the weather can change in an instant..for good or bad.  We're used to it.  However, when you're in a tent, on the ocean, and under a flash flood warning with little to no cell service, you get a little worried. By the time the boys finished dinner, the drizzle was a steady rain. We hurried into the tent and closed all of the windows, door, and rain flap.  We chilled out...nothing major.  However, after about 30 minutes and the rain hadn't let up, we heard Eli slapping the floor of the tent.  As I stood up to see what he was doing, I felt the water puddling under the tent.  In a matter of minutes, the puddling under the tent turned to a stream flowing through the tent, and we had a decision to make.  Luckily, Jeremy & I are pretty good at making serious, life-affecting decisions.  Deciding where to eat dinner can cause a major hiccup, but emergency situations are a snap.  

Within 5 minutes of discovering our in-tent stream, we had the food bin, clothing bin, and
two kids loaded into the car, and we were on our way off the island.  We weren't sure where we were going, but we knew we needed to find other arrangements for the night.  As we drove, Jeremy called a local La Quinta we'd stayed in before, and luckily, they had a room for the night.  By the time we got to the hotel, we had cell service and were able to pull up the radar for Pinellas County.  The storm cell stalled over southern Pinellas/Fort DeSoto and was dumping 2 inches of rain on the area.  There was no way we would have stayed dry in the tent...and not floated away.

The moral to this story is plan what you, have a back up plan, and always listen to your instincts.  Will we camp again?  Absolutely.  In fact, we're going to look at a CAMPER Wednesday night :)




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Coastal Coconut Cream Pie for my Grandfather

One of the first pies I ever made was a coconut cream pie.  I was in college and didn't know much about making pies.  In fact, I didn't even know how to make my own pie crust. However, it was my grandfather's favorite, and he was in a losing battle with cancer, so I did my best.  Looking back on that pie, I know it wasn't great...I didn't sweeten the meringue...at all! I couldn't figure out why it wasn't browning.  Duh...no sugar=no caramelization.

As I've grown in my culinary skills, I knew that I could create a better coconut cream pie for him, so that's what I did.  Unfortunately, he's no longer with us and can't enjoy it, but I can guarantee it's better than the first coconut cream pie that I fumbled through.  Oh!  and did I mention that it using coconut milk and coconut cream?  It's a coconut lover's overload!

Coastal Coconut Cream Pie
2 c. crushed coconut shortbread cookies
1/8 c. sugar
5 TBSP melted butter
8 oz. cream cheese-softened
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 can cream of coconut
1 c.  coconut milk
1 tsp coconut extract
1 c. sweetened coconut flakes

In a bowl, combine cookie crumbs, sugar, and butter.  Press into a 9 inch deep dish pie plate.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool to the touch before filling.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add eggs & egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add cream of coconut, milk, and coconut extract.  Pour into a large sauce pot.  Cook over medium heat until filling thickens and begins to bubble.  Pour into cooled crust.  Top with coconut and refrigerate.

Whipped cream layer
2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 1/2  c. powdered sugar
½ c. fresh coconut shavings

In a cold bowl, beat whipping cream and powdered sugar until stiff.  Mound filling over cream and coconut filling.  Top with coconut shavings.

Garnish
Sprinkle middle area with remaining cookie crumbs.  Garnish with white chocolate seashells
½ c. coconut shortbread cookie crumbs
White Chocolate Sea Shells

Sprinkle cookie crumbs around edges and decorate with white chocolate sea shells.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Oktoberfest...We LOVE this time of year!

Jeremy jokes that Oktoberfest is his opportunity to celebrate both sides of his heritage--German food and drinking like an Irishman.  I can't blame him; it's pretty great...schnitzel, beer, potatoes, sauerkraut, strudel, red cabbage, brats, spaetzle. We've even gotten the kids to eat with us.  Ean thinks that schnitzel is the best way to have a pork chop, and Eli thinks that red cabbage with apples is cool because it's purple.  Hey...whatever works!

Shortly after Jeremy & I met six years ago, we learned that we enjoyed travelling more than we liked giving/receiving gifts, so when it comes time for Christmas & birthday gifts, we plan trips for one another. For Jeremy's first birthday together, I planned a kayaking trip to Marco Island with a stop off in Cape Coral for an Oktoberfest celebration that I'd read about.  I had no idea what I'd bought tickets for.  The Oktoberfest celebration at the German-American Social Club was a HUGE event...beer vendors selling beer in plastic liter mugs, sit down dinners in the dining hall, rides and games for the kids, the best apple strudel I'd ever had, and potato pancakes that could make me move to Ft. Myers. We were in heaven!  That was October 2010, and we haven't missed one since.

Fort Myers isn't just down the street; it's a 2-hour drive, and Oktoberfest at the German-American Social Club is only a couple of weekends each year, so how do we get our German food & beer fix?

One option...Epcot.  I'm not and will probably never be a huge fan of Disney World.  I hate crowds and touristy crap, but the Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot is a step above the usual theme park fare. Like most theme park food, it is pricey, but worth it.  It's a buffet with the usual buffet food...you know, non-German food...but it's got the Disney quality seal on it, and it's authentic.


Option two...make it myself.  Yep, you guessed it; we have an Aldi supermarket.  If you've never shopped at an Aldi, do it!  Not only do you save a TON of money, the quality of their store brand items rival the nationally known brands.  There hasn't been a single Aldi-brand item that I've left to return to the national brand.  Aldi is a German based supermarket, which means that in early September, Oktoberfest style food starts hitting the shelves.  You can buy spaetzle, red cabbage with apples, strudel, the best brats on the market, and any number of German pastries.  
Making a German inspired meal isn't terribly difficult.
* For the schnitzel, I buy thinly sliced pork chops or cubed pork steaks, dip them in milk, dredge them in bread crumbs, and lightly fry them in veggie oil.  Done...less than 10 minutes. If you want a pan gravy, leave a little oil, saute up some onions, add some flour to make a roux, stir in some beef/pork broth, and voila...gravy!
* For the sides...I buy the Aldi spaetzle, boil it up, and serve it with a pan gravy.  Aldi's red cabbage with apples is even easier...microwave it.  When I'm really adventurous, potato pancakes (latkes) are easy, but a little time consuming, since none of us keep freshly shredded potatoes on hand.