Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"If you're only going to one Holiday Attraction make it the Stetson Mansion"


How did a cowboy hat maker from Philadelphia who sells mainly to the West end up with a Florida Mansion? These are the type of questions that you may ponder as you visit the decorated Mansion of John B Stetson built in 1886. You may want to keep in mind that we have older large homes in Florida, circa Antebellum such as Kingsley, Gamble and Bronson Mullholland or the Gonsalvez Alvarez house in St. Augustine which is pre Revolutionary War and referred to as the oldest house. However, the most popular well known opulent Mansions of Florida such as Viscaya, Pinewood, Selby, Whitehall and Ringling’s Ca' D' Zan (House of John) were all built in the 1900’s not late 1800’s like Stetson. What a job these guys have done putting this place back together again, Bravo to them! I can almost see Stetson, his hat, dog and walking stick in front of the Mansion. Wait a minute, I can see them based on one of the wonderful Jackson Walker paintings usually housed in the nearby Historic Courthouse in Deland’s Historic District sometimes referred to as the “Athens of Florida”.

Figure 1 John B. Stetson by Jackson Walker

  I think that the copper top domes of the old Southern courthouses along with 

the Greco-Roman columns Architectural Stylings 

were modeled after ancient Greece, the birthplace of Democracy.

Figure 2 Tower of the Historic Deland Courthouse

Figure 3 Corinthian Columns
Figure 4 Stetson Mansion Exterior

 The Athens Theater  has once again been restored for Shows and events in Downtown Deland! This picture hangs in the Deland House on Campus.

Figure 5 Painting of the Athens Theater
from the Gilded Age of Dress and Style.

Back view of those incredible inlaid windows

The Bamboo Meditative Garden on the Mansion premises

My favorite year to year tour selection was always Cypress Gardens with its’  4,000 twinkling lights, wonderful train exhibits, Santa through the ages, Olympic Russian Circus and Ice Skating shows, comedy, gardens and the Eye in the Sky.  However, what makes the Stetson a great substitute is that this is actually a home with ramped up decorations, themes, exquisite parquet floors, glass windows and a feel of the Holidays.  It’s kind of what you think you might want to do if you had the time, ability, finances, space and creativity.  If not it’s easier and much more reasonable to see it here since the boy’s have started over the past several years inviting us in at a reasonable rate to check it out.  And… it changes from year to year.   From pieces of the Frozen theme to Patriotism. From  Stetson Hats to collectibles.  From decked out trees to colorful islands and seas, from quilts to covers and music and lights and extended secret nooks and cranies and flights of stairs and paths to Asia and beyond. If you have the imagination you can make believe its' yours or talk to the walls of yesteryear and Stetson or other time period characters who visited. How about Grover Cleveland since he seemed to leave his mark all over Florida.  Bring the Outside in and take the inside out. Let’s do it again and again and see what they come up with next.   One of this year themes included pathways so let’s borrow one from the White Sands Buddhist Sanctuary in Mims-

 For these and other day trip ideas from the Space Coast of Florida e-mail:  Lee c/o floridagreeters@yahoo.com or visit www.dayawaytravelclub.com then highlight current calendar.
Link to 2014 Stetson Decoration Video

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Can you view a Plantation Home in Florida?

The South's Rice Plantations are evident in the Carolina Low Country and the Cotton Plantations were abundant in Georgia and Mississippi.  There were Sugar Plantations from Maryland to Georgia typically 500 to 1000 acres in size.  So what kind of Plantation can we still visit in Florida?  It's the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville's Fort George Island which grew Cotton and Indigo with a colorful story filled past and a  viewable present.  

According to most accounts Zephaniah Kingsley was a nineteenth century slave trader of Scottish descent who married a very young (13 year old) African Princess. She herself became the trainer of most of their help over the years. The controversy was over the will which left most of his funds to his Black wife.  She left for the Island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic).  According to some accounts she fought for her inheritance and his prejudiced family relatives and after a long battle won, she returned to Jacksonville to live out her days as the wealthiest Black Woman in America at the time.  Some believe she still haunts the premises and seances have been held there, I'm told.   

Archaeological Digs with the help of the University of Florida team has uncovered the Slaves who died on the grounds so at least now people can acknowledge the site and remember who and where they were.

"The approach to the plantation is as interesting as the site itself :  the last portion on unpaid road under canyons of gnarled oak branches graced by gently weaving Spanish moss. The road passes the highest point of coastal land south of New Jersey, past the Fort George Golf Club, past the point where French Huguenot pioneers offered the first Protestant prayer in the new world in May, 1562"  
from Robert Tolf's Discover Florida

Can you imagine that the entire size of your living quarters was the equivalent of only a Queen Bed today.
These quarters were made of a tabby like coquina rock form and are some of the last remaining samples of this type of quarters anywhere placing them on the National Historic Registar

The view of the back of the Plantation was originally the front and most supplies arrived by boat.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bicycling for Fun on The Guest Blog with Madhatter, Gary Haas

Bicycling for Fun 

News from MadHatterPromotions.com aka Gary MadHatter Haas
There is something about getting out on my bicycle that kicks my endorphins into high gear. I think it is mostly to do with the sense of freedom, of being disconnected from agendas and leaving the day up to whimsy.
OK, maybe not entirely to whimsy. My routes, or circuits often require me to plan ahead so that I am not stuck many miles from home when the weather changes or darkness falls. Even wind direction and speed is often taken into account. Yet those things I’ve back-up plans for. Wherever I pedal, more than a few miles, I am wearing a backpack with tools for modest repairs, a rain poncho, extra batteries for both pairs of lights. You get the picture. Still, when I head out, the day is usually mine!
I’m also not fond of retracing my route. I prefer a circuit where I will leave my home in one direction, and return from the other direction so that the view always changes. A short ride will take me north to Cocoa Village along the river, then inland to Fiske Boulevard, then south to Avenue Viera (OK, World Of Beer), then home to Lake Pointe Suntree. A long ride will take me north or south, then over one of the causeways, then up/down the beaches, finally back over another causeway and then the run for the barn to home. A REALLY long ride, done only once, took me from Suntree, through Cocoa Village, over to Cocoa Beach, then up to Port Canaveral, then back south all the way to Wabasso (south of Sebastian Inlet), over to US1, up to Captain Hiram’s, then home (Stopped at Squid Lips). I’m in no shape to do that today but will try it again eventually.
My approach is different than the racers that frequently blow past me. Frankly, I don’t know how they are even aware of much of the environment that they are rolling through doing the speeds they do, other than the road ahead. I’m sure speeds of 25 to 30 mph is common for them. For myself, I’m riding a hybrid (half mountain bike and half beach cruiser) and I average about 12 mph. I’m determined not to miss anything, to enjoy all that my environment will communicate to me as I roll past. I appreciate the fresh air, smells, sights, and exercise, though I’m not severely straining myself most of the way. Sometimes I will kick it into high gear. And bridges are always a challenge for a while. But I consider exercise to be a fringe benefit.
My usual habit is to roll about ten to twelve miles then take a break, usually at a bar, for medicinal purposes, you understand. If the weather is fair and obstacles are few I can cover fifty miles or more in a day without overly straining myself.
In recent years I have managed to compromise these events slightly but consider the results well worth it. Group bicycle rides are fun to plan and execute. While independence is sacrificed the added enjoyment of bicycling with friends more than makes up for it, especially at the stops! Essentially it becomes a party on wheels, the un-motorized kind. While not a pub crawl in the truest sense the common ground is that there is a party at each stop, you know most of the group already there, and the group remixes at each stop so that you get more chances to make new friends.
To combine both formats, independent bicycling plus a group ride, is the best format of all. This means riding from my home to the start of the group ride, doing the group ride, then continuing on, on my own, eventually returning home. This requires some planning and a long day.
What’s next, I hear you ask? I’m in the market for a riverine kayak. The plan is to do in a kayak down the Indian river what I do on a bicycle. And yes, it is just a matter of time before that becomes a group adventure too.
Friend me on Facebook at Gary MadHatter Haas and visit www.MadHatterPromotions.com for more shenanigans.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Let's Go Horsing Around in Ocala

Ocala is known as the Horse breeding capital of the US with over 1000 farms in the vicinity.  We named our tour to the area, “Let’s go Horse around in Ocala” and we did.   We saw $100,000 Thoroughbred studs behind bars that we were warned could bite off your fingers and some fed them apples anyway.
  We saw Arabians gentle as a baby and some with their babies that we could feed and pet to our heart’s content. 
We heard stories about race winners and their offspring that won several major races up to and including the Kentucky Derby and even the triple crown bred in Florida.
We saw them feed, play, run and literally pose as some of them were show horses that are trained to look good.  Ocala Horse Properties in their Farm Portfolio features the following quote, “Horses- If God made anything more beautiful, he kept it for himself.”    Another states, “A dog may be man’s best friend… but the horse wrote history.”  And finally the great spokesman himself Winston Churchill wrote, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” And we think that in this instance he was referring to horses.  
We started our tour with a look around the historic area of Ocala which has some special houses plus the seven sisters Bed &Breakfast.  This is a property of International acclaim where you can stay in a exotic room decorated as Egyptian, Beijing China, Madrid, Spain, a Parisian Boudoir or the Moroccan Suite.  I have sent clients here for a New Year’s Weekend with a Murder Mystery encompassing the exotic rooms and their main dining area to solve the spoof like a sleuth.  Ask the owner’s about the paranormal history surrounding the property. “ You only get 52 weekends a year
Make the most of each and every one of them with a weekend getaway. Choose your own adventure at one of our great weekend destinations. Be a Weekender.” (source Hilton)  Our next stop is your home away from home for comfort food Southern Style at the new Ivy House in Ocala.  We have been dining at the original in Williston (apx. 20 miles west)
Williston above and Ocala Below
but this was our first encounter with the newly remodeled former Felix’s.  I must say I love what you’ve done with the place was my first thought upon entering what seems to be a Southern tradition similar to Poogan’s Porch
in Charleston where the rooms are set up like you’re in a large house but small areas decorated in French Country or other southern motifs.  The food was ample and tasty just like at their cousin’s in Williston. 
Our guide, Karen Grimes, stepped on the coach after lunch and suffice it to say she knows her way around a horse and horse country.  We learned a tidbit or two about some very prominent families in the area including Charlotte Weber who resides on the largest of the properties named Live Oak and she owns not only Campbell’s as in soup but Godiva as in chocolates and an incredible property that stretches out for a long while.  And then we spotted the Steinbrenner ranch which has a new home under construction in view from the road.  Our last stop of the day in Ocala was the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association Building which besides having a very impressive meeting room where I imagined large horse affairs getting sorted out also included some interesting memorabilia on two floors. 
  Many towns have a theme and our Horse Capital is plainly carrying out theres' with an art in public places colorfully painted horse statue collection. 
We didn’t do the scavenger hunt to find them all since I understand they number over forty but we did see a few in various locations throughout town and country.   We’ll be back since  1000 ranches might take a few trips to get through and we didn’t have time to visit John Travolta’s fly in neighborhood yet and this town has its’  own serious contenders for our Blueberry search since they have many Blueberry farms and you pickum’s all around.    

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Update for Story on Blueberries

We've got some links and updates on the Blueberry story:

This is a link to a Farm to Fork video on some interesting uses for Blueberries in Salsa, Vinegar and in a sauce on top of Salmon!


 March 14 or 3.14 is the mathematical answer to the symbol Π.  Albert Einstein was born on 3/14/1879

And.. from the Movie Life of PI

A Facebook post from the Blueberry Festival in Island Grove near Micanopy

Blueberry ice cream blueberry muffins blueberry jams preserves and flats plus blueberry goat milk fudge blueberry wine and blueberry soy candles at the Blieberry Festival with a bit of pickin and grinnin' on a beautiful day
 — at 301 Blueberries - Island Grove.
LikeLike ·  · 

Blueberries  By Robert Frost

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"
"I don't know what part of the pasture you mean."
"You know where they cut off the woods--let me see--
It was two years ago--or no!--can it be
No longer than that?--and the following fall
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall."
"Why, there hasn't been time for the bushes to grow.
That's always the way with the blueberries, though:
There may not have been the ghost of a sign
Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine,
But get the pine out of the way, you may burn
The pasture all over until not a fern
Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick,
And presto, they're up all around you as thick
And hard to explain as a conjuror's trick."
"It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.
I taste in them sometimes the flavour of soot.
And after all really they're ebony skinned:
The blue's but a mist from the breath of the wind,
A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,
And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned."
"Does Mortenson know what he has, do you think?"
"He may and not care and so leave the chewink
To gather them for him--you know what he is.
He won't make the fact that they're rightfully his
An excuse for keeping us other folk out."
"I wonder you didn't see Loren about."
"The best of it was that I did. Do you know,
I was just getting through what the field had to show
And over the wall and into the road,
When who should come by, with a democrat-load
Of all the young chattering Lorens alive,
But Loren, the fatherly, out for a drive."
"He saw you, then? What did he do? Did he frown?"
"He just kept nodding his head up and down.
You know how politely he always goes by.
But he thought a big thought--I could tell by his eye--
Which being expressed, might be this in effect:
'I have left those there berries, I shrewdly suspect,
To ripen too long. I am greatly to blame.'"
"He's a thriftier person than some I could name."
"He seems to be thrifty; and hasn't he need,
With the mouths of all those young Lorens to feed?
He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say,
Like birds. They store a great many away.
They eat them the year round, and those they don't eat
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet."
"Who cares what they say? It's a nice way to live,
Just taking what Nature is willing to give,
Not forcing her hand with harrow and plow."
"I wish you had seen his perpetual bow--
And the air of the youngsters! Not one of them turned,
And they looked so solemn-absurdly concerned."
"I wish I knew half what the flock of them know
Of where all the berries and other things grow,
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.
I met them one day and each had a flower
Stuck into his berries as fresh as a shower;
Some strange kind--they told me it hadn't a name."
"I've told you how once not long after we came,
I almost provoked poor Loren to mirth
By going to him of all people on earth
To ask if he knew any fruit to be had
For the picking. The rascal, he said he'd be glad
To tell if he knew. But the year had been bad.
There had been some berries--but those were all gone.
He didn't say where they had been. He went on:
'I'm sure--I'm sure'--as polite as could be.
He spoke to his wife in the door, 'Let me see,
Mame, we don't know any good berrying place?'
It was all he could do to keep a straight face.
"If he thinks all the fruit that grows wild is for him,
He'll find he's mistaken. See here, for a whim,
We'll pick in the Mortensons' pasture this year.
We'll go in the morning, that is, if it's clear,
And the sun shines out warm: the vines must be wet.
It's so long since I picked I almost forget
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground,
And saw nothing more of each other, or heard,
Unless when you said I was keeping a bird
Away from its nest, and I said it was you.
'Well, one of us is.' For complaining it flew
Around and around us. And then for a while
We picked, till I feared you had wandered a mile,
And I thought I had lost you. I lifted a shout
Too loud for the distance you were, it turned out,
For when you made answer, your voice was as low
As talking--you stood up beside me, you know."
"We sha'n't have the place to ourselves to enjoy--
Not likely, when all the young Lorens deploy.
They'll be there to-morrow, or even to-night.
They won't be too friendly--they may be polite--
To people they look on as having no right
To pick where they're picking. But we won't complain.
You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves."

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Where do you find Florida's best Blueberry Pie?"

Recently on a Daytrip, the gentleman working for a Lloyds of London affiliate posed the question about the best slice of Blueberry Pie.  He had specific requirements about his preferences which included that that the pie should be made up primarily with Blueberries, not filler, not crème and not crust but an abundance of the fruit now considered an anti aging super food by many authorities including Dr. Oz.  Dr. Oz says one of his favorite anti-aging foods are blueberries. You can tell blueberries are chockfull of antioxidants because of their dark color. "All foods with dark colors in them have some of these really protecting antioxidant chemicals in them," he says. "Blueberries lead the charge."

My immediate response made me remember about two places in Florida which are each several generations old; Flora and Ella’s in La Belle and Wheelers in Arcadia.  These are the kind of places which reminded you of Aunt Bee baking in the back of the shop. Meanwhile, her sister welcomed you to the front of the café’.  These are the kind of places where pies are more than an annual cook-off item. How was I to know that after 80 years the place with a giant Billboard on route 80 had closed its doors?  Wheelers, on the other hand is still open but primarily known for their Southern Peanut Butter Pie which could spark a whole other conversation and therefore a potential future blog article.   I have to give credit for finding those two places to Bruce Hunt’s book, “Visiting Small-Town Florida” a great companion to have when eating your way around the State. 
My next thoughts turned to the now several Blueberry Festivals that we have in the State.  The May Festival in Island Grove Florida which is near the small town of Citra and not far from Micanopy easily was my choice for the quality of the Blueberries themselves.  I like to buy them by the flat at the Festival and then freeze them for use in Smoothies.  However, I never tasted a pie there so I couldn’t consider them the top contender for the Category of Pie.  The Brooksville Pie Festival has what I would consider the winner of the Blueberry Pie Contest and here’s what it looks like as shown on the Festival’s site. 
Hernando High School's Royal Regiment Marching Band will be out selling pies this weekend... (Everyone loves Pie)

I haven’t been to the Blueberry Festival in Plant City but we annually attend their more famous cousin, the Florida Strawberry Festival.  It’s an easy selection to tell you where to get the top rated Strawberry Shake in the Country and that is the Parksdale Farm open air Market.  This choice is not just mine and every tour participant I’ve ever taken there in the past 15 years but now officially the choice of the Food Network as pictured here.

 Southern Living Magazine did an article a few years back called Florida Dreaming “10 Reasons to go” and # 1 on the list was the Strawberry Shortcake from Parksdale Farms Market. N

Now, I was having fun remembering these great events and their special contributions to the palate. On an annual basis the town of Celebration hosts a pie festival of National Acclaim.  Here, for one flat fee you enter and sample diverse pie selections from National Brands and Grocery Chains.  However, a smaller entry caught my eye that won in a different category for their Almond Joy pie but has a Blueberry pie that meets the requirements of our tour participant that asked the pie question in the first place.  My conclusion is that you can travel the Region, the State and the Country looking for a great slice of pie and then find out that your own town has Joan’s Perfect Pies close by in the Eau Gallie Historic district of Melbourne, Florida. 
The Movie Waitress was opening about a person who dealt with whatever life threw at her by baking pies.   The Celebration Pie Festival also has a good car show and some nice walking trails to walk off the pie calories

I asked the question in a travel class I teach, Where do you find Florida’s Best Blueberry Pie?  A student answered, that’s easy, my house!     I welcome your participation to find out where in Florida you have found the best Blueberry pie and for that matter somebody next asked, “Where can I find the best Banana Crème Pie?”  and so the search continues and your comments and opinions are welcomed here.