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. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Grape Stomp at Lakeridge Winery

Jump in the squishiness is fine.   If you've seen the Lucy episode where she's in an Italian Vineyard stomping and you have always wanted to try it, than this weekend is your lucky opportunity.  Florida is not known as the World's foremost spot for Wine.   Lake Placid has a  small but quaint Winery known as Henscratch and I think there might have  been a Hen there in the mix of that Agriculture area.  An Italian fellow looking out of place was wine tasting and sort of wondering when will they finish with dessert (fruity wines) and bring out the actual wine.  He was not a fan but others who like fruity wines were lining up for samples and buying some bottles as well.  Let's fast forward to this weekend's annual grape stomp at the Lakeridge Winery which also markets itself as San Sebastian in the St. Augustine area.   Lakeridge looks like a Winery with Large Vats,  Grape Vineyards and many choices of blends such as Southern Red or Proprietor's Reserve and sparkling wines that resemble Champagne except that they're from Clermont and not from the Champagne region so they must take on another title.

We started the day in Renninger's Antique Center, Flea and Farmer's Market in Mount Dora.  If you walk in the door of the indoor flea market near the office you can inhale the aroma of freshly made powdered doughnuts.  I'm not such a fan but the aroma is intoxicating and some tour participants have hailed this value added stop (freebie) as the highlight of the day. Our girls put a twist on the affair by not settling for the samples but buying a crate or barrel full (substantial amount) of the chocolate covered ones at about a cost of $2.   For about the same price or less you can have a choice of three different types of tomatoes in a basket or squash, corn and numerous other items that make you think that a two hour drive is worth it compared to today's grocery prices and these are unadulterated.  Let's go to the movies or at least the movie section and these can be adulterated.  I'm told they're not bootleg although they come on a computer disk in a plain white cover put into a brown paper bag.  First run movies at 2 for $5 and if one has a scratch (one in about 5 or 10) they'll replace them at your next visit.   They've been there in the same spot for the past five years that I know of so I'm guessing they must be legal?
Next it's off to Mount Dora's Historic area.   The bad new is it's the middle of the summer and some shops are closed up.  The Worst news is that my favorite shop, Uncle Al's Time Capsule is closed for good and now only online.  I loved strolling through the four area's of the shop enjoying the Nostalgia of Betty Boop, John Wayne, Gone with the Wind, the Wizard of Oz and my personal favorite, the Honeymooners.  On Saturdays they would have former Stars sign autographs such as Radar from Mash or an original Bond Girl 20 years later and still looking very fetching.    The good news is they replace the shops that close with great new places such as the In A Nutshell Miniatures shop or a new modern museum.

They got excited about buying the Boat and the Pina Colada or Key Lime Ice!
 The zoning laws must be very specific because chain stores are nowhere to be found in the Historic section of Mount Dora.  However what can be found is about 20 different choices of Restaurants ranging from British Tea Time to French Crepes outdoors or in with a musical serenade.    Seafoods, Steaks, Mexican, Italian, Icelandic, Floribian, German, Thai and authentic Cuban complete with original photos from Havana make up some of the choices.  I have an old friend who also writes about Food and even though I know him since Elementary school and the most recent I think I have seen him was High School he wrote of a restaurant online in Mount Dora known as Pisces Rising and I was able through his writing to go order the same dish he described so tastefully and was even served by the same waiter (coincidentally).  Based on my description of the dish, my old friend, his line of work (PR) and that he's from Tallahassee, the waiter said, "I remember that guy" and proceeded to pull out his card.    That!, my old and new friends is the power of online endorsements, Viva la Ristorante' and Bon Apetit.  The choice for lunch on Wine stomp day is the Goblin Marketplace Restaurant on an alley way off of the main drag and decorated with faux and real books throughout the hidden but well worth finding dining establishment.

 After a stroll through the town it is time to visit another unique eatery reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel in the Black Forrest but with better food than the Witches brewed, in the way of the Yalaha Bakery.

The Scenic drive from Mount Dora to Yalaha includes a riverfront road along Lake Dora until reaching Tavares and crossing over the Dora Canal, once described by a famous Sports writer in the 1930's named Grantland Rice, who called it the "most beautiful mile in the World."  We'll talk more about that in another blog about the spectacular boat rides offered in the area but for now suffice it to say that most of the boat ride is canopy covered and loaded with Wildlife.    The ride also crosses Little Lake Harris which is big and part of a chain of lakes. The Marina from the nearby Howey in the Hills Resort overlooks the tranquil lake.   Next, we get a glimpse of the dining overlook from the Resort which looks like you're in a Spanish mission and has about seven stations of food but again another chapter another time.

OK, after playing Red Red Wine on the way it's time to jump in the line and stomp.  Today's contestants are sizing up the competition and showing some team camaraderie during the warm up before the main event.

They didn't win but we were proud of them for competing with such vigor.    Bonus-  We got to do an East Coast Swing in the field to a good tune by a good band at the Festival which occurred spontaneously by request and therefore was not captured on film.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Floatathon" Ginnie Springs 2014

The 2014 Ginnie Springs Floatathon is now behind us.  It was a great day and we managed to escape the regular afternoon thunderstorms.  My thoughts for next year are torn between the day trip we did this year to Ginnie Springs which is privately owned and therefore allows adult beverages or the even more pristine Itchnetucknee Springs which require you to be in the park by 8am to make the full run.  That limitation in addition to the lack of alchohol or even plastic bottles on the run keeps that first part of the trip nearly mystical, surreal and natural.   In order to be there for an 8am entry we stay overnight in Gainesville making the trip a two day affair with those interesting stops we have already described on here from past years photos and an entry.  This by the way is a terrific dilemna.  Do we go to the spot the foremost diver of all time Jacques  Cousteau described as "Visibility Forever"   or the place author Ron Wiggins author of "Florida Authentica" wrote "If there is anything better than tubing the cool, pellucid, spring fed waters of the  Itchnetucknee River on a hot summer day, God must be saving it for dessert." If you wish to chime in with your opinion to help us along in the decision please do so.  
My own quote applies to pretty much almost any of Florida's Springs, “THIS IS THE MOST REFRESHING COOL FUN ACTIVITY YOU CAN DO IN FLORIDA IN THE SUMMER BAR NONE!”

Yours Truly, Lee Rosenkranz, CTC

Here is the link to the slides from this year's outing which I have been told are trending on Twitter!