Sunday, April 29, 2012

Great America Pie Festival

Crisco sponsors the "Great American Pie Festival" every year in Celebration, Florida.    I am very close to the idyllic town (even more idyllic during said festival!) and decided to pop over this year to see what it was all about.   To avoid possible guilt trips, I first ran 5 miles.   Highly recommended in order to be able to indulge in such a gluttonous afternoon.

It did not disappoint.  The even itself is free (think demonstrations, local high school bands and dance groups, craft show set up of folks selling goods) but $10 per adult got us admittance to the Never Ending Pie Buffet.  This is, pretty much, just what it sounds like.   Multiple pie vendors set up several varieties on folding tables.  You take what you want (don't worry- plastic forks abound) and enjoy.  

The set up was not conducive to photo snapping.... Picture if you will about 10 tents on each side of the street, each full of banquet tables stacked high with pieces of pie.   Each vendor had at least 3 varieties, most had 5 or 6!  Talk about decision making.

I am a dessert monster as many people know.   Michael is less of a sugar monster;  I ate a bunch more pie than he did.  There were the typical apple, cherry, berry, chocolate, key lime, etc. and they were all quite tasty.  But I did manage to find 3 that were new to me.

Village Inn's Lemon Blueberry Supreme: Each layer totally different!  From bottom to top, pie crust, lemon supreme (lemony cream cheese), lemon cake, whipped topping, and fresh blueberries slightly mashed up.

Lemon Chess: A thicker version of lemon meringue.  Think lemon bar, but in pie form.   I learned that
this is a Southern favorite... so maybe I am just a Yankee who is clueless?  Either way, it was darn good.  (Bless their heart!)

Dixie: Pecan pie's more interesting cousin.  Turns out chocolate chips, walnuts, and pecan filling all combined is a great idea.  Again, props to the southern bakers for thinking of this one.

The best news of the day, perhaps, was that all the varieties included in the buffet were available for purchase as whole pies!  

I bought a Dixie and stuck it in the fridge yesterday afternoon.   After the buffet, we were not in the mood to eat any last night.   Good thing that didn't last long... I tried a piece after lunch today with a cup of tea.... whoa boy.   Dixie tastes even better while you are sitting on your couch in your air conditioned living room whilst watching your team win a baseball game.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

No House Cup for Salazar

Certainly you are all itching to know the situation with my neighborly reptile.

The news is not good, folks.  We walked out of the house earlier this week and saw him all wrapped up in the bird netting.   Like a big spiral of snake wrapped up with layers of netting between the spirals.   Honestly the image is quite disturbing and you are being spared a photo.  Kind of gross.

Michael hypothesized that a bird or other animal came after it, snake tried to escape, and got further stuck in the netting.   Whatever creature was stalking him was not near clever enough to get Salazar out of the netting, so there he remains.   Fear not, we are removing him (and the tomato plants, which do not do well in May due to the heat) to a final resting place in the nearby dumpster.  For the first time in several months, our garage will again be bare of both vegetation and creatures.

Salazar Slitherin is dead...  10 points Gryffindor!  

Too soon?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Slytherin vs. Gryffindor

Thursday we noticed something behind the tomato plant closest to the sidewalk.  Michael asked "Is it a snake?" so I took a look and, sadly, yes.   A black snake with a grayish white belly.  A quick web search told us it was a racer.  (I was so relieved it was not a basilisk)

Isn't it pretty?  Ours was coiled up a bit more than this, but they tend to be almost 3 feet in length, which is plenty big for me, thank you very much.   Racers are not poisonous and they eat all sorts of icky critters such as rodents and also lizards and bugs and probably bunny rabbits if they get super hungry.  Being a huge Harry Potter nerd, I promptly named him Salazar.   Michael promptly stopped using the backyard gate and pathway (seriously) and emailed HOA -a company to which we pay a healthy monthly sum- to let them know our pest situation, and hope they could fix it quickly.  These HOA folks help out when cockroaches and other pests are in the house, so it's not a random choice.   His email was lovely.

Hi Oraine,

We have a snake living behind some tomato plants in our back yard, and I was wondering if somebody could come and remove it. 


The reply back was not.


I apologize but we have no one that can do that, snakes will typically move on. I am sorry about that. 


Side note: the day my husband goes by Mike voluntarily I will eat my foot.   Why do people do that?   Some clients call me Julie when they respond to emails.  So bizarre.

The worst part of this email, of course, is that we are back to square one.  So I did what any logical person would do.   I told my mother and sister about our predicament.   Their responses were just as helpful as Oraine's.  And despite how absurd they both may seem, I assure you both these women are 100% serious in their suggestions

Al: Put Broadway out there. She speaks parseltongue and can politely ask/demand that he or she vacate the premises immediately.  (Broadway is a stuffed bison who is a sort of Travelocity gnome, appearing in all sorts of our travel photos, she also has quite a backstory.  More on that another day)

You need to call this idiot, remind him that you pay $$ and ask him to explain just what the hell your HOA DOES cover.  What if the snake was in your house?  I would catch the snake and  take it over to the [main building of the resort] and release it in the lobby, but that's just me...

Needless to say, neither suggestion proved extremely helpful.  We noticed on Friday afternoon that Salazar had not moved at all.  I took a closer look (to take a photo which sadly did not turn out well... hence my use of google images above) and saw that his little head was stuck in the bird netting over the tomatoes.   So the problem shifted from:

We have a snake living by our tomatoes and it could possible slither out at us whilst we walk on the backyard pathway 


We have a snake living by our tomatoes and it is now stuck in the bird netting and will likely die there.   It will no longer slither out at us, but someone has to now free the scared reptile from its trap

I sort of want to email Oraine and say "Oraine, I don't think this snake will be moving on" but that doesn't really help much either.   

As of Saturday morning [also Michael's birthday!  how about that] Salazar was in the same spot, so we figured he'd died of suffocation or dehydration, we'd remove the body, and throw it... away?  In an empty lot down the street?   Not sure.     But to make things even more interesting, later that day, Salazar's head is still stuck in the netting, but the back portion of his body kept moving.   I think he was trying to free himself.   All I can say it's a good thing we didn't try to remove the 'dead' snake on Saturday because that would have been a rude awakening for all involved.

Sunday was more of the same; his rear kept changing places but his head is still stuck.  Michael decided we needed some gardening gloves (in case he tries to bite) and longer hedge clippers so we can free him from the netting, hope he's fatigued, and relocate him.    I worked all day so I have not been out to check on the progress (or lack thereof) but I cannot wait for Salazar to be out of the yard.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

California Dreamin' (Drinkin) Part Four

I'm taking awhile to do this, and for that I apologize.   I figure at the very least the next time we go I will have a fantastic record of what we did!   Anyway, you're surprised we have not suffered cirrhosis of the liver aren't you?   Truly, we did not drink that much each day.  We shared tastings and dumped out the wine we didn't like or just got sick of drinking.  Don't judge until you are on winery #5 and you have already tasted 30 wines.

In addition to offering some tasty wines, nearly all of the wineries we visited offered spectacular views and settings.   A few favorite photos are below.   Yes, folks, it was WINDY on Monday.

After an epic downpour that morning, the sun came out at Plumpjack.  So naturally I made Michael stand in among the grapes and take a photo

In addition to having a cute name, Plumpjack also featured this cute bench outside their front door.  And!  Can I please point out my gold flats?  I am obsessed.  How have I lived without them so long?

While waiting for our drunk tour guide (for real) at Beringer I did manage to take some artsy shots like this one.

After our sit-down wine tasting at Saintsbury.  Such a cute place- a bit of a shabby chic winery
Side note: Am I the only person whose nose gets sunburned not in Florida, but in Northern California during what appeared to be monsoon season?  What gives?

Standing on top of the hill- more like a mountain- at Artesa

And when we change direction, my hair blows into my face.  I have a sinking suspicion Justin Bieber circa 2010 had a similar issue whilst performing in London

Domaine Carneros was unique in that the wine was served at tables for two, and offered cheese plates!  Delicious and a fantastic way to eat lunch..... before you eat lunch.  

Matanzas Creek was one of my favorite stops.   First of all, it looked like a tree house.  Secondly, the setting was so gorgeous I am pretty sure I would be happy living in an actual tree house on property.

If the tree house situation weren't enough, they grow lavender!   Acres of it- and it smells amazing.  This is a teeny tiny portion of it

It poured all day during our last traipse through wine country.   No seriously.   We're talking inches of rain in Sonoma.  I still managed to get my J picture, though.  Umbrella and all!  I think I should have gotten a discount since, I, too, am a J.

Friday, April 13, 2012


While we were in Sonoma we went to a delicious lunch spot called The Wurst.   This was on the wall, and I love what it says- kind of puts it all in perspective, don't you think?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A List from Mom

As you may recall my parents were in Florida for 3 months.  They arrived on New Year's Day and left last Friday.  THey enjoyed gorgeous temperatures, sunshine, theme parks, swimming pools, movie stars (ok, not really), and generally had a nice time away from the Ohio winter.  Ironically, northern Ohio had one of the mildest winters on record.  Dad said it doesn't matter because he was swimming in January and even a warm day in Ohio is not that warm.  Anyway.   I digress.

Mom and Dad got back to Ohio Saturday evening and were on hand to partake in the family Easter festivities.  They also got there just in time for a cold front and perhaps the grossest stretch of weather the county has seen in months.  Snow in April just is not fair.   Yesterday I received a list from my mother comparing northern Ohio to Central Florida.  I have posted it here for amusement purposes.  Guess which location she prefers right about now?

It's ok, Mom.  It's almost spring.  I promise

Central Florida 82 -Northern Ohio 42
Publix Boar's Head meats - Giant Eagle Market Day Meats 
Publix chicken salads - No chicken salad at all
Walk outside - Run into house, desperately trying not to get wet
Air conditioning - Furnace
Hot steering wheel - Must wear gloves to drive
Sandals - Shoes & sox
Shorts - Coat
Disney World - Nothing
But the worst thing of all:
Jujle & Miko - No Jujle & Miko

Monday, April 9, 2012

California Dreamin' (Drinkin) Part Three

If you don't care about wine you might as well just stop reading now.   But I figure the next time we go to Napa we might want to know what we did!   Hence the detailed blog entry.

A memorable experience came at Saintsbury which had, not a bar, but what essentially looked like a farmhouse table.

See?  Table and chairs.  You could be getting ready for a pancake breakfast.  Except for, you know, the wine bottles.

The winery is by appointment only which at first I thought was really snobby.   Seriously?  We can't just show up whenever we want?  We have to get there at the stroke of 10?   Michael wisely scheduled this winery for 10 am so we could be punctual to start our day, but then visit the remaining stops at whatever pace suited us.   Ten points Gryffindor.

Our experience here again shows that I should not snap to judgement.  We walked in and it was just us, and the wine expert.  I am kicking myself that I do not remember her name.  She sat down with us, told us the history of the winery (its owners have remained the same since the 70s!) and explained, in detail, the wines we tasted.  It was quite charming, and a bit rustic feeling, but I liked the authenticity.

The wines were mostly Pinot Noirs, which were a welcome change from the IN YOUR FACE CABERNETS we tasted in Napa.  Trust me the use of all caps is warranted.  She mentioned the vineyards the grapes came from, and how their proximity to the valley or mountains, or whether they faced east or west affected the variety of grape, but also the wine.  Who knew?  It's quite comfortable to sit at a table alone with the wine expert and ask anything you'd like.  Your feet get a rest, there are no groups of women in pink feather boas (truth be told I didn't see much of that in California.   Must be a summer upstate thing), and since you are sitting and talking and being all casual, you don't really think about what you are doing.   This leads to breaking out the AmEx and buying a boatload of delicious wine, as you might imagine.  Who wouldn't want to relive the fun sit-down wine tasting by drinking favorites a year (or more!  Reds have aging potential!) from now?

In addition to thoroughly enjoying our personalized, private, seated wine tasting, I enjoyed Sainsbury for the restroom.   It was not a fancy bathroom, or anything special or memorable about the room itself.   What I loved was this sign.   The funniest part of all is the photo was obviously taken in that exact bathroom based on the floor, wall color, etc.   If ever there was a reason to close the lid!  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

California Dreamin' Part Two (aka California Drinking)

In case you couldn't tell from the previous post, the first portion of our trip was, really, all about wine.

Before moving to Ithaca in 2010 I hadn't had much wine.  Sure I'd have a glass if someone had opened a bottle, but I didn't know much about it apart from reds are darker (duh) and served at a warmer temperature and in bigger glasses than white.  Nothing revelatory.

In addition to providing me with a job and Michael with a fancy pants Ivy League degree, Ithaca provided us with wine knowledge.  Due to its less that hospitable frigid climate, the varietals are limited.  California has no such restrictions.   And let me tell you we tried a lot of them!

When you visit 5 wineries a day here's what happens:  You taste a lot of wine.   Your taste buds start to go numb.  (Can taste buds go numb?  They stop working is what I mean)  You dump out a lot of wine.  You find wines you like and want to take them home with you.   All the while, you are standing at a long bar with many other people in various states of drunkenness.  

Our first day was spent in Napa.  We only made it to 4 wineries (epic fail!  We missed Frog's Leap) but we did get a fun tour of Beringer.  It's the oldest continually operated winery in the country.  Turns out when you make wine for medicinal and religious purposes during Prohibition, you can stay open.  What can I say?   The owners were German.  We are a resourceful lot who does enjoy a drink.   Good job Frederick.

We took a fun little tour of the winery and saw what would have been in place in the late 1800s.  Very cool.  The photos didn't turn out great, but you can sort of get a feel for the cavernous area.  They hand carved this tunnel over a period of several years.  It's huge!

The 'free wine tasting' on the tour was abysmal.  I actually dumped out my Riesling.  Let me say that again.  I dumped out my Riesling.  I am not sure that I have ever done that before in my life.  It was awful.  

The tour was fun, but the wine they gave was so not fun.  And, to make things more interesting, our tour guide was drunk.   I swear.  Not like falling down and slurring your speech drunk, but she was happy and a wee bit tipsy.  It's a good thing it was a walking tour and not a bus tour.

The grounds of Beringer were gorgeous.  I shall now post a slew of photos from the winery, and use another post to describe other wine highlights.

Friday, April 6, 2012

California Dreamin' Part One

As you may have guessed from the previous post, I was recently on vacation.   In California!  A new destination for both Michael and I.   I believe this was our first 'new place' together since our honeymoon in Arizona in 2009.    It's pretty fun to discover new spots in new places together.   Especially when you are armed with an iPad with GPS and many maps.  (Getting lost = not fun)

Strangely enough, the vacation started out as a way to use up free flights.  You see, we used to use our Southwest VISA card for everything.   This resulted in many free flights, and many free drink coupons.   When we lived in the DC area, and were not too far from BWI (a Southwest mecca, if you will) we were able to dart off to Las Vegas, Orlando, San Antonio, even home to Cleveland, for free.  It was lovely.  Flash forward to now, where Southwest has less flights leaving Orlando going to destinations we'd like to visit.  Thing is.... we still had 2 free flights that were unused and were about to expire.

If there's one thing I hate (well, ok, a few things I hate....) it is letting something free go to waste.  Especially when that free item is useful.   Free broccoli?  No thanks, I'll pass.   Free flight?  Yes please.

Since Michael knows every city Southwest flies to, he got to researching possible destinations.   Las Vegas again made the list.   But you guys, we've been there twice, and while each time we have flown for free and stayed at the MGM grand for literally $40 a night, I sort of wanted to try something else.  So I said so.  Michael then informed me that Southwest flew into Oakland, which was close enough to both Napa/Wine country and San Francisco that we could visit more than one place while were in the Golden State.   I was intrigued.

Michael is also obsessed with travel and all things hotel.   He watches Living Social and JetSetter and all those other fun sites when were are not planning a trip.   You can only imagine what happens when we are, in fact, planning a getaway.  Due to his expertise- and a little luck- we scored an AMAZING deal on a lovely suite in Napa.   For the first four days of our trip, our schedule included:

morning workout at the gym
winery stops and tastes
delicious lunch (including a DDD stop!)
more wine drinking
relaxing in the suite

I am not typically one to sit still all day, so this combination worked well...  Activity in the morning (gym), excursions during the day (including wine drinking!), and relaxing in the evening.  I even read an entire book in less than a week!   A very big deal for me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

How to Look and Act Like a Tourist

We just got back from a week in California- our first time to the Golden State!   We included a few days in Napa and Sedona and then drove to San Francisco for the rest of the trip.   I say we included.   "We" is perhaps the wrong term.  Michael did the planning.  I packed suitcases.  I took photos.   I went along for the ride.  More on that later, it was a fun trip, I have lots of photos, and we had lots of wine.

Anyway.  During our trip we saw a lot of people looking utterly confused.   While this occurs daily in Florida, since I am on my home turf, and not on vacation, I like to think I carry myself as such.   I also tend to give Florida vacationers a (small) break.  But when I am also visiting a new place, thus rendering me a tourist as well, yet seem competent, while others do not, it gets me thinking.   So without further ado, here are, in no particular order, ways to appear like a tourist

  • Enter every elevator that opens.   Do not check to see if the 'up' or 'down' arrow is illuminated.  Simply charge ahead
  • Enter elevators without first allowing those inside to exit.  This will guarantee much pushing and confusion, and be most inefficient
  • Wander aimlessly down the hall, street, corridor, etc.   Look sideways and backwards, but not forward.  Do not be aware of your surroundings, and walk directly into other people.  Walk slowly.  Do not use a map.   If you are using the audio guide at Alcatraz, stand in the middle of the walkways and do not move when you see swarms of people heading your way
  • Do not read bus signs or consult bus route maps.  Instead, ask every driver 'Does this go to _________'?   Proceed to argue with the driver if his answer will not get you to your destination immediately
  • Do not carry exact change on the cable car.  Relatedly, do not understand that a one way trip is $6 and you will have to pay again to get back on
  • Wear bright white sneakers, ill fitting jeans, windbreakers, and a huge camera around your neck at all times.   This includes, but is not exclusive to, riding public transit and eating in a restaurant.  Seriously folks, it is ok to put the camera and your GIGANTIC lens in the bag for a moment.  You will not miss a Kodak moment while they bring you your sourdough
  • While ordering breakfast at the hotel cafe, which is a poor man's Starbucks with the CLEAR DISPLAY CASE and very limited menu, ask at least 25 questions.  Per person.  Per item.  Example:  What do you have?  (Check the case, sir)  Now, you have muffins?  (Yes, as you can see, there are many in the case.  Bottom shelf)  Are those blueberry muffins?  (Do you have a blueberry allergy?  If not, who gives a damn?  You are not at a custom bakery.   There are limited selections and 10 people just got in line)  Now, what about oatmeal?  (There is only one kind, in the to-go cups)  And coffee?  (YES! Of course!)  Do you have decaf?  (Geez Louise)  Honey, do you want fruit?  Is this all you have?  (There are no kidding, 40 bananas heaped on the bar.)  Well ok I guess we'll take a banana and maybe an apple?   This continued for awhile, and I am not exaggerating in the slightest.  Do I need to add that they were wearing bright white sneakers, ill fitting jeans, and windbreakers?   I can only assume they hadn't gotten the camera out of its case yet.