Lunar New Year – Orlando-style

Our Sunday jaunt coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year 2023 celebration. This is the year of the Rabit.

Since my 6 months in Shanghai (journey highlights in another blog I created) this Asian celebration has more meaning. I was in China during their Lunar New Year and was able to view be a closer observer. More on that at the bottom. There were some key points that some may not aware.

~Celebrated by 20% of the world and is the most important holiday in China.

~Also called Spring Festival and causes the largest migration in the world as family reunions are most important.

~First night are the most fireworks set off in the world, which is supposed to scare off monsters and bad luck.

One of the first things you hear about is the animal associated with the new year. As seen above, this is the year of the rabbit. There is info on the internet where you can research your birth year that lines up with the zodiac animal.

I was born in the year of the Rat. Foreshadowing my future employment – Ha! Something I just learned was certain ‘elements’ are aligned with the animals. My element is water. Who knew.

I was curious when the Chinese Lunar New Year originated and research discovered it is thought to date back to the Shang Dynasty in the 14th century B.C. Wow.

All of this was honored by having our Sunday jaunt to Mamak, Asian Street Food restaurant. While it was a repeat, their menu is so extensive, something new will always be added when ordering.

An easy first pick(s) are the golden wontons and mamak fries. Alas, they were out of fries and we substituted spicey tator tots. They were good, but really, really like their fries. Connor requested an order of their buns or asian bao to try. The protein inside was pork belly.

The sauce topping the tator tots was G.R.E.A.T. Connor requested more of the sriracha aioli for the rest of his meal. I’m told the bao buns were okay – lots of fluffy dough surrounding the pork belly. These may not be a repeat. The taste was fine, but other selections have received higher merits from our group.

The trick was to space out your ordering so the dishes arrive throughout the meal.

Otherwise, you guessed it, everything comes at once. Next up: mamak nasi goreng, traditional fried rice with shrimp, chicken and eggs with a few other aromatics.

Last two dishes ordered were satay skewers, served with a sweet & spicy satay sauce and the hokkien char mee noodle dish on the right. It is Singapore’s signature dish: egg noodles with shrimp, chicken, bbq roast pork and veggies wok-fried in a dark brown gravy. Oh, my goodness – delicious!

We topped it off at a nearby brewery. Yep, there was beer drunk but most importantly, there’s this dessert pretzel with cream cheese dip. This is one of the absolutely best pretzels that we keep coming back for!

Earlier I teased about my time in Shanghai (2016). It was a very special part of my working life. Looking back I still can’t believe I was there, opening my third Disney Park. If you want to read that blog, type in the brower ginnyinshanghai.wordpress.com and it should come up.

I found a few photos to share from that blog.

The lantern festival honors deceased ancestors on the 15th day of the lunar calendar. The holiday marks the first full moon of the new year and end of the Chinese New Year.

During the day, this street leads into the Yuyan Garden………

Come a little later and the street changes drastically………

Another set of day versus evening photos……..

Much more dynamic and waaaaaay more crowded.

There were many other amazing lanterns, but I’m closing with this one since fishing continues to be a big part of my adult life.

A lot of things going on in China at the moment, but sometime in the future, I hope to make it back.

Ginny

Christmas Seasonal Happenings

Midwest Christmas traditions are much different than Florida traditions, but we all adjust and create new ones based on our environment. Did not see poinsettia towers when I was growing up, but they are fairly common in Central Florida.

This year a Christmas tree almost didn’t happen, so I modified my expectations and decorated my primitive tree creating a holiday focus point. Yep, the Grinch is featured along with my collection of holiday plush. Most of the ornaments on the tree were home-made through the years by grandma and myself. Harder to see was a paper chain garland created by the godsons in 2006. It’s packed away carefully each year and brought out the following year.

Cookies are always needed around the holidays and chocolate crinkles were a family favorite. Someimtes the dough was actually baked! Ha Ha.

Our tradition for a number of years has been to drive to the (frigid) north with a destination of Jacksonville/St. Augustine spending time with good friends and godsons. They always have a live tree.

Every year and I do mean every year there are three of us that make a Christmas morning trek to the beach. Let’s be honest……….the number that joins us varies every year. And as you would suspect the weather is the main determining factor. This year we topped out at five.

No matter what, oysters are usually involved. They were served as an ‘appetizer’ for those interested.

apalachicola oysters
Apalachicola oysters
Virginia oysters

Hands down, Apalachicola oysters were better.

For a number of years, Rich has fried a turkey. It is a process! Cooking was a bit harder due to the cold temps outside. It took forever for the oil to get up to temperature.

46 minutes later and the bird was cooked.

Eric was engaged for the inside cooking – turkey gravy and mashed potatoes. His secret for the mashed potatoes……lots of butter.

It all came together for our afternoon Christmas dinner.

Dessert was served later that evening when friends stopped by.

What to do with everybody home and nothing planned? Movie time!

I enjoyed our selection, but it is a l.o.n.g movie – 3+ hours. I’ve never seen the first one, but the imagery in this was absolutely amazing.

Notice that someone is missing? Eric was prepping the meal for later that evening.

Beef bourguignon
Egg noodles
Zuchini au gratin

It was a satisfying evening meal for a cold December night in Florida.

Remember how I started saying we were going to the frigid North? Yep, the morning departure made sure we were aware. That’s frost on the window. Had to get the Florida ice-scraper out (credit card!).

Ginny

Apalachicola – randomness

There was an occasional photo that didn’t have a place in my prior blog posts but I wanted to keep the photo anyway and share. Not a true theme in totality for this blog post, but a few groupings made sense. Here you go.

Walking around the city, I did find some holiday shots with bits of whimsy:

Most mornings (until noon-ish) fog was prevalent:

Similar to the photo above in regards to the location, overcast but no day-time fog:

Found a trailer in an off-site parking lot, probably used for their events. Liked the addition of longitude & latitude.

A bit further north of the downtown area was the docks for shrimp boats. One person in the past had a (really) bad day.

When the sun was able to break through and burn off the fog and we headed over the S.G.I. bridge for some afternoon fishing.

Bay-side, boy scout camp, oyster bars in the background.
Surf-side inside the state park.

This bird was trying to get a free meal by stealing Eric’s shrimp – then gave up.

One reason to visit the town was to check on our (empty) lot. Yep, things grow quickly in Florida. Never know that we did some clearing and mowed several years ago.

One of my first photos upon arrival was of the town ‘Christmas Tree’ along the river downtown:

Much, m.u.c.h, much better photo in the evening.

Great town in the summer and yet, still a coastal community in the off-season. Some year it will become ‘home’.

Ginny

Apalachicola – the city

It would only be right to have a post about the city, which is Franklin County’s seat. Located on the shores of Apalachicola Bay – an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico – and the mouth of the Apalachicola River.

In 1827 the town was incorporated as West Point. Apalachicola received its current name in 1831 by an act of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida. In 1849 a local physician, Dr. John Gorrie, discovered the cold air process of refrigeration, the precursor to an ice machine and in 1850 received the patent. The rest as you say……….was history. There could be an entire blog post on that subject alone. Hmmmmm.

Back to the present times,…….there continue to be a number of businesses with summer being the height of their sales, they are however, open throughout most of the year. Staying in the Consulate Suites gave us great walking access.

Two of my top stores in the downtown were Riverlily and Go Fish.

Riverlily is an eclectic store with a variety of interesting (Eric says smelly) creams, funky gifts, some clothing & homegoods and my favorite item – really, really, cool earrings. Almost every visit I add to my collection.

Purchases at Go Fish are up and down. This visit, I found an awesome dress and light sweater to accompany it – now summer needs to come back so I can wear it!

Our accommodations had coffee from this establishment indicated below as part of the welcome and a purchase was made before coming home.

We did taste some of their chocolate, sorry no photos, we ate them too fast. You might notice the date of their establishment – 2016. I hope they make it. There have been a number of establishments through the years that have come and gone.

A short walk away was a memorial.

At the other end of the plaza was this memorial.

Apalachicola is the home port for a variety of seafood workers, including recreational fishermen and shrimpers.

A few were anchored along the riverfront along this downtown dock.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few photos from the city’s brewery.

Our visit coincided with their twice monthly Farmer’s Market. No purchases but we met some people that hopefully will be part of our circle once we move here.

Let me close with a bit of coastal chic, positioned along the waterfront.

Ginny

Apalachicola Eating!

Cooking on vacation is the last thing most people want to do, unless you’re my husband. Eric does a small amount when we’re traveling, hence one main reason for staying at apartments or AirBNBs.

However…………..food & local restaurants are a key part of most vacation experiences. We’re no exception. Let’s talk about some Apalach eating highlights on this trip.

A recent addition to our Panhandle restaurant list has been The (Red Pirate) Wheel House. Nope, didn’t get an actual picture of the red pirate, but they do have one right inside the entrance.

A good deal of the time we eat at the bar if that is an option. This day PLENTY of barstools were available. Yep, that’s a bar. Didn’t plan on taking a photo with the beer taps front and center, but there you have it. NO, we did not order a Bud Light. They had some local beers on tap but they were hard to read from this shot.

Naturally started with a dozen oysters – raw. Wish I could tell you where these were from. Eric asked each time he ordered some, but I didn’t keep track.

Add in some fried pickles for me while we waited for our meal. We’re picky about our fried pickles – they need to be sliced (not quartered), like what is seen below. These were some of the better ones we’ve ordered.

Fried flounder sandwich for myself and fried shrimp for Eric. No room for dessert.

One ‘can’t miss’ stop is Indian Pass Raw Bar. I’ve heard for years that it was a dive bar, driven past it years ago and truthfully, it didn’t look much. The restaurant was seriously damaged (flooded) during one of the many (recent) Florida hurricanes and they had no choice but to gut the inside and rebuild. Nothing pretentious, but a clean, open, inside & outside eating that serves primarily seafood. There are a few things on the menu for a meat/non-seafood lover.

Not pretentious at all. Your dozen oysters come out on a plastic cafeteria tray.

Throw in some smoked mullet fish dip and peel & eat shrimp and that’s plenty of food for the two of us.

This place operates on the honor system, which is seen with your ‘ticket’, given to you once you find a place to sit. Place a tic mark for each of the items and you’re golden. When done, take the ticket to the cash register, no questions asked. BTW, you even pour your own beer from a tap – seen behind Eric’s shoulder on the back wall.

There might have been a tiny bit of room for dessert such as their key lime pie. Last visit we l.o.v.e.d their key lime pie and asked about their pie-maker. It came from an industrial kitchen on their weekly order. No matter, it was tasty. We had to have it again and it did not disappoint.

One evening, we need a light meal and walked to The Station. No surprise, you’re going to see another dozen oysters from that visit. This time needed 6 more of the bi-valves before leaving the premises. Oh, and another piece of key lime pie. Sorry, no photo, we dug in before I thought of it.

One sunny afternoon we went back to the Half Shell Dockside Oyster Bar & Grill, which had been our first stop the day we arrived. They had a pirate!

They have an outside bar adjacent to their ‘normal’ restaurant with garage doors raised during fair weather. It was beautiful the day we visited.

Surprise! ha, ha. We started with oysters and smoked fish dip.

We both ordered more food to finish our meal.

There was a lot of FRIED food on this trip. 😦 I should have eaten some salad. 😦

Okay, so there was one morning when we walked to this hole in the wall Baked shop. They specialized in biscuits, plain or as a sandwich. That’s a pretty ‘focused’ menu – just saying. They opened at 6:30am – 11am or until the biscuits ran out.

Thought you were done with oysters. Nope. We had a dozen one evening at our rental.

Eric had got a name for farm-raised oysters – sold to the public – and got a tour of their aquatic oyster growing operation.

Dang, I missed out 😦

We brought 100 oysters home to continue enjoying the bounty from the bay.

Eight dozen oysters was the total for this trip. It took me awhile to get into eating them, but once I did, they were great with a bit of grated horseradish and a drop of cocktail sauce or crystal.

ginny

Apalachicola’s Piggley Wiggley

This is a g.r.e.a.t grocery store, even if it is located in a small town. Every time we visit Apalach, there’s usually a post about the grocery. 🙂 I’m always finding something new! BTW – love their marketing. You can find it on shirts, cups, headwear and bags to name a few.

So, really, why talk about a grocery store on vacation? LOTS of reasons. I’ve listed my top three below.

~First – snacks & meals. Depending upon where we are staying, we usually have one of our daily meals at our place (breakfast or dinner).

~Second – great place for goodies and gifts to bring home.

~Third – interesting insight into the culture and people.

There you have it. You can pretty much guarantee the Dardens are hitting a grocery store no matter what place, state or country we are visiting. Now, on with the rest of this story………..

One thing I’ve always noticed was the plethora of options for many foods at this ‘small town’ grocery store. How many pickles can one community eat? I mean seriously?

How many salsas can a community try?

And these hot sauces? I’ve seen hot sauce stores with less options. There were more but I didn’t capture everything in the photo below.

Who or what exactly was Piggley Wiggley Groceries. A bit of history………

~Piggley Wiggley was founded in 1916 in Memphis TN, with their current headquarters in Keene NH.

~In 2020 they had 499 locations with their parent company being C&S Wholesale Grocers.

~They were innovative being the first self-service grocery store. At the time of founding, customers gave their list to the clerk who gathered their requested items – customers weren’t allowed to wander the store. This store changed all of that. Wow!

Let’s talk (more) products. As we wandered the Apalachicola store, they have items not found in my Publix: 4 different goat cheeses (pumpkin spice – really), pate’, sriracha sauce (heard there was a shortage which is why I can’t find any at home) and these Community Coffee flavors (I can only order them on-line! K-cups no less.).

This place is not stagnant and resting on current product selections. One corner of their store showcases all of their newest items. Yikes!!! That was a lot of newness.

Let’s talk honey, specifically Tupelo honey. Saw the price for this jug of honey and while I knew it was ‘special’ I didn’t know it was that special. $74!

Tupelo Honey – why the hype? Did a little internet research and came up with these 6 reasons:

(1) Buttery, mild flavor, golden hue with a taste that has wide appeal.

(2) Buy it as a liquid, it stays a liquid. It will keep in liquid form for years when kept at room temperature.

(3) Higher fructose ratio, healthier sweetener and easier for your system to break down.

(4) Medicinal uses: anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant properties

(5) More than a sweetener having trace elements when not processed (Vitamin C, Iron and Thiamine)

(6) Preserves habitat. Tupelo trees grow in Florida, George and Lousiana.

Hmmmm, okay. I guess I’m won over.

Craft beer has exploded in the last decade and never would have guessed this small southern town would stock up on this variety of styles and names.

I mean come on – Icelandic beer? Two types no less. I can’t find this at all in my Publix.

I’ll close with brews from their local brewery: Oyster City Brewing Company. While only one was pictured in the photo below, the flier lists some of their others. One of my favorite was Hooter Brown.

Ginny

Apalachicola’s Grady Market

My previous post I vaguely mentioned our accommodations………..we stayed in one of the Consulate Suites atop the Grady Market. The building has a few ‘extra’ touches with the Christmas decorations. Nice. Turn around 180 degrees and the Apalachicola River was the view in front of you.

Who’s patiently (or not) sitting on the front porch? The center door under the green Grady market sign leads up to the suites.

The Grady building was originally built to house J.E. Grady & Company in the 1800s and was a ships chandlery. What is a chandlery? Had to google it and discovered several definitions but the one for this was ‘a shop selling nautical items for ships and boats’.

Notice the balcony jutting out from the side of the building? Yep, that’s our room. Each of the four suites have a balcony.

The rooms atop the building fall under the umbrella called The Consulate.

Why The Consulate name? In the early 1800s France and other European nations maintained interest in Apalachicola due to it being the 3rd largest shipping port along the Gulf. Through the ages, the space above the chandlery was used for the French Consulate, the Captain of the Port and the U.S. Customs Office.

We stayed in the suite titled The Port Captain.

Brick walls, heart pine floors and tin ceilings are the first thing seen upon opening the door, leading you into the sitting area. Notice the ‘window’ with the handle?

Yes, that leads to the outside balcony with the Apalachicola River in the background. It was a little damp the day we arrived – not going to sit outside just yet.

Back to the tour, here’s the kitchen………

The Port Captain suite was one bedroom.

There are framed antique prints scattered around.

The current building was built after 1900 when a fire destroyed the original building. A three-year renovation begun in 1995 brought the red brick storefront back to life. Here’s a shot of the ‘back’ of the building facing downtown Apalachicola.

My last shot in this post………a coastal sunset with gorgeous colors.

Ginny

Apalachicola in December

We’re heading north to one of our favorite locales – Apalachicola. With St. George Island right across the bay, it is a hopping place in the summer months. We enjoy stopping in during the off season to get a real feel of the place. As you can see below, it’s under a 5-hour drive………unless you make stops – which we did.

The weather was looking gorgeous, giving us a break from the high 80s we’ve been seeing lately. Don’t get me wrong, LOVE the warm weather, but month after month after month of hot temps, you need a break.

Since we weren’t in a hurry, we took a different route. Not too many people & cars on this road. Eric was doubting the wisdom of google maps.

New roads gave us a chance to try new restaurants, like this one in Dunnellon, Front Porch Restaurant & Pie shop. It is a local favorite run by long-time members of the community. Everybody who’s working there knows everyone else – probably knows too much. Ha!

While driving I read Eric some of their menu. As soon as I mentioned fried chicken – he was sold. Naturally he had to add a basket of fried okra.

While I’m not the biggest fan of okra, the crunchiest morsels were okay dipped in the ranch dressing. Yes, it was ranch dressing and no, Eric did not partake.

While I was reading about the restaurant what sold me was mention of a cuban sandwich. Yep, that was my order, along with fries. The slices of roast pork on the sandwich were some of the best I’ve eaten!

Remember the full name of the restaurant…………….we had to try their pie. Cherry was my pie of choice with Eric ordering the blueberry pie. It was a tie concerning who won. 🙂

After a few more hours of driving, our next planned stop was in Sopchoppy – love that name. I will say, we have some unusual names for Florida cities.

Would you believe there is a brewery in Sopchoppy? Civic Brewing Company. Who knew? Well, actually we did, otherwise we would have taken a different route.

Here’s a snapshot of what was on tap. Eric selected the first one and I ordered number 8. They want the brewery to be a community hub, family and pet friendly gathering place for the surrounding area. They are the only brewery in Wakulla County.

We had been in the building waaaaay in the past, when it was a pizza place. The owner of the brewery is a native of Wakulla County. He opened in 2020 – not the best timing but talking to the barkeep (owner’s mother) he’s had success with small batch brewing and plans are in the works to upgrade and expand his equipment next year. And yes, she confirmed this 1912 building was originally a pharmacy, a restaurant, a pizza place and eventually this brewery.

Finally made it to Apalachicola early evening, checked into our accommodations and walked across the street to our second brewery for the day – Oyster City Brewing Company.

Did a little googling and discovered the idea was conceived in 2012 with the owners doing lots of research (drinking beer around the state – tough job), gave samples to friends and family for feedback before opening in 2013. An old dive bar was transformed into this brewery and the community has been supportive ever since. Their Mission: Improve their beer with every batch they make.

Lunch was so big we didn’t want much for dinner – but Eric wanted oysters. Only one place was open and serving food in this town, Half Shell Dockside it was. We’ve been there before and remembered their fish dip. You can barely see the pickles at the bottom of the photo. Didn’t remember them from the past, but it was a tasty addition.

Eric got his raw oysters……………….

I needed my six oysters cooked, with cheese, bacon & jalapeno bits of heat.

There was some fog rolling in off the Apalachicola River, keeping things quiet and mysterious. It’s been 40+ years since I’ve lived in a small town, things definitely close up early, especially in the off-season. That’s why we’re here. Is this where we want to spend retirement years? My guess – yes.

More adventures are coming.

Ginny

Fall Fishing….always interesting

We had a chance to spend a few days at one of our favorite fishing destinations – Crystal River.

Sorry sis – going to lead with fish photos as I share our catches. Day one was afternoon fishing after motoring to Kings Bay Lodge and dropping the trailer in nearby parking. Not much of a catch on day one, but enough for two. Most of our (keeper) catches were seatrout as seen in the first few photos.

Second day of fishing was a bit more successful. Guess you can figure out which ones I caught! 🙂

Third day brought in another species, mangrove snapper – the red one at the bottom.

Fourth day was all about the mangrove snapper, more on that later. I had a little fun with the photo. Eric just shakes his head.

It wasn’t all about the edible fish. I caught this stingray when we were fishing along the banks of Crystal River.

Don’t worry, he lived to see another day. Eric came to my rescue and released him. Her? Who knows, he wasn’t getting close enough to tell.

It was too windy to fish in the gulf so we tried our hand at fishing the banks of Crystal River. We caught a few other things, like this (short) redfish. It went back into the water.

Eric caught a short snook. It also went back into the water.

We had luck fishing along structure, but it did require lots and lots of hooks. Eric was kept busy, either retying my line or his line to replace the multitude of hooks we lost.

Here’s the other reason we were fishing the river and looking for shelter……..yep, those are cold temps in Florida and colder temps on the water.

That morning we choose breakfast at a local diner – The Biscuit Barn. You can tell by the decor (everywhere) it’s a down home kind of place. Someone was enterprising enough to make this wall hanging.

Breakfast was hearty:

Yes, we both got biscuits. I had mine last slathered with butter and jam – it was my dessert.

After warming up a bit, we got back on the water and caught these mangrove snapper before heading home.

Eric continues to shake his head at my fish photos. You would think by now he’d be used to it.

This vacation was a great little escape from the rigors of living and working in Central Florida.

ginny

Ybor City, FL – cigars, food & chickens

Time to visit another favorite city in Florida. Less than 1.5 hours and 72 miles away lies a historic neighborhood northeast of Tampa…….Ybor City.

Founded in the 1880s by Spanish cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor, he moved his cigar operation from Key West. He liked the nearby port of Tampa and the opportunity to expand his business. Thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain and Italy became a part of the business. As indicated in the shot below, it was an art and respectable livelihood that had additional benefits.

When visiting the area, this is one of the best places to dig into Ybor City history.

While not a huge state park, mainly encompassing half a city block, their exhibits are extremely informative. Let’s start with the obvious, cigar making. Here are a few shots from one of their exhibits.

With the finished product being a well-made cigar.

They had what they considered a ‘special’ ingredient – Cuban tobacco. Cuba has a sub-tropical climate and is renowned for the unsurpassed quality of its tobacco. There you have it.

There’s a nice adjoining courtyard great for eating your lunch or hanging out to enjoy the Florida weather or maybe snapping a few photos. 🙂

You do have to watch out for these guys: Ybor City chickens.

They are wild, direct descendants of chickens that lived in nearby backyards over 100 years ago. Penalties are levied if caught disturbing them. Yep, Eric is in the background – photo bombing my shot.

Another reason to drive to Ybor City? The original Columbia Restaurant resides here. It is Florida’s oldest restaurant and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. It can seat 1700 guests within their 15 dining rooms. They now take up a city block.

I usually like to add in a few ‘fun facts’ in my blog posts and OMG, when I started some preliminary research I found LOTS more info that I was unaware of and restaurants outside of the Columbia name this family operates.

They operate five ‘Columbia’ Restaurant locations in Florida, two ‘Columbia’ Cafes and four additional eating establishments that I listed below.

~1989 opening, Cha Cha Coconuts in Sarasota, tropical Floribbean flavors.

~2014 opening, Ulele in Tampa serving indigenous ingredients (been there – great!).

~2016 opening, Goody Goody Burgers, actually took ownership of a local favorite place in Tampa’s Hide Park Village that had closed, specializing in handmade pies & burgers using original recipes from 1925.

~2020 opening, Casa Santo Stefano, home-style Tampa-Sicilian recipes, a rooftop ‘drinkeria’ and cigar lounge.

Sounds like future roadtrips need to be planned!\

Okay – back to their food.

A natural start to their dining experience, Sangria, homemade table-side, of course. It’s always the beverage of choice for Adrienne and myself – sorry Eric, you’re driving home.

We brought along our new ‘roomie’ to experience something uniquely Florida.

Warm Cuban bread and delicious butter arrives at each table – more!

Someone usually orders the 1905 Salad, also made table-side.

While maybe not the prettiest piture, google the recipe. Eric has made it in the summer months, and it hits the spot. Sorry, hon, theirs’s tastier, but yours is a close second.

And now to the meals:

Once in a while we order dessert, but not today. Always enjoy coming to original Columbias for the dining and eating experience.

Until next time…………….

Ginny