Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Traveling tip: Pecan Waffles

 In motels, I have developed a dislike for the the waffle irons that many motels feature in their breakfast rooms. The waffles they produce lack whole grains and the fake maple syrup is main line sugar...literally. I have been determined to make them at least a wee bit healthier or, at the very least, taste better. My solution is to travel with a small bag of chopped pecans. When no one is looking, I pour the waffle goop into the iron and add a half cup of the chopped pecans. I end up with a pecan waffle that tastes a heck of a lot better and has a better nutritional profile. Instead of the supplied fake syrup, I improvise as best I can with fruit cocktail, fresh fruit, even biscuit gravy....anything but the syrup. 

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Buster and John's Red Beans and Rice


David Rosengarden once observed that when ask an aficionado of red beans and rice for their true favorite version of this widely loved New Orleans staple, they will likely go into a stage whisper and tell you, after securing a promise of secrecy, that Popeye’s makes the best red beans and rice on the planet. With that in mind, I have been trying recipe after recipe trying to find the holy grail of red beans and rice. I think I have found it. If there are recipes better than this one: Bring ‘Em On!

This recipe is adapted from Jane and Michael Stern’s book, Road Food. The inspiration for their recipe came from Buster Holmes restaurant in New Orleans and John Thorne’s pamphlet, Rice and Beans: The Itinerary of a Recipe. I have made a few minor changes to suit my tastes.


  • 1-14 oz package of dried red beans, washed and picked through
  • 3 cups of Sauterne wine. If you have trouble finding Sauterne, try a sweet wine such as Madeira. I also have used apple juice successfully.
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, cut into disks
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 1 cup minced scallion, reserve green tops
  • 1/8 teaspoon, Crystal hot sauce (I never use Tabasco)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups, rice
  • 4 ½ cups, water
  • 2 cloves, garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Creole seasoning to taste


  • Soak beans overnight in wine and enough water to cover.
  • Pour off liquid and put beans in a 6-quart stockpot with 2 quarts of water.
  • Add ham hock, sausage, garlic, onions, scallion, and seasonings, stir gently, and bring to simmer gradually.
  • Partially cover and simmer gently for three hours, adding a half-and-half mixture of water and wine as needed to keep the beans soupy.
  • After 2 ½ hours, mash some of the softened beans to thicken gravy. I use an immersion blender, but a potato masher will work.
  • Serve over cooked rice. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Great low cal dressing: Pineapple Miso Dressing

A friend of mine hates bottled dressings and I can not say I blame him. Further, the low calorie dressings are either too sweet or have a chalky after-taste. I found this recipe in the Hawaii Diet Cookbook, a cookbook I highly recommend.

Note: when you make this dressing, be prepared for two bottles worth. It makes a lot so I usually freeze half the final product.  Also, use a blender because this quantity sometimes overflows in my food processor.


Pineapple juice (unsweetened) - 2 cups
White miso, 1/2 cup
Maui or Vidalia onion - 1 medium, chopped
Ginger - 2 tablespoons, peeled and minced
Soy sauce - 1/4 cup
Balsamic vinegar - 1 tablespoon
White pepper - to taste

28 calories per portion which translates to about 2.6 tablespoons.

Personal note: I add some no salt Cajun seasoning (Emeril's recipe minus salt). A pinch or two.

Place in blender and blend thoroughly, then blend again to avoid any chunks.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

O'Steen's Makes the Best Fried Shrimp On the Planet......

I have eaten at O'Steen's a jillion times and still marvel at the perfection of the fried shrimp. They are consistently exemplary every single time. The side dishes and specials all are definitive and dead ringer perfect. And then...........the real secret..........if you can get past the fried shrimp, try the fried chicken is to die for.

Another sure fire sign of excellence: many of the staff have been there for 25 years or more. They are as good as the food: friendly, intelligent, efficient, and proud of the food they serve. 

I do not exaggerate about O'Steens. This is the creme de la creme of its genre.

I coaxed this recipe from someone who would know how they prepare their shrimp:

O'Steen's Fried Shrimp
(Serves 2)

3/4 measure of mix of fine cracker meal
1/4 measure of regular flour
1-2 eggs
Whole milk - 1/2 to 3/4 cup
1.5 pounds of large, domestic shrimp.

Bring the shrimp to room temperature. Rinse and peel. I leave the tails on when I can. 

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the milk and the egg(s). Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix to batter consistently, not too thick, not too thin. Add small amount of milk if needed.
Dredge the shrimp in the batter gently shaking off excess.
Slide each shrimp into the hot oil to avoid splattering. Do not overcrowd the shrimp. If cooking a lot of shrimp, be prepared to cook in small batches. 
The shrimp should bubble vigorously when hitting the oil. Flash fry until the shrimp reaches a light brown color. It will cook rapidly. Do not overcook.
Remove and place on a platter with paper towels or a paper bag. Immediately, salt and pepper. Cajun seasoning can be added though O'Steen's does not.
Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Talking About the Environment: My individual presentation to the Uplands Module, Florida Master Naturalist Program


As a Florida Master Naturalist, you are likely to be doing a lot of talking, both formally and informally. The following may help you as you choose how/when/where you employ your skills.

You will be called upon to talk in any number of ways:
  • Answering questions/identifying elements of the Florida natural ecosystem. These may occur one-on-one or to large and small groups
  • Docent-type tours of projects/sites to which you are attached in one way or another
  • Talks to interested groups ranging from civic groups to school classes.
  • Serving as an environmental advocate or volunteer
  • Representing a resource on behalf of a government agency, conservation trust, etc.

Before you begin talking, I suggest you:
  • Identify your areas of interest and expertise. Know your strengths and weaknesses in the field
  • Build and develop a set of reference materials, web sites, apps that address your areas of interests and beyond. Become fluent in how these tools are laid out so that you can use them to increase your knowledge as well as access them quickly for answers to questions you do not know off “the top of your head.”
  • Keep a log or notes on the questions you receive, particularly ones that you had to do further research about. You may wish to create your own set of Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Immerse yourself in natural surroundings as much as you can. Do so in extended periods of time if possible. Stop, be still, use all of your senses. Observe, imagine, contemplate. Don’t be rushed. Nature will reveal itself on its own schedule, not yours.
  • Field trips have their place, but I recommend going alone or with one other person more often than in groups.

Your presentations:
  • Briefly tell your own story. Use an anecdote or two about how you came to love natural systems and want to share your knowledge with others. This is very important to establish your commitment and competence in the subject at hand. You are setting the stage for the rest of your remarks.
  • Identify your audience ahead of time. Speak to their needs and interests.
  • Do not depend on Powerpoint or paper. Be able to communicate clearly, with enthusiasm without those tools. It is hard to crank up a computer when you out in the field.
  • Always have a map of your subject site at hand and refer to it periodically to orient listeners.
  • You do not have to know every last detail about the resource. You are like the maitre’d, you are offering up a menu to an ecosystem or natural resource. Seek to inspire your audience to learn more on their own and to be long-time stewards for natural resources.
  • Summarize your key points at the front end. Be explicit about what you want them to take away from your talks. Do it in bullets.
  • Be conversational. Listen as much as you talk. Don’t get tied up in your script.
  • Develop your anecdotal library and continue to add to it. If something works particularly well, use it again.
  • Touch upon as many varieties of perspectives as you can to shed light on natural systems: photography, science, art, literature, history of ancient peoples who used the resource, politics, management requirements, economic values/impacts, environmental ethics, sustainability, and environmental vs agricultural issues.
  • Do not be afraid of silence. Breathe, Smile, Be yourself. Show your love for the subject without flooding them with minutiae. Avoid being a “smarty-pants.”
  • Always be honest and accurate. You can not know everything. Don’t try to fake it. You may want to offer to get back with the questioner on questions that you can not answer.
  • If you hear a good presenter, study them, and take things from their presentations to use later. They will help you find your own voice.
  • At the end, summarize your talk again in bullets.

On-going continuing education

  • Commit to life-long learning about Florida’s natural resources. Observe and learn from as many perspectives as possible.
  • Do the obvious: read, study, take courses. Know as much of the science as you can absorb so that you will speak with as much accuracy as possible.
  • Speak formally and informally on behalf of natural resources often. Practice makes perfect.
  • When I was working on Lake Apopka, I dove deeply into piles of technical papers, data, etc. After awhile, the jargon contained there became secondhand to me. That can be a problem, because those jargon may not be the best way to communicate. I often would do tests on friends and family who had little scientific background.. If I could make “hypereutrophic” clear to those friends, I knew I had found the language to use for the general public. I found those interchanges invaluable in distilling my thoughts into a series of “elevator speeches.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Egg Substitute: A Staple In My Refrigerator

I often cook with Publix's egg substitute, EggStirs. The lower cholesterol is the main reason. I find that, particularly when adulterated with veggies, cheese, or meats (even a peach), the final product turns out beautifully. By themselves, they are still good though the difference in taste between the substitute and the eggs is more evident. To me, real eggs taste saltier and, when cooked alone, they scramble better. 

In my frittatas, I most often use the substitute with great success. The key is to cook the "frit"very slowly. I prepare it on the stove first and then sprinkle cheese on top before broiling  until the top is lightly browned. I nearly always season with my mix of salt-free/low salt Cajun seasoning and Crystal Hot Sauce. 

Another plus to the substitute is that, in recipes calling for an egg or two, it is easier to just pour into a measuring cup and add to the mix. 1/4 cup = one egg. No dealing with shells and washing an extra bowl and wisk. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Word on the Street (and in the Sun): Stonewood Grill in Gainesville has closed

Based on a news report in today's Gainesville Sun, Stonewood Grill has closed suddenly. The Sun reported that there was a dispute over rent that had gone unpaid and that restaurant equipment was seen being removed from the restaurant on Sunday.

I have long enjoyed their food, particularly in their early days in Gainesville. They sought to be innovative at using fresh, local ingredients in creative ways and we had a number of interesting dishes there. For awhile, they even produced a magazine about their wares that was outstanding. The room itself was embracing and sophisticated with dark, warm words with stone accents.

I hope some restauranteur with same dedication takes over this building soon. I am sad to see Stonewood Grill go.