Friday, March 29, 2013

Tampa Sushi Class

posted by Bill....

Debby has always wanted to learn how to make sushi and had recently bought the sushi mats for making rolls, but was a bit nervous to use them. Well wouldn't you know, she found a Groupon for sushi lessons at Stone Chef in Tampa (Ybor City actually), so she jumped on it and scheduled us for a class.

We took the toll road to Tampa and went straight to Ybor City, arriving a couple of hours before our class. This is where we went for the beer festival that Debby wrote about a few weeks ago. We parked in the lot behind where we were having the class and walked down the main drag of Ybor to the Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Ybor City is a funky town that saw its heyday around the turn of the century. Back then it was populated primarily with immigrants and the main industry was rolling cigars. Over time, the population dwindled and the city became blighted. Today, it is regaining some of its former glory through aggressive redevelopment. Walking down the main street was reminiscent of walking around the French Quarter in New Orleans. The architecture was beautiful and much of the cobblestone roadways were still in place. 
The brewery had outdoor seating and the weather was beautiful, the calm before the storm actually, so we sat outside and watched the tourists coming and going on the trolleys while we enjoyed our beers. They had some seasonal brews so I tried the double amber ale with about 9.5 ABV. Debby had the regular amber, and both were excellent. We were starving, so we ordered a couple of delicious soft pretzels, which held us over until we got to eat our sushi creations.

We checked into our sushi class and the first thing they did was take drink orders - got to love that. Since we’d just had a couple of potent beers, we passed, for now. There were a lot of people and open seating at tables of 4-6. We sat with a single guy and a couple and they were all very nice and we enjoyed some small talk as we got to know each other. The first lesson was how to cook the rice. For sushi, you need really sticky rice. The chef suggested using medium grain white rice because it is much cheaper than small grain sushi rice and easier to work with. I didn't find the rice easy to work with at all. They had a bowl of water at each station for us soak our hands in and pat them dry to hydrate them several times before handling the rice, but that just didn't work for me. I tried to get my hands as hydrated as I could, but the rice stuck to them like glue. It wasn't pretty.

When it was time to start preparing the rolls, we split into teams of two and went to a station in front of the chef to prepare our rolls. We went ahead and ordered a couple of beers to enjoy while we were working on the rolls. Everybody got to make one regular roll and one hand roll. Debby made a caterpillar roll and I made a shrimp tempura roll. The hand rolls were spicy tuna. The chef demonstrated how to spread the rice on the seaweed sheet then flip it over onto the sushi mat before adding the filling and rolling it up. They also taught us how to hold the knife to slice the rolls without messing them up—no downward pressure—just let the weight of the knife do the work. Once we had each made a roll, we made our hand rolls. Mine was a mess, but Debby’s looked pretty good. We then went back to our tables to eat our creations and we were served three different types of sake paired to the rolls we had prepared. All in all, it was a great experience and now we can try it at home - but at home we will be sticking to our plant-based diet and making great vegie rolls!
From top to bottom Caterpillar Roll, Shrimp Tempura Roll and Spicy Tuna Hand Roll.

After the class, we drove to my Mom’s, but she had already gone to bed so we snuck quietly in and went to bed ourselves. The next morning Debby went to yoga and did some shopping and I did laundry and worked with my Mom to get her more familiar with her new iPhone. Debby came home just after I finished a short run and we went out with my Mom for lunch and to buy me a new pair of shorts and some sunglasses. I've lost so much weight that the shorts I bought last spring were falling right off me.  

The strip mall where we had gone to shop had a Colombian restaurant that turned out to be just what we needed for lunch with quite a few plant-based options. The food was delicious as was my mojito. Debby tried their special Sangria, but wasn't that impressed with it. After lunch, we went to the men’s store where I had found my shorts last year and found a nice new pair. I also fell in love with some sunglasses there, but they didn't fit right, and for the price, I wasn't willing to compromise. They really tried hard to sell me those glasses even offering to let me take them home with a promise of a full refund if I didn't like them, but I had to leave the price tag on them, which just wasn't going to happen. I found a nice pair of Serengeti sunglasses in another store, where they actually dropped the price a bit, and then it was back to my mother’s for a quiet night at home. The next morning, Debby worked with my Mom on her iPhone and wrote down instructions to help her remember how to do some of the more complicated tasks. She was happy with all the help she got and we signed up for a class at the Verizon store for more training and to get everything in order on her phone before we take off on our trip back to California—can’t believe how close that is now.  

On the way home we stopped at a natural foods store to restock the kitchen and then went to the Dunedin Brewery where we had some tasty red ale and their delicious vegan black bean burritos, which they seriously load up with jalapenos. Trace, the head brewer that we had met through our friends Maria and Brian, was not in that day, so we didn't get to say “Hi.” We got home before dark, but it was super foggy and later that night a big storm blew in, and boy did it blow. It’s three days later and the winds still haven’t died down—and it’s freaking cold, well for here anyway.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hanging around Cedar Key...

We do actually spend a lot of time right here in Cedar Key, actually most of the time, but not too much to post about lately except for some cold, windy weather and our slow paced life of walking downtown or chilling at the tiki bar. But we did, finally, get out to Shellmound - a prehistoric Indian mound and nature trail. We've been hearing about this spot since we were here last year - supposedly there is absolutely no ambient light there so on a clear night you can really view the evening sky. We went during the day to check it out. There is a nice, little campground there as well - just about 10-15 minutes away from our campground. It is part of the Lower Swannee National Wildlife Refuge and they have a boat launch, fishing pier and a couple of nature trails which we went on. The area was created by Archaic cultures and completed by Woodland period cultures and was built up by the discarding of shells from their food source. It was once used as a source of materials for road construction but now it is only open to foot traffic.

check out how the tree on the right has grown around the palm on the left
We've had a couple of fun nights at the tiki bar hanging out with Pat, Cindy, Jay and Russ and meeting new people all of the time, and of course seeing the beautiful sunsets...just another day in between doing tax returns, that is!
The new deck Pat and Cindy just built for the Tiki Bar - lots more room for those BBQs!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

GATR H3 St. Patty's Day Hash

I have been on the Gainesville Yahoo hash page since last winter and hadn't seen a post in over a year, but just about a week before St. Patty's Day there was a post that the start location of the hash was changed. Whoa - so there is an active hash! I responded quickly and got all the info - we had no plans and hadn't hashed since Austin so we gathered up our kilts and "green" and drove an hour into Gainesville. There was a small group that met at the start, an ABC Liquor store (perfect), which was comprised of 4 virgins, 2 visitors, and about 5 GATR H3's two of whom were unnamed, and 2 were the hares - quite a mixed group! At "chalk talk" we were informed that there were multiple beer checks and jello shot checks so we knew we were in for a good time. 

During this period I had stopped drinking - wanting to see if I could go 30 days without booze (I'll spare you the gory details, but I only made it 9). Trying to do this during St. Patty's Day and during a hash was going to be a challenge, but I did actually survive a day of hashing without a drop of liquor or a jello shot!

The hares took off and Bill, aka XS, started us in a few songs and Father Abraham to warm us up and off we went. We quickly became aware that this group did not know a lot of songs, but guess who did?! 

The morning before we left Bill came up with the idea that we should bring a good Irish drinking song to the hash and the first song that came to mind was a great one we had learned from our friend "Flea" at the Mt. Tallac Brewery in South Lake Tahoe. Quite often we would sing the hash "Days of the Week" song at the brewery and Flea loved it and taught us his "Days of the Week Song" - which is called "Seven Drunken Nights." We printed it out and memorized it on our way to the hash (we had an hour drive!). When I went online to get the melody right one of the links I pulled up had some audience participation in it and we thought that would just be the best to get everyone involved. So when we stopped at the first beer check Bill sang the first two days worth of song and at every beer and jello shot check we sang more and more of the song. At one of the checks it said that we had to come up with a song to sing to the hares, CHECK! we had that covered! The next beer check was in this cool little hut and the perfect place for us to perform - here are the last two days, check it out! And oh, beware, you might not want to play this at work!

 We also had to come up with a limerick at one of the jello shot checks - don't remember this one at all! This was a great hash with totally fun people - the virgins had a blast, we all did! And we found out that they post their hash info on their Facebook page - so mystery solved!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Visitors to Cedar Key!!

We've been raving about Cedar Key for over a year now and our friends, Pam and Derrel, from Hamlin, Texas, decided to come out and join us for a long weekend. Derrel,Pam and Bill were all in the Phillipines together in their twenties. They planned the trip several months ago and made reservations at the Low-Key Hideaway, home of the infamous Tiki Bar, where we spend quite a bit of time.  They arrived on Thursday and we drove into Gainesville, where they flew in – it’s just over an hour away and a great little college town. They have a few natural food stores and a couple of vegan-friendly restaurants. We took them to The Jones, Eastside – a little cafĂ© that specializes in fresh, local food and has quite a few options for us plant-based foodies. We had a great lunch and then headed out to the grocery store so they could stock their little kitchen at the motel.

Bill had made a pot of the Crazy, Sexy, Chili we adore and had it on low in the crock pot back at the house, so dinner was a no brainer. This just happens to be our favorite plant-based dish and Bill has made it his own, substituting beer for the water, and a couple of other delicious twists! We took a quick drive around town to let them get the “lay of the land” and then dropped them off to get settled in.

I was so excited I could barely stand it! We have had several of our friends tell us to let them know when we were at some place spectacular and they would come join us. Well, after almost 3 years on the road, this was finally happening. For me, there is nothing better than sharing things with friends – whether it is a meal, a conversation or a place and here we were!
All bundled up! The orange door behind them is their room.
We had a cozy dinner in their room and aside from occasionally wandering in the back, checking out the sunset and enjoying the beautiful night we kind of just huddled in and caught up.

Friday I picked up Pam and we went to yoga, great way to start the day, almost as good as the bloodies that Bill was cooking up for us when we got back!

Maria and Brian had come back to town and were parked right across from us. Maria was set up in her hammock working and Brian was inside becoming increasingly frustrated trying to download some humongous file that kept timing out after many hours. Without too much of a struggle we got Maria to come over and get the day started right!

Last year Maria and Brian had done a tour of the SouthernCross Clam Farm and raved about it. We had always wanted to go check it out – we pass it daily as its right next door to the tiki bar. We thought this might be a fun way to pass the time on a cold, blustery day and something pretty unique to Cedar Key. We fortified ourselves as only this debaucherous crowd could do and walked on over for the 1pm tour. There was another couple that joined us and our tour guide was a fast-talking, passionate, knowledgeable salesman. I can’t even begin to describe to you all of the information he was trying to impart to us with a very specific agenda, once I could catch up! He had given this tour a billion times and was very dramatic and we all looked at each other in amazement because he was quite “fired up” or as Bill said, full of spit and vinegar! It was an interesting tour, especially because clamming is the main industry here.  He was giving a very one-sided picture of how clamming is good for the environment and Bill, having the environmental background that he does, had some problems with a few of the things he was saying. Nobody could get a word in, though, and even when he asked if anyone had any questions, once they were asked, he didn't answer them but just continued on with his rhetoric. I finally couldn't stand in the cold wind anymore and was going to quietly walk away and sit in the sun and wait, when I turned around everyone in the group was following me and leaving him standing there! It was kind of embarrassing, but whatever, enough was enough!
We laughed all the way home and then crashed…resting up for a fun night at the tiki bar. Pam had seen so many of our pictures, months and months of them, all taken right where they were staying and she wanted the “tiki bar experience” so we planned a night of just hanging out and ordering from Island Pizzeria - delivery right to your bar stool.

It was a good night, the gang was all there. Bill had roasted up a few heads of garlic and olive oil, Pam and Derrel had a loaf of bread and some oranges, Heath had brought dozens and dozens of oysters and then he bbq’ed up his venison sausage. Pam and Derrel were amazed and couldn't believe all of the “free” shares. Just part of the tiki bar community, we bring, we share, we laugh and drink. It was a most excellent night and we were even graced with a beautiful sunset.

Saturday we had booked a pontoon boat for the afternoon (through Groupon) and the weather thoughtfully cooperated. Maria and Brian joined us for our “four hour tour”. We basically just drove around the keys and did a lot of bird watching. Maria had brought a huge bag of blue crabs to share, Derrel and Pam picked up some mullet dip and I brought my broccoli, mandarin orange salad along with a ton of other munchies. We had several coolers of beer and off we went. 
Bottom right, Maria is cracking her crabs with the only tool around - an old paddle!
That night we had a campfire at our place and just hung out. Sunday the six of us rode bikes downtown and we had lunch at the Big Deck, where they also had a band playing. Then we wandered over to the Black Dog to sample a few from their fabulous bottled beer collection. We ended the day hanging out at the motel with Maria and Brian's dogs, Ernie and Buddha. I think we had worn Pam & Derrel out by then and we had an early start back to Gainesville in the morning, so we all crashed.

What a fantastic time we all had – and thanks so much, Pam and Derrel, for coming out to play!!
Thanks to Pat, from the Low-Key Hideway, for taking this great shot of the four of us!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Another weekend in Tampa...

March has come in with a roar and we have been on a bit of social roller coaster. The first weekend we headed into Tampa to see Bill's mom and attend the Tampa Brewer's Guild Beerfest with our friends, Maria and Brian from The Roaming Pint. On our way into town we stopped at an international market to purchase some lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves that Bill needed for his curry recipes. We couldn't find this stuff anywhere close to Cedar Key - ordering it online was extremely expensive and they fly it in from Thailand so it would take weeks to get here.  At this market the leaves and lemongrass were only $1 each! After our score we finally made it to Dunedin Brewery. Maria and Brian had mentioned this brewery to us several times, they had a good friend who worked there and knew that their beer matched our tastes. On our way in we spotted The Roaming Pint's signature logo stuck on the door - this always gives us a chuckle; this time we knew they had been there before but quite often we don't and are happily surprised to see it. We both are full-time rv'ers and met over two years ago; we meet up on the road several times a year so seeing the sticker is kind of like seeing them, well, kind of!
The Roaming Pint sticker at the entrance to Dunedin Brewery.

Dunedin Brewery - good beer and some vegan friendly lunch choices!
After lunch we headed down to Clearwater to see Bill's mom, Doano. Bill and Doano had a date at Verizon to get her an iPhone. Doano had been wanting to upgrade her little "Track", pay as you go, phone for a smart phone and give up her landline. This actually required a lot of work because her DSL internet and cable tv were packaged with her telephone. During the week the cable guy had come up and switched her internet and tv over from Verizon, what we didn't know is that she would also lose her email address, which was through Verizon as well. It's kind of odd that she couldn't keep that when she was going to have her cell phone through Verizon - not quite sure how that all happened. Fortunately, Doano was not too bothered by this and knew how to get in touch with all of her friends and family. We spent the rest of the weekend teaching her how to use her new phone. This is difficult task for many of us but especially for seniors. Doano is quite technologically adept, though, and has 3 computers and 3-4 kindles - but the size of the iPhone with the small font and keyboard are a bit of a challenge. It's been a little over a week now and she's a bit frustrated but making progress. We head back down there in 10 days and will spend some more time helping her adjust.

Jaimie and Bill

Friday night after dinner with Doano we hooked up with Bill's classmate, Jamie Danielik and his wife Susan, at a bar just a few miles from Doano's condo. The place was hopping when we got there and we jumped right in. About an hour or so later the band announced that a Subaru with California plates was about to be towed! Bill didn't hear the announcement at all but my ears sure did poke up and I grabbed my purse and jacket and ran out the door. Our car was hooked to be towed and slightly elevated when I ran up to the scruffy looking guy, hung on his arm and batted my baby blues....please, oh please, sir, don't take my car!! He was a cool guy and said he only came in to warn us because we had the CA tags, Florida tags and we would have been a goner. We had a nice chat with him, paid him his $50 and off he went. Phew! That was a close call and would not have made for a fun evening or morning bailing our car out of jail.

The Roaming Pint sticker strikes again!

Saturday afternoon was the beerfest and lucky for us the rain that had been threatening all week stayed away and we just had a bit of a cloudy afternoon to contend with. Bill and I have been to a couple of beer festivals and this had to be the least organized of them all. Up to two weeks before there was no information about the 2013 festival on their website! When we arrived right at the opening time there was a line of people wrapped several blocks around the neighborhood. Maria and Brian were towards the front of this line and we were thrilled to join them there. An hour later and the line didn't look like it had moved much. There was also no food or water for sale at the festival. If you had purchased VIP tickets you could get a sausage lunch but not even for a price could you get food anywhere - not such a good plan for drinkers. The port-o-potty lines were also incredibly long and look what we found there!

Maria and Brian stayed in town a few more days and then came back to Cedar Key for a week. They were here in December for a month or so at the Low-Key Hideaway, just down the street, but this time they stayed at our rv park, right across from us. We just said our goodbyes this morning and will meet up with them in Lawrence, Kansas at the end of April. One of the things that brings us so much joy on this "wild ride" of ours is meeting up with friends along the way. We have a "roaming community" of sorts and I wouldn't have half the fun we have without them!