Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Port of Call: Sarasota

Mai Thai anchored in Sarasota Harbor
The first time I ever heard of Sarasota was in the early eighties when a colleague mentioned it. His grandmother lived there. Immediately, I associated Sarasota with retirees. Years later, I passed by the town many times, but never did I stop. Until one Februray in 2005, when my husband and I arrived by boat.

We anchored at the expansive Sarasota Harbor, near Marina Jack. You can tie up your dinghy at O'Leary Tiki Bar and Grill for a small fee. Once on land, you are on Island Park (or Bayfront Park) with lots of amenities to offer the public - walkways for rollerblading, walking or running, huge playgrounds and water fountains for kids to play in, benches for picnics, all with the lovely view of Sarasota Bay. For those seeking watersports activities, there are plenty of affordable rentals and charters (sunset or dinner cruises, deep-sea fishing, you name it) at the park.
Bayfront Park
Sunset at Sarasota Harbor
Across the street from the park is the charming downtown, lined with art galleries, cafes, bookstores, and restaurants. There is a theater, an excellent library and bus system. On Saturdays, a good size farmer's market offers fresh vegetables, plants, herbs, flowers, etc.
Farmer's market in downtown Sarasota
We were lucky to stumble upon the Sarasota Arts Festival one weekend. We've been to several arts festivals, and loved Key West's and Coconut Grove's (Miami), but decided Sarasota has got to be the finest. Check out the video below and see if you agree.

We love Sarasota so much we stayed on anchor there for almost three weeks! When the birds start eating their catch on your deck and bimini top, it is time to leave. Did I mention that there were quite a few liveaboards at the anchorage? Back in those days, you could anchor as long as you liked. Now, the city limits anchoring to 72 hours. There's talk about putting in a mooring field that will be run by Marina Jack. Check out The Waterway Guide or Skipper Bob's publication for more information.
Mai Thai at anchor in Sarasota
Updated: 2/23/17
Since Nov 2012, you can no longer anchor freely in Sarasota. The city has installed moorings which cost $25/day. Find out more here

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Salt and Pepper Shrimp, anyone?

I could not bring myself to do a posting yesterday. It was Valentine's Day, and I got rejected! Via email regarding my "audition" for a guest chef at a local William Sonoma-like store.

The "audition" was on Friday the 13th. I had joined a Travel Writing Group and we had a meeting that same morning. Everyone was encouraged to write an article about a romantic trip or a trip that had gone wrong, or to combine both into one story. I did the latter, and the article can be found in - Travel Destinations: Florida by E. Thai. Anyway, the people I met were very professional and of high caliber. I am already looking forward to our next meeting.

I left early to make my next appointment. A week earlier, when I was asked to do an "audition," I simply laughed at the word, not realizing what it all meant. I had never cooked in front of an unknown audience before. Here, I thought I'd just show people how to cook good, fast and simple Asian food. Apparently, that was not enough. What they wanted was a show! The chef/owner said my food was wonderful, but my presentation skills were not a good fit for them. Ouch, that hurts! Then again, if I have that kind of presentation skills, I may have persued a different profession entirely.

I'm just a computer geek with a passion for writing, traveling and cooking. I have many years of experience in the restaurant business, from being a waitstaff, a certified bartender to part-ownership. Although I was never a chef, when push comes to shove, I'd cooked many a dish. Alas, this means nothing. America is obsessed with celebrities and reality shows. Even my favorite chef Ming Tsai is no longer on the Food Network Channel:-(!! And who watches Hell's Kitchen anyway?

When we moved to the boat and traveled up and down the east coast, I had to streamline my cooking big time. The boat galley is a U-shaped one-butt kitchen. We learned to conserve and live with less (water, cooking equipment, refrigerator space, even refrigeration for that matter). We had a space for either a microwave or a convection oven. I chose the latter. Forget appliances like dishwasher and washing machine! South of Virginia, you cannot even get decent Chinese food, let alone Chinese groceries! I learned to provision more efficiently and to substitute.

So after all these years, I have collected and refined recipes for good, fast and simple cooking with an Asian twist. It's all in a document that is waiting to be published. Some day ... I close this posting with the Salt and Pepper Shrimp that I demonstrated at my "audition." Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera, but I assure you it is pretty and tastes very good. Best of all, simple, fast, and dare I say, healthy? Bon Appetit!

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Serves 2
14 large shrimp (21/25 count), deveined, and with shells on
5 lettuce leaves
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
½ of a jalapeno pepper, sliced thin (optional)
2 Tbsp olive oil

Wash and brine shrimp in ½ teaspoon salt for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Wash and dry lettuce leaves. Cut crosswise into ½” slices and place in a serving dish.

In a large saucepan or wok, under medium high heat, dry fry shrimp (yes, no oil!) for about 2 minutes. When the color of the shrimp turns pink, turn it and sear the other side for 1-2 minutes.

Sprinkle in the pepper and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt (and jalapeno, if using). Stir until shrimp is well coated. Add olive oil and shake the pan or wok so that the shrimp is well coated with the spice and oil. Pour over lettuce in serving dish. Serve immediately with cooked rice.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Retiree ...

A department store about two miles away from my home is having a grand opening this morning. It was giving away ten bucks in store dollars to the first 200 customers, so around 8:45am I sped over to partake in the event. When I arrived, the parking lot was already three-quarters full, and it was a zoo. A line had formed, and it snaked around the parking lot. I was thinking that even if I did not make the 200 count, the store should reward me and others behind me for just showing up. Retirees like me were freezing our butts out there. Artic air from the north had blown into Tampa Bay a couple of days ago, dropping our temperatures to the low 30s at night, to the 40s during the day, the coldest it's been in six years. The guy behind me said he actually enjoys the cold weather. No wonder - he's from Pittsburgh, Pa. I congratulated him on the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl. He said he screamed so hard he lost his voice the next day!

After my shopping, I stopped by the local library to borrow some DVDs. I'm on a mission to re-watch all my favorite movies. I checked out "The Big Chill", Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock", and "Pride and Prejudice."

Later in the afternoon, it warmed up to the 60s. I peeled off my winter clothing and went to work in the yard/garden. The two bougainvilleas I had planted just after the new years lost quite a bit of flowers, but seemed fine. I moved all my potted plants (impatients, geraniums, blue daze) and herbs (cilantro, rosemary) from the garage to the outside, and did some weeding. It felt good to have the sun on my back.

Tampa is lucky. We had rotten weather several days before Super Bowl Sunday. On the day of the game, it was cool, but sunny. Next day, it went downhill, culminating in the aforementioned artic blast. This weekend is gonna be nice again. Just in time for Gasparilla, when the pirates invade the city. A tradition that dates back over 100 years, the Gasparilla invasion will be led by the pirate ship Jose Gasparilla, booming with canons as it enters Hillsborough Bay. After she docks at the Convention Center, the pirates will force the mayor to surrender the city. This is then followed by a parade of pirates plundering around the city with floats, beads, and other goodies, New Orleans style. A day of good times, for sure.

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