Monthly Archives: February 2012

Sunset at Pier 60

Its not everyday I get down to the beach, but when I do I’m always amazed at how beautiful God’s creation truly is, and how blessed I am to live just a short 20 minute drive away.

When its a balmy 78˚ and the sun is begging to give me just a tiny kiss, I simply can not resist. I hopped in my truck and headed across the bridge to Clearwater Beach. Palm Pavillion was calling my name, and so was the second best Bloody Mary in this city. (Some day I’ll write about number 1). Kindle came along too and the two of us enjoy a few chapters and some tasty chicken nachos.

These nachos ruled the school because instead of a pile where the bottom chips are plain and soggy, and the top chips get all the goodies- these chips were all toasted individually and each had a the perfect portion of cheese, chicken, and jalapénos. They also put the salsa and pico on the side which made me very happy.

After lunch I took a walk down the beach toward the pier. The sun was looking mighty fine and I took the opportunity to take a few pictures and catch up on my people watching. There were kids playing, a girl doing yoga and a couple gratuitously making out and rolling around in the sand. The sun didn’t pay any mind… he just kept doing his thing.

Every time I see this sight I think the same thing… I LIVE HERE!

There is something so very spiritual about the sunset.When I feel the warmth, and gaze into the beaming light, I feel so close to God, and I consider how very much like Him I would like to be. He is the ultimate artist. He didn’t have to make the water move like it does, and make the light sparkle and dance like it does, but He did. He is what creativity is all about. I imagine how fun it must have been to start this whole thing called the Earth from scratch. Like an empty canvas wondering what it is about to become. We are His masterpiece. Wow!

I remember swimming in this very water as a girl, and never daring to go under the pier lest I get swallowed up by the giant octopus that lived there.

I’m still uncovering lies my brother told me. Oh the tales spoken by his lips that I always believed and still do.

When the weather is nice, the City of Clearwater puts on a little fair at sunset on Pier 60.

There are lots of merchants selling their wares, and musicians playing for pennies. They’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I remember how much I loved seeing all the little do-dads people would make, and imagining that some day I would make things and sell them. Maybe I’m not so far off from what I thought I’d become.

I love this old Pier.

I love its 1960′s charm, and weathered feel. This Pier has seen many storms and hurricanes yet it still stands. When everyone flees and take shelter, Pier 60 remains.

Something tells me this wooden railing is so much more beautiful today than the day it was built.

It has earned its patina from the conditioning that happens only from the oils of a million hands. It is smoothed by the squalls washing over it thousands of times. Hardened by the sun baking day after day. Warmed and seasoned.

I got lucky and caught this seagull taking off.

Finally Adam came to join me for an ice cream cone…

and a kiss…

the perfect ending to the perfect day.

Bella’s Confetti “Spaghetti”

Confetti

In Hyde Park, Tampa is the perfect little Italian place that I’ve been frequenting for 15 years or more. Tucked away almost to the bay on Howard Ave, past McDintons with its drunken 20 somethings, past Cheap with guys in faux-hawks, blazers and gals in fake boobs with belts for skirts… this little gem is for the more distinguished (however unrefined) patron.

It has been my go-to favourite spot for many eventful evenings. My parents took me there after my first ballet performance. I went there on my 12th, 14th, 16th birthday, 20th birthday… (never noticed the even years until just now- omen?) I’ve been there on dates, late lunches aprés-shopping/pre-matinée. I’ve dabbled around with different appetizers, and tried many of their wines and cocktails, I’ve even dared to try a few desserts other than my beloved creme brulee. But from the main dish I have never been unfaithful.

Not once, not even one single time, have I ever shared my loyalty to …

                           Bella’s Confetti Spaghetti.

It was my mother who first ordered it. I remember tasting it cold the next day in the adorable chinese take-out box it traveled home in. It might as well have been wrapped in a bow. I was hooked. Each time we sat down, when the server presented my menu I confidently rejected… I already knew what I would order.

I LOVE that my parents never batted an eyelash while our family watched the server grating a mountain of cheese on my pasta. For parents who were strict on politeness, and staunchly discouraged immature and inconsiderate behaviour, they never once said, “Okay dear, that’s enough.” My mother still, to this day, watches in amusement as I consume amounts of cheese that can in no way be healthy. My cheese obsession will have to be reserved for another blog entirely. I digress… end cheese caveat.

So when I moved to Europe in 2005 it was only a matter of time before I longed for the taste of peas, fresh tomatoes and spaghetti cooked to al dente perfection swimming in a sublime blush sauce with a hint of bacon. A few times I even attempted an off menu order for a daring chef to attempt recreation, but the “customer is always wrong” policy in Europe did not lend itself to custom requests from patrons. Finally, I decided I would attempt a recreation myself, and thus was born possibly my favourite recipe of all time. After years of practice, and experimentation I’ve come up with something mighty grand. I added mushrooms, varied the type of pasta depending on what I have on hand, and did away with the fresh parsley. It is pretty simple once you nail the béchamel.

Disclaimer: Now when I cook, its like an old granny. Its just a little of this, and a pinch of that. I simply know no other way. I’m sure one day my grandchildren are going to be driven bananas when they ask me for recipes, just as I was by my grandmother. I apologize now for any readers driven bananas as a result of this recipe.

Ingredients:

About a cup of Fresh tomatoes (okay sometimes I cheat and use canned)

About a cup of Peas

2 or 3 strips of Bacon

A decent pour of Milk (whole milk tastes best)

A little stock

A little flour

A blop of red pasta sauce

2ish Tbsp of Butter

1 clove of Garlic (I always buy it in a jar but a clove sounds nicer)

Maybe a third of a red onion

A handful of Mushrooms (more if you’re a carnie, less if you have man hands.)

Pasta of any kind, preferably spaghetti, rotini or rotelle

A mountain of Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

Start by frying up the bacon until its crispy. Set aside and chop into bits once cooled. Throw in the mushrooms, onion, garlic and a little butter. Also some salt and pepper. Saute until its all caramelized then stir in the peas, bacon and tomatoes and set aside. (Did you know that saute meant “to jump” in french?)

Start boiling your pasta. Remember: Pasta water should be like the sea. Salty.

For the sauce:

Melt the butter and add a few spoons of flour. For a thicker sauce add a few tablespoons, for a thinner sauce add just one or two. With a whisk stir continually and cook on low heat until the butter/flour mixture begins to very slightly turn beige. This is called a roux. Knowing exactly how long to do this is a skill that requires a lot of practice. I can’t tell you exactly how long, but you can kind of tell its ready when it doesn’t smell too “floury” anymore. If it gets too brown your sauce will taste burnt. If you don’t cook it long enough your sauce will taste like flour. If its not right you can always start over. It doesn’t take long to do. Maybe 4-5 minutes.

Once your roux is ready start adding the milk a little at a time. It will thicken up very quickly at first but whisk quickly and it will stay smooth. Keep whisking and pouring a little at a time until it looks like you have enough sauce for your pasta. Sometimes I have my husband pour while I whisk. My mother used to have me pour while she whisked. She would tell me when to start and stop by saying, “PoooooooooooooooUR.” The pour kinda went up at the end and got louder, which meant STOP.

Add some salt, pepper, garlic powder if you want it to be extra garlicky. Add about 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, and the blop of pasta sauce to give it a pink color and a tangy flavour. If you have some extra bacon fat, stir in a couple teaspoons for a more smokey flavor.

Continue stirring and cook your sauce on low for 5-10 minutes until all the flavors have married and had a lovely reception. Do not boil, for this leads to divorce.

By now your pasta should be done. Drain, add your mushroom, pea, tomato, bacon mix, then pour the sauce over and stir.

Serve with a copious pile of parmesan cheese and enjoy. :)

Ode to a French Bistro

My love for the french bistro is one that runs deep. It was a cognitive love at first, but it wasn’t until my second trip to paris that I truly fell in love. Deep, abiding love. The kind of love when you know you’ve found where you belong. I’m convinced that I was french in a former life. I simply must be.

I love the smells, the sounds, the feeling.

There is a certain crowd in the french bistro- artists, students, poets… there is a respect for the genius that could be happening at any table nearby. A song is being written, a heart is being broken, a story is in the making, a revelation has been made. All between sips of espresso, crunchy breaking of baguettes, and clinking of spoons.

You won’t find chicken nuggets here. No fried foods, cheeseburgers or milkshakes. Only the finest cheeses, freshest breads, sweetest baked treats. You won’t be coddled by the staff, but then again why do you care? You’re not here for them…

…you’re here for yourself.

Some of my most precious moments with yours truly have happened over a soy latte and roasted vegetable and goat cheese panini. I feel more myself in a cafe of strangers than probably most anywhere else in the world.

I think things like, “Is there a felicity in the world superior to this?” Then I giggle to myself at how pretentious I am. I drink my soy latte who never judges me. I taste the smoothness of fresh raw cheese at its finest. The cheese is not cheesy, no.

And neither am I.

I get to be the fullness of my inner french goddess here. I can write things I would never dare write from the comfort of my American apartment. I can think things I would never dare share with anyone other than Vonnegut or Hemmingway. I imagine Andy Warhol really would have wanted to be friends with me.

I dream of the day when I might be asked to write the specials on the chalk board because Gorgette is sick today and I’m the only person who knows how.

Oh, Bistro français, Je t’aime. Merci pour tous la mémoire.