The Way of the Pineapple

March 7, 2012

It’s pineapple season!

My first pineapple plant

Usually I just see pineapples at the supermarket but last year I noticed they were growing on the grounds of the Jupiter Lighthouse. That made me curious. Can they really be grown here in Florida? Shortly afterwards, my Mom mentioned she had saved the top of a pineapple she bought at the grocery store, and potted it for me.  I finally got around to planting it in the backyard this past weekend.  

Each night now, I head into the backyard, flashlight in hand, to check on it, and make sure no nutcase squirrel, armadillo or mole has attacked it. And I’m kinda addicted to the thought of it.

Apparently pineapple plants adapt to the warmest areas of Florida, along the SE and SW coasts.  But lucky for me they can also grow in protected locations/landscapes throughout Florida.  The optimal temperature for growing pineapples is 68-86 degrees (F).  Temperatures below 28 degrees (F) aren’t tolerated, and slow plant growth may occur as a result of temperatures below 60 degrees (F) and above 90 degrees (F).

How to Grow Your  Own Pineapple

According to the FloridaGardener, it’s easy to grow pineapples from store-bought fruit.  Simply:

  1. Cut or twist off the pineapple crown.
  2. Allow it to dry for a day or two.
  3. Plant in sandy, well-drained soil (or container; see below), and in full sun if possible.
  4. Water weekly. Pour water into the vase-like top.
  5. Once plant is established, pour a cup of balanced, diluted water-soluble fertilizer into the top of the plant monthly. Avoid getting dirt or sand into the buds at the top of the plant as it may kill it.

Container Planting

  1. Choose a 3-7 gal. container with drainage holes. The larger the container, the greater the potential for a large plant and fruit.
  2. Fill container to within an inch or so from the top with well-drained potting soil mix.
  3. Water the soil mix before planting the plant (you should see water draining from the drainage holes).
  4. Plant pineapple crown in the center of the container, then water (in the vase-like top of the crown).
  5. Place container in full sun for best growth.

Pineapples are slow-growing, but if you’re going to buy a pineapple to eat anyway, instead of throwing the top out, why not give this a try?


A Taste of Europe

November 2, 2011

During a recent trip to Jacksonville I decided to make time for  lunch at the San Marco location of the European Street Cafe.  With the bakery display up front, and a back wall lined with beer and wine, the atmosphere was definitely international.  Toblerone chocolate bars, with bits of nougat, almond and honey, enticingly sat in a basket on the counter, inviting long ago memories of my first encounter with the chocolate bar while actually living in Europe.

The menu was overwhelming at first.  Matt, who travels to Jacksonville quite often for work and has lunch at this Cafe,  recommended his favorite – the Muffaletta, served on incredibly fresh, soft ciabotta bread. It was the right choice.

Cafes were always a favorite part of my days in Europe and I am thrilled to find this one here in Florida.  The only problem is that the  European Street Cafe only has four locations, and all of them are in Jacksonville.

Sure there are other European-themed eating establishments throughout the state, including the more regal and sophisticated ones such as Cafe L’Europe in Sarasota (inspired by the L’Europe Hotel in Amsterdam) and Cafe Europa in Ft. Lauderdale.  These however don’t interest me.  I find them pretentious. The Jacksonville Café is more my style.

With people traveling less in this present economy, including myself, a trip to an internationally inspired restaurant, bar or café is like a mini-trip in itself.  It’s a place where Floridians can learn a little about other cultures, an international traveler can reminisce, and foreigners can feel at home. All without ever having to leave the state.


Fall in Florida

September 28, 2011

Now that it’s officially Fall (at least on the calendar), what does it mean for Florida?

FESTIVALS

Starting this weekend, festivals abound across the state. Not all seem Fall-related, but are festivals none-the-less.  These include the Central Florida Peanut Festival (Williston), Rattlesnake Festival (San Antonio), Fantasy Fest 2011 (Key West), McIntosh 1890s Festival, Mount Dora Craft Festival, and the Miconopy Fall Harvest Festival.

FALL LANDSCAPING

Blooming Oakleaf Hydrangea

There are certain plants that react to the Florida Fall by changing colors, producing berries or flowering.  These include Goldenrod, Beach Sunflower, Cigar Plant, Lion’s Tail, BeautyBerry, Muhly Grass, Mexican Sage, Forsythia Sage, and Silver-Leaved Aster.  Another, the Oakleaf Hydrangea, sounds perfect for a shady spot in our backyard where nothing ever seems to grow.

FALL GARDENING

I’m  a big fan of Fall vegetables, including beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, mustard greens, onions, radishes, squash and turnips. Floridians can plant them for themselves, or hold out for the bounty at a local Farmers Market.  Apparently Fall is also the best time to plant strawberries in Florida.  As for the flower garden, it’s time for chrysanthemums and marigolds.  And, if you live in South Florida and are up for the challenge, it’s time to plant those high-maintenance rose bushes.

FALL HUNTING

I’m not a hunter, and rarely think of hunters inhabiting Florida.  But Florida apparently does have hunting seasons.  It appears to start with Fall Archery Season (Sept. – October), followed by Crossbow, Muzzle Loader, and General Gun seasons.  There’s even a time for hunting alligator, which is something you won’t find me participating in.

LEGO MY LEGO

Another event taking place this Fall in Florida is the opening of the LEGOLAND park on October 15th.  Although I’m not a fan of theme parks, for a kid (big or small), this one might be worth at least a visit.


Mystery of the Florida Avocado Solved

August 17, 2011

Even though I’m a huge avocado fan, the Florida avocado has long  remained a mystery to me. It doesn’t look or feel like an avocado, it’s bigger than an apple or pear, and I know zilch about it. Finally, though, my curiosity got the better of me and I brought one home, where it sat for several days, getting softer by the moment. Finally it was time to give it a try.

Florida Avocado (Photo Credit: Matt O'Neill)

The first bite was exploratory. Instead of the dense, creamy sensation of the California (or Hass) avocado, this Florida avocado is light and smooth.  After eating a few slices, I mashed it up into some guacamole, with a little sea salt, a favorite seasoning from Texas, and a little bit of lime juice.  Although good, it just isn’t the same. These avocados will be better in salads, as slices with dinner, or on a wrap.

  • Avocados, overall, are considered a fruit and are very low in sugar, very high in fat, and packed with  calories.
  • Adding avocados (California or Florida) to a salad is said to vastly increase your absorption of nutrients from the other vegetables.
  • By making guacamole out of your avocados, you enhance your absorption of the carotenoids from the tomatoes or salsa that you add, or the vegetables that you dip into it.

So, how do the two avocados compare in nutritional aspects?

The average size California avocado contains approximately 200 calories, while the larger Florida avocado has approximately 300 calories.  However, it is the California avocados that have the higher fat percentage.  When you compare them ounce for ounce, the California avocado has about 50 calories per ounce, while the Florida avocado has about 33.

Here’s an interesting breakdown, by cup of pureed avocado, presented in the Healthy Happy Life blog:

California: 1 cup pureed – 384 calories, 35g fat, 5g saturated fat, 5g protein, 16g fiber
Florida: 1 cup pureed – 276 calories, 23g fat, 5g saturated fat, 5g protein, 13g fiber

Will any of this change my avocado eating habits? Not in the slightest.  I don’t think about fat or calories when I eat something I enjoy and know is mostly healthy for me.  And now I have something else to enjoy.


Athletes and Chocolate

August 10, 2011

What do chocolate and athletes have in common?  Apparently the ESPY awards, ESPN’s yearly award ceremony for athletes.

Daytona Beach based Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory found itself in a  unique situation in early July when it was named the official “gourmet chocolate sponsor” for the ESPYs.  The chocolatiers were asked to provide their exotic truffles for the award show attendees.

Truffles by Angell & Phelps

Athletes such as nominees Dirk Nowitzki (NBA), Serena Williams (tennis), Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR), Lindsey Vonn (Olympic skier) and Cam Newton (football) were a few who found Angell & Phelps treats in their celebrity gift bags this year.

Angell & Phelps truffle variety pack includes:

  • Milk Chocolate Truffles
  • Rum Milk Chocolate Truffles
  • Champagne Dark Chocolate Truffles
  • Amaretto Milk Chocolate Truffles
  • Raspberry Dark Chocolate Truffles

With a Groupon about to expire, we headed to the chocolate factory on Beach Street in old downtown Daytona Beach over the weekend.

The Chocolate Factory Tour

Angell & Phelps conducts a Chocolate Tour at least four times a day and we caught the last one at 4:00pm. Although fun, the tour isn’t very impressive.  You look through windows into the area where potato chips are being coated with chocolate, where white chocolate is kept at a constant 89 degrees for melting, and where the chocolates are boxed up for shipping. Maybe it was just late in the day, or maybe the workers dislike being on display, but no one seemed very happy.

How chocolate covered potato chips are made.

 

A worker prepares each chocolate covered chip by impressing the grooves on the potato chips.

 

White Chocolate melting machine

After the tour, we stood staring at all the choices behind the counter. To spend my $20 Groupon, we  diversified — a slice of chocolate fudge, a slice of maple nut fudge, several Honey Bees ( similar to Turtles and even more delicious).   The absolute best of our selections was the Dark Chocolate  Covered Cherries.  Now these were worth the trip. They are exquisite and some of the best candy we have ever tasted.

The Acclaimed Truffles

The Espy Truffles didn’t receive much enthusiasm from the crowd of 30 or more people at the last tour on Saturday.  But I for one had to give them a try. I bought two — a champagne truffle and a raspberry truffle. They were delicious, but still couldn’t top the chocolate covered cherries.

I wasn’t overwhelmed by the Angell & Phelps chocolate or their small factory. It’s a very small operation and I’m surprised they were able to accommodate such a big order as the Espy Awards.  The workers rarely smiled, one lady behind the candy counter rudely ignored us, and the overall feel of the store was less than exciting.

Will I go back? Possibly… for the chocolate covered cherries.  However, my heart still belongs to a particular little chocolate shop in Zürich, Switzerland. And state side, it lies with a certain northern chocolate shop – Stefanelli’s Candies – located in Erie, Pennsylvania.


Kumquats

April 13, 2011

This post, published 04/13, incorrectly identifies our tree and its fruit as kumquats. It is actually a loquat tree.  Thank you Suwanee Refuge for letting me know!!!

It turns out we have a kumquat tree in our backyard.  And the kumquats are starting to turn a less than vibrant shade of orange.

New to all this, I decided to pick a basketful and make some special kind of Florida dessert.

Basketful of Kumquats

A little online research yielded the website for Kumquat Growers, Inc.  which provides several ideas and unique recipes to try. Instead of having to decide which one to try right away, I found I could make a puree to add to a recipe at a later date.

Kumquat Puree Preparation:  Wash fruit, cut in half and remove seeds. Place in blender or food chopper (A blender makes a finer puree). Do not cook. Use puree in recipes as called for or freeze in zip-lock bags or other freezer containers.  Frozen kumquat puree can be stored for six months or more.  When you use frozen puree, defrost and drain the excess liquid before using.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But here’s the catch — that basketful of kumquats requires a lot of work,  first halving and then de-seeding the tiny fruits.  To top it off, the entire basket only yielded  2 cups of puree.

Kumquat Puree

I placed my measly two cups in a ziplock bag, then licked the spoon. Turns out the puree is delicious. I could have eaten several spoonfuls but restrained myself.  I placed the bag in the freezer and in a few weeks will pull it out to make Kumquat Refrigerator Pie, Kumquat Pudding, Kumquat Oatmeal Cookies, or a Kumquat Breakfast Bread. With only 2 cups of the laborious puree at my disposal, I’ll have to make sure I get whatever recipe I choose right the first time.


Chocolatiers

February 16, 2011

As a treat for myself before Valentine’s Day,  I finally watched the 2000 movie Chocolat, starring Juliet Binoche and Johnny Depp.  A mysterious chocolatier (Binoche) sets up shop across from a church in a small French village and disrupts the predictable day to day life there. Basically the movie is about how chocolate can bring people together, and bring happiness to life. 

Watching this made me wonder whether there are any true chocolatiers here in Florida. They may not be like the one in the movie, but surely a unique shop, not a chain, exists somewhere in this state.

THE LIST

Now I’m on a new quest — to find a unique chocolatier in the state of Florida. For this, I have devised a list of shops close to home to visit first:

  • Angell & Phelps (Daytona Beach)
  • Chocolate Connoisseurs (Winter Park)
  • Danay’s Candies (Orlando)
  • Caffe Chocolat (Titusville)
  • Whetstone Chocolates (St. Augustine)
  • Claude’s Chocolates (St. Augustine)

As I was devising this initial list, an email with the Groupon deal of the day arrived, offering a $20 Groupon to Daytona Beach’s Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory for only $10.  Not only does Angell & Phelps sell chocolate, they also let you tour their kitchen and chocolate factory. This will be my first stop.

Jumping online for a little chocolate research, I came across a surprise website and blog for the Chocolate University Online.  I am thrilled that this chocolatier, Bryn Kirk,  found another way to get chocolate to the masses. Kirk even offers a free eBook, 101 Things You Must Know About Chocolate, and free information on her website such as  21 Things You Must Know About Chocolate.

As for my having to consume a large quantity of chocolate in order to complete this quest, that won’t be necessary. I’m looking more for ambiance. For style.  And yes, a somewhat European flair. I most likely will, however, in the name of research of course,  have to sample just a few.