Archives for posts with tag: florida

I know I’ve said it time and time again, but seriously. The Mexicans have got it figured out. Another taco experience, another transcendental moment, another glimpse at bliss. Doña Betty’s taco truck, up 41 in Bradenton, in a little bit of a “What are you doing out here?” neighborhood. Wedged between the Joyland Dance Hall and a deserted BBQ buffet. Standard white truck enlivened with bright pink interior, three women rushing  in the cramped space to feed the giant line forming outside. I don’t think I’ve ever stood in line for a taco before. I think a line is a real good sign.

High quality phone pics, enjoi! Too much taco-lust to go home and get my camera before devouring…

Families huddled over the hoods of their car, frenziedly eating tacos, trying to finish them before all the spicy goodness dripped out out the bottom. Dudes with impressive moustaches hanging around waiting for their six, eight, ten taco orders. Little Anne ordered one al pastor and one beef cheek before slouching around the parking lot with the rest of the hungry, anticipatory mob. (I should come clean and admit that I didn’t discover this gem on my own, via some telepathic taco-truck location system. No, I read about it in Edible Sarasota, like a real white girl. But that’s ok. I still felt cool kickin’ it in the taco line.) Finally the taco queen, presumably Doña B herself, hollered “Veinte y cuatro!” and I reached up to the glowing window for my manna from heaven. Two tacos annnd a sweet little gratis side affair: a generous heap of pickled carrots and fresh-from-the-can pineapple. Review: Al pastor: chunkier than usual, spicier than usual. Two good things. Unexpectedly topped with a little queso fresco. Good. Barbacoa: tender, salty, spicy, heavenly. Heaped with onion and cilantro and lime, of course. And lots of the gently cool but simultaneously zingy green avocado-ish sauce and a healthy, sinus-clearing dash of the ominously red-orange hot sauce. The heat cut by the sour carrots, coupled with the sweet pineapple. Boom. Bang. Ok then. Doña B, you have my heart. Slammed that whole plate down, to the soundtrack of the country twang buzzing out of the dance hall and the wailing sirens of the cop cars bolting down 41, the contented chatter of taco truck clients and the pleas from the kids for “Just one more taco, just one!”

Miami again, Michael’s Genuine again. Had to. Boat Show = everything in Miami is booked, booked, booked. But apparently I’ve been living very righteously, and my “why not” last-minute call to Michael’s at 11:30 resulted in a 12 o’clock brunch rez for Bari (remember Bari, from Bali? we have a history of manual labor and fine dining together) and I. Feeling excited and hungry, we ordered: the famous homemade pop-tarts, lemon ricotta pancakes, reuben omelet, tortilla espanola, and chargrilled octopus (the classic brunch dish…)

The rundown: the pop-tarts, one strawberry and one guava n’ cheese (nod to Miami aka. Latin America) were good, if you were a sugar-hound six year-old. So sweet neither of us could finish ours. Not bad, just too sweet for the likes of us savory folk. Lemon ricotta pancakes, delightfully light (and not too sweet) topped with tarty blueberry sauce. Reuben omelet, so good. Egg wrapped around house-made pastrami and tangy thousand island sauce, a dark purple forest of sour cabbage on the side. Tortilla, my favorite. Contender for Mom’s tortilla, and that’s saying something.

Served room temp, as it should be, chock-a-block full of salty potatoes and not a whole lot else. Topped with tomato onion confit; killer. And the beloved octopus from dinner of course made a reappearance. Slightly different in brunch form, the chewy charcoaly octopus took its place amongst spicy stewed peppers, giant beans, and salty olives–finishing the meal on a perfect note. Anne hearts Michael’s Genuine.

Sometime I feel like I should just change the blog to “Anna Taco,” seeing as a solid half of my posts are about tacos. Can’t help it. Big taco love. They’re just different enough to keep you interested, every shady taco van taking a slightly different variation on the al pastor, some with two corn tortillas cuddling the meat, some with one. Some with mounds of cilantro, some with just a grassy little sprinkling. Some with fiery red sauce chunky with chilies, some with cool, smooth avocado made liquid.

(I love her pink shirt, visor, lips, nails. She had a pink rose painted on her arm too.)

I’m usually a taco purist, sticking to tortillas n’ meat, sticking to what I know, but yesterday I branched out at Maria’s, a non-van taco shop in the Red Barn flea market. 2 tacos (al pastor, barbacoa) …and one sope! Tacos really good, duh, and sope, pretty good! A little scary to vary from tradition, but a rewarding change. Fried little masa bowl filled with carnitas, lettuce, tomatoes, cream, queso. Topped with a messy amount of the avocado sauce, resulting in the use of thirty-five plus napkins, and at the very least that many sighs of delight.

Anne finds taco bliss, again.

Philly cheese steak (surprisingly delicious, coming from a taco spot and all, for Alexandria, sope y tacos for A)

This semester I took a service-learning class for humanitarian-inclined foodies, “Our Daily Bread: Food Security, Poverty, and Nutrition.” Apart from reading and writing and doing regular class type things, we volunteered at a soup kitchen, a food bank, an organic farm, and with a program putting on cooking classes for kids from low-income families. The soup kitchen was humbling, the food bank was surprising (-ly huge), the organic farm was fun, and the cooking classes were all three. I only caught the last few classes of the first round, held in the cafeteria of Emma Brooker elementary, forty or so extraordinarily loud and hungry kids clamoring for attention and making banana tortillas. I was overwhelmed. The second round, Audra (another Novo Collegian) and I were assigned a specific weekly class, a (calmer) batch of sixteen or so kids.

The kids always burst into class, backpacks swinging, everyone smiling, asking excitedly what we were learning and making that day. Despite the fact that they’ve been at school all day and then at tutoring for another couple hours, they quietly listen to the initial nutrition lesson, given by a nice nutritionist from a local hospital. The kids follow along in workbook, doing crossword puzzles about vegetables and unscrambling names of different whole grains. Food bingo was always a hit, as were the rubber reproductions of foods in proper serving sizes, everyone fascinated by the wiggly fake oatmeal and carrots.

After nutrition, we launch into the messy part of the class. The recipe for the week correlates with the nutrition lesson and the kids get a grocery bag full of all the ingredients to take home. With a watchful and worried eye, we hand out knives and cutting boards to the kids, watching them cautiously slice peppers for pizza or apples for little crisps. Everyone wants a job, every voice asking for a special task. Most have tried the teacher’s pet tactic, tapping my shoulder with a “Your hair is so pretty… can I roll the dough?” (…and it usually works.) After the dish is assembled and in the oven, clean-up commences, a surprisingly easy process. Kids fought to be the dishwasher, something I really couldn’t figure out. Nonetheless, we cook together, we clean together, then we eat together. There are inevitably the picky eaters who make faces about red peppers, but everyone is always so pleased with our finished creation that they’re willing to give it at least a teeny taste. Pizza was a hit, although everyone meticulously picked around every single vegetable. Apple crisp was well-liked, as were soft pretzels. Kumquat and pomegranate (poma-grams) were a good time, many hilarious faces were made. Salad… unanimously disliked.

I can’t believe it when kids make it to college without being able to make themselves a meal. I hope it’s different for these kids, that they end up capable of throwing together pasta and a salad in their dorms. There’s also low-income aspect, in that these kids in particular have a pretty different view of food than many American elementary students. Filling out first -day surveys, no one was ashamed of the fact that their mothers receive WIC or their family relies on food stamps. Everyone’s mom gets help. 50% of kids in Sarasota County get free or reduced lunch. I wonder what that means, that half of the kids in a place where there are yacht-lined shores and five story houses are hungry.

Beyond its food aid aspect, Project Frontline is a good program that should be extended both in content and reach. Kids from all economic levels should be learning to eat and cook. And if the classes could extend into a sustainable local agriculture curriculum, with school playground gardens and farm field trips… well then. We’d have a bunch of locavore ten year-olds running around. In my dream, at least. But for now, if we can impress a basic understanding of nutrition in these kids, maybe we’ll have a healthier country. And if they can come to love, or even just like, to cook maybe these little ones will grow up to have warm kitchens and full tables and healthy bodies and happy families sitting down to meals together.

P.S. New Florida-New Mexico photos up.

Seeing as we all live a kajillion miles away (“You could drive literally all day for two whole days and not be home.”) the A’s and I decided to stick around the sunshine state for break and have a camping Thanksgiving in the Keys. After a giant grocery shop and a search for blankets and what we guessed to be camping gear we went off on our adventure, through the Everglades and across the overseas highway to our temporary home at Curry Hammock State Park. We pitched a (giant) tent with minimal mishaps then started cooking. Sort of. We got faked out by “no-lighter fluid needed” charcoal and mighty Atlantic winds, but kindly neighbors brought over a giant bottle of lighter fluid and a big long lighter and soom we had a pretty good little grill set up going. On the menu: green beans and cranberries (steamed in foil), potatoes (also foil-steamed), stuffing balls, cornbread muffins (both made the night before in a frenzied bake-fest), and shish-ka-bobs with shrimp, chicken, squash, and peppers. Pretty impressive, if I may say so. I made Alex say a proper grace and then made us all do the Larkin hand-touch faux grace, then we stuffed ourselves with real Thanksgiving spirit. Dessert was pecan bars, in place of pie, which we ate with gusto as we huddled in our “dancing” tent (aka shoddily staked down and flapping around in a hurricane) playing a ridiculous game of would-you-rather.

Unlike at home where winter means frozen fields, in Florida winter means it’s finally cool enough for plant to grow without being burnt to death. The growing season is just starting in earnest, and this weekend’s farmers’ market was jam-packed with truckloads of fresh local produce and crowds of freezing local people. Starfruit and radishes and the famous Florida oranges, Floridians wrapped in their warmest winter garb for the bracing 65 degree morning. (Tragically, pathetically, I am one of them, shivering in my pashmina in the sunshine.) 

There were masses of the giant beetle-shiny avocados, slices of which I’ve been smearing on slabs of baguette and topping with sprouts for a mid-morning, mid-afternoon, midnight snack.

And lots of dogs, big brawny goldens smiling at tiny sweatered pomeranians. Even a few corgis, all of which I petted with extra love.

It’s nice to not be shoving sunglasses up my sweaty face and instead be cozily wrapped up in my Northwesterner fleece as I pace the market looking for sun-lit vegetables.

Even though it was still solidly within breakfast hours, I couldn’t help myself from getting a fresh grouper taco from the fish van. Big filet of just-grilled grouper topped with chunky avocado-cucumber salsa-guac, lime cream, and lightly pickled cabbage. I felt very content with the world as I perched on the curb and ate my mess of a breakfast taco and watched the dogs and octogenarians go by.