Florida Day 6 – Sur La Plage

When I woke in the morning, I was giddy and eager to be away from Disney and off to the beach, where I truly belong. In my studies, I have learned that the human being is a sub-tropical species, and I know that is true. I just cannot tolerate the cold or abide by the snow. It’s too much for me, plus when you factor in my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’ve painted a very sad portrait. So, I was thrilled to be on my way to Sarasota, one of my favorite cities in the country. (Quickly followed by Stillwater, Minnesota; Hannibal, Missouri; and St. Louis, Missouri. It turns out that I’m a big fan of Missouri.)

Jessica immediately pitched a fit when I sat in the front seat of our podunk rental. For decades, we have had a rule that I sit in the front seat on days that are odd and she on days that are even. For some reason, she didn’t feel this rule applied anymore just because she wanted to have her way. I won this ferocious battle and squished myself into the thing like the world’s largest sardine. I hate that car.

As we drove along, I worked on my blog, amusing myself with my witticisms, and peering out the window admiring the beautiful decrepitude. I love how the South always looks like it is about to collapse in on itself and let nature reclaim it. I use that analogy way too much I’ve realized, which you will come to realize too, if my books are ever published. I put in my sound canceling headphones, cranked the 30 Rock soundtrack and drowned out Jessica’s bitching. She was so miserable back there, she couldn’t get comfortable! Cry me a river.

As we were nearing our destination, about two hours away, I took out my headphones and entered into her world of depraved hunger. She was once again insisting that we go to the Waffle House and do it now. When Ma assured her that we were doing nothing of the sort, she began demanding that we drive straight to Sonic because she was surely about to die. Ma didn’t respond to this and we had to suffer through her groans and moans of her hunger for a half hour as we drove to Mixon Fruit Farms.

You can well imagine that this did not go down well. In addition to being starving, Jessica hates Mixon’s with a passion, though the rest of us always love to go, even if it is terribly commercial compared to what it was and their orange juice isn’t really all that great. It is probably sacrilege to admit it, but my favorite orange juice is Simply Orange. It has the perfect amount of tartness without being bitter or acidic as some inferior brands tend to be. I walked about for a while looking at the ugly fruits, wishing that I could take some home because they would surely be delicious in glazed madeleines or sorbet. Jessica pouted around the place with her pissy look on — she should patent that. Pa stood next to the juice sample dispenser and kept refilling his glass, laughing nervously to himself hoping that the workers would say nothing to him as he downed glass after glass alternating with the cone of orange ice cream he held in his other hand. I don’t know where Ma went to, she always has to pee, so I’m guessing the restroom.

When we all finally bumped into each other, we saw a flyer advertising the Mixon Harvest Festival that was going to take place in two days time. There were to be large cats and tours of the orchard and lots more fun. This sounded like it would be relatively amusing, so we decided to come back on Sunday.

After loading up in the car it wasn’t too far to our hotel, called Coquina on the Beach. It is a lovely, semi-dumpy hotel that has a charm all its own that could never be called chic. I was amazed at the room we had, it had a wall of windows looking onto the perfectly blue Gulf, another wall of windows with a balcony that ran the entire length of the suite, two massive bedrooms, a full kitchen, a dressing room, a large dining/living room, decent bathroom, and three flat screen televisions. It was very nice. Their decorating could have used my helping hand, but they did all right by themselves. It was just a little too white and too kitschy. The Mid-Century Modern/Palm Springs look that is so popular right now would have been easy to incorporate and really make the place sparkle. I should be a hotel designer, I love hotels. I have always wanted to open up an antique hotel or a turn-of-the-century movie palace.

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I went to the beach, bathed in the sun, walked along the shore, rolled up my jeans, and jumped into the sea, I gathered shells — it was next to impossible to pick up an ugly one. There were gorgeous grey and black shells that I had never seen before and I grew quickly obsessed with them, I probably have a few hundred in bags right now waiting to be sorted through and mounted in shadow boxes. I have hundreds more shells waiting to be turned into Christmas decorations for my nautical themed tree. It will be spectacular.

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As the sun sank lower onto the horizon, we drove to Miller’s, an Amish restaurant. If you know me at all, you know how I feel about the Amish. I don’t trust them and they fill me with irrational fear. Anybody who would choose to live like a poor immigrant or a pioneer needs a serious mental evaluation. I understand that there are some people who are wary about technology, but come on! I have lost my fear of this place, though, as it isn’t filled with bonnet wearing freaks, so I didn’t have any trepidation as I went in.

I should note that I did not roll my jeans down for the rest of the day. I was rather enamored of the look, even though I have been making fun of the so called “man capris” since 2007. I do not know if the fashion police have yet come to a decision on this look, and I no longer know how I feel about it. I thought I looked like a rather dashing clam digger.

I scoured the menu for vegetarian options, and while I could have had any potato dish of my liking, that wasn’t to my liking. I instead had the shrimp alfredo without the shrimp. The waitress was very nice, but another crazy. She had disturbingly wide eyes and did everything with the cheery smile of someone who is clearly overdosing on uppers. The first alfredo had been made with shrimp, but she made them redo the entire dish, for which I was grateful. She seemed to be very sympathetic to my plight. The alfredo ended up being flavorless and vile and filled with broccoli, which I had begun to believe I liked, but this disproved that nonsense. It tasted mildly of grassy urine on a plate of mushy noodles. I tried to eat about half and then was finished.

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On the bright side, they make the best bread ever. Better than mine, I’ll admit it. It’s absolutely perfect, and I was about ready to don a bonnet and get myself a kitchen job just so that I could pick up the recipe, as I was informed that they had never released any of their recipes. There is nothing that annoys me more than people who won’t share recipes, it’s just silly. Florida also has the best salted butter in America, it is called Grassland Dairy and it is beyond amazing. I’m wondering if there is a way to get it shipped here on dry ice — I’d love a freezer full of it.

We bought a pan of cake — we like their cake — and went to Walmart to pick up some necessary sundries.

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I was stared at constantly. I’m not sure if it was my devilishly good looks and fashion forwardness, or if the hillbillies thought I was a freak for walking around with rolled up jeans and an extra-low-cut v-neck t-shirt in a bold red. (I don’t know if all those hyphens were necessary, but they look better than a bunch of spaces.) I delighted in going to the garden section, where you could still buy basil and tomato plants in late November! I sang along with the Christmas carols as I looked at the crappy ornaments Walmart has brought out this year, they are really quite sad. I got a few more weird looks for my singing, but I’m sure it was because they were wondering where the American Idol tryouts were being held.

After that we went back to the hotel, but I couldn’t sit idly around, so Ma and I went to St. Armands Circle. (If you know why we constantly abbreviate the word ‘saint’ here in America, please feel free to school me in the comments. It drives me crazy.) Anyway, anyway, anyway, St. Armands Circle is the cultural center of Sarasota and I wet myself when I came across a place called: Le Macaron. You understand why.

Of course I went in and spent craploads of cash trying every flavor imaginable and buying a bit of everything they had for sale. The owners are originally from France and are both very kind. The wife cut me a sample of the lemon macaron, which was sadly lacking in tartness, but the texture of the cookie was the best I have had in America, outside of my own kitchen. The ‘feet’ of their macaron are not perfectly stable and quite bubbly, so I could not give them perfect marks, nor was the $1.70 per macaron justified, but I was on vacation, loaded with cash, and I couldn’t help it. I also had a pain au chocolat and madeleine. I watched with glee as they carefully wrapped everything up in a beautiful box lined with fuchsia tissue paper. As I was paying, I spied a professional Nespresso machine behind the counter and about swore. These people have basically opened my bakery. They make macarons, gelato, croissants, madeleines, and chocolate, and that’s it, aside from the espresso. I really couldn’t believe how freakishly similar these people were to me, not that I shared this with them, but the comparisons in my mind were worthy of a conspiracy theory.

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I stopped in a spice shop and bought some poppy seeds. I have had sesame seeds and poppy seeds confused for the longest time, and I’m happy to have had that corrected. I have been making lemon-sesame seed muffins for the longest time thinking they were lemon-poppy seed. What a fool I’ve been.

Ma wanted some bread, but there wasn’t a bakery like that on the Circle, so she stopped in a restaurant called Columbia and inquired about purchasing a loaf. They told her it would be “about 10 minutes at $3.50.” Ma said okay, and we walked around for ten minutes. She promptly got herself drunk on a Dixie cup of free Sangria, and went back in.

I waited outside and wondered why she looked so flushed when she came back, even more flushed than what the alcohol had done to her. It turns out they meant that the bread would bake in ten minutes at three hundred and fifty degrees and they all wondered why she had walked away. Ma played it cool, she claims, and we drove back to the hotel.

There, I tried all of the pastries I bought. The madeleine was wonderfully moist — amazing, since madeleines dry out so quickly. I was not at all impressed by their pain au chocolat — they were a bit stingy with the chocolate, and the pastry wasn’t very flaky. It reminded me of those crescent rolls that come in a can, but it wasn’t. The macarons, on a whole were very good. The chocolate was the second best I’ve yet to come across and the basil blew me away. I had tried a basil macaron in St. Paul (there’s that saint thing again) and was intrigued by it, but this was unbelievably delicious. It tasted so…fresh! I will have to try this flavor soon, even though I still cannot figure out what kind of filling they used, even after devouring three of the cookies! The lemon was mediocre, the raspberry sad, and the passionfruit lame, but the rest of the flavors that I tried were excellent and I take no issue with putting this bakery on my list of acceptable macaron makers.

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Then, I went to bed, thoroughly stuffed.

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