And The Man Brought Lobster

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What a magical world we live in...

We were just about to sit down to lunch on the Flo the other day with a nice glass of pinot (crazy delish tuna niciose along with some Puy lentils with burrata and basil oil - these lentils are the best nuggets ever cause they dont turn to mush when cooked), when over pops my diver.  He has some cool ideas he wanted to share about the wine hatch in the middle of the living room floor and since he's motoring around the marina all day on his dinghy...well, it's easy to just jet on by on a boat.

Anyhow...we catch up, brainstorm a bit, talk about his little mini farm here in the marina, and I just happen to mention that it's spiny lobster season.  He's like - oh, do you like lobster and I'm like - ummmmmm, for sure LOVE IT.  Well, that turned into him leading us over to his dink all non-chalant and opening up the lid to a big fat mess of lobsters he'd just dove for that AM down in Redondo.  YAHOO!   Now, I've never cooked a live lobster, but it was high time to learn.   

First off (as per Nigel the Diver), we tossed him in the freezer for a minute while we gathered our thoughts and knives.  Stunned him a bit, I'm sure.  Next up, the grill was fired up and some garlic butter got to being shook down on the stove (thanks Robin for the fresh garlic from the garden)!  Minka was already drooling and she didn't even know what the hell was happening yet.  A fresh glass was poured and the par-tay began.

Out came the just sharpened butcher knife and with a quick stab thru the eyes and a long slow slit down the entire body...welp, we had ourselves a dead lobster to clean.  Once scrubbed, we smeared it with loads of the bubbly butter concoction, double fisted squeezes of fresh lemon, and just tossed it on the grill for about 10 min.  

SO SO SO SO amazing.  Next day, the leftovers turned into a delightful mayo and celery laced lobster roll piled high on a butter toasted whole grain hot dog bun.  Funny, silly, sunshiney magical world.  Thank you mama ocean, and thank you saint Nigel.  

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Flora Farm - The Trip of a Lifetime for Foodies in Baja

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Here's the latest from this months issue of Baja Bound!  

Flora Farms - The Trip You Must Make in 2014

If there is one trip that should be on your radar in the upcoming months, it’s absolutely got to be to the magical estate that is Flora Farms. This dreamlike culinary institute is tucked way beyond the edge of a dirt road on the cusp of San Jose del Cabo and is truly a taste of the good life. Celebs and locals both rave about it...now I can finally say, I know why.

It was my 40th birthday and you better believe I was hell bent on spending it somewhere unreal. I’ve been reading about Flora Farms for a spell now – in my farm-to-table quest that takes me all over the back roads of Baja - but to be able to spend my big 4-0 birthday there was a treat that was to become legend in my soul. How often have you ever said that about a restaurant experience? It makes me realize how far I’ve come in all the years I’ve spent traipsing the Baja. If I want it, I go find it. And, the Baja allows it and serves it straight up. Period.

We arrived for lunch – which was cool by me. Fresh off the road from Loreto via an overnight in Todos Santos, this was to be a meal fit for kings before hauling back up to Loreto that same day. My dog was welcomed with friendly coos and a big bowl of water, along with some mega hard playtime with the scads of rescue dogs that race around the front grounds greeting everyone with huge toothy smiles and can-you-believe-I-hit-this-jackpot energy.

I did the Cinderella swirl the minute I walked into the open air seating area, mimicking the dogs knowing ‘tudes. Holy moly! Talk about a way of life; let me put it this way, in these words to all foodies (and non-foodies alike) out there. There will be no other experience in your culinary searches the world over that overwhelms like Flora does. None. 

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From the lush gardens (they grow everything on site), to the farm bar (finally, true mixology drinks in the lower sphere of Baja), to the catch-all farmers market (all produce picked that morning), to the straight-out-of-a-magazine design of the culinary cottages, to the open grounds (my dog went nuts when she saw her first turtle), to the set up of the cooking workshop in the middle of the gardens (I would like to spend the rest of my life right there, or at least have my ashes spread) - Flora Farms enchants from every angle. The owners, Patrick and Gloria Greene, have concocted a fantasy world for anyone that has ever had a dream about opening their own restaurant or enjoying a good meal. The inspiration alone is shocking and dramatically different than anything one might think they know about food (or the serving and preparation of) before walking in.

We started with piles of just baked bread that made the taste buds quiver. As much as we tried to stop eating the nut and herb filled chunks of bread, it was impossible. We were stuffed before we even finished the basket, but that didn’t deter us. Out came a bowl of cucumber and almond gazpacho that holds strong in the top handful of dishes I’ve ever had...anywhere in the world. Poured tableside in a bowl smeared with smoked paprika, this chilled soup is nothing like the Spanish version you might be used to on a hot summer day. Instead, it’s as if a rural king broke bread with a world-renowned chef and they turned out this doozy after a leisurely day of poking about the garden with a bit of chilled Rosé in hand.

Next flew out a mountain of crispy French fries alongside a luscious croque madame, done right with the best ingredients found in all of Baja (shaved ham, gooey gruyere, olive and nut bread). This butter soaked sandwich with a fried egg up top could fill up two people, easy. In the same breath, a fat hill of housemade pasta appeared. The simplest of ingredients (flecks of parmesan and herbs, shaved carrots, a speck of cream) managed to equal a mess of moans from both of our mouths. Full as we were, oh well. Bring more drinks!

The final hit was a birthday carrot cake that we couldn’t possibly down in that seating. Our bellies were stuffed, we had a long ride back to Loreto and Minka (our dog) couldn’t stop drooling. But, don’t you know – ‘round about La Paz, we pulled over and wolfed that cream cheese frosted sweet treat in the span of about 30 seconds. A two-bite each whammy…after all, you only turn 40 once…and I’m a farm girl (read Baja gypsy) at heart.

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My Next Big Road Quest Will Be...

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to find the perfect Mexican village.

Why?  Cause I think about it every single day.  And sometimes, you just gotta go with the ongoing thought process. It will be a trip that happens later in the year, but an epic one.  Done by truck, with dog in tow.  Somewhere on the Pacific coast is the tiny village that haunts my mind. 

The places that come to mind are already too saturated...probably because I know about them so well.  I'm not saying I wont revisit them and give them a go, but I feel like the PERFECT place is one that I've not been to yet.  It would have the vibe of San Pancho (maybe it is San Pancho), a bit of the arts like San Miguel de Allende, the walkability of Yelapa, totally drivable from the USA and not on the expensive side like Isla Mujeres.  I dig the island flavor of Isla Mujeres but I'm not feeling the Caribbean these days, and Isla Holbox - though cute - just seems so far away. 

Maybe once I'm further down - Puerto Angel area - maybe things will start to click again.  But I think it's literally a border cross and a mosey all the way down the Pac side for a few months.  Why not?

I just went to Baja this past weekend for a weekend long Spanish class and I think I've quite possibly been handed the golden key to understanding how to finally master this language.  Can you imagine if that's the case?  

I've got to start planning it all now - but again, most likely, this wee spot on earth is a place I will happen upon randomly - like most good things...obvi, food is a priority - there must be super fresh seafood and warm balmy waters.  The ocean must be swimmable (unlike most of Todos Santos); it would be super if I could ride my bike most places; dog-friendly is a must; margs must always be on the happs; and it's got to have a tight-knit (but not unbreakable) community feel for things. 

Dang, if you go back all these years to my first Toothie posts, I was looking for the same thing way, way back then.  Unreal...my soul has never stopped searching for a place to land south of the border.

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Fairhope, Alabama - I Finally Made it Thru

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After all these years...

Let me digress.  Many moons ago, me and my pals decided to do a TV show down in Yelapa, Mexico.  A demo tape of sorts.  We shot it and sold it to the Travel Channel and it eventually became, Craving Adventure (watch it here).  On the original shoot in Yelapa, we had a gal join us named Edie.  She was a shooter that offered to come down for free and film with us (of course we paid all expenses)...and she was always raving about this little spot in Alabama called Fairhope.  She had a rental house there and just went on and on about how it was the best small town ever.  Of course, my interest was high level cause I'm always on the hunt...and it's never managed to seep out of my memory.

Every single time I go home to TN, or think about bolting from LA, or daydream about a small coastal village to wind down in (on the USA side of things), I've always gone back to thinking of Edie and her love of this tiny town.  Even though I'd never been there...and rarely every saw anything on it in travel magazines...and knew next to nothing about it.  It's just stayed tucked way back in my nugget.

Well, this trip to TN (the epic 8 day road trip me and Lis just took across country before the holidays), I decided it was high time to hit up Fairhope - you know, cause you never know when one needs to bolt and begin anew.  We were fresh out of spending the night in another gem of a coastal village, Ocean Springs, MS, and were simply going swing through Fairhope for a look-see before cutting north to Chattanooga.  

Of course, several glasses of wine and some perfect Italian food later, we were hooked on this town.  Everyone pets your dog voraciously, the weather was super balmy, all the peeps were crazy friendly and happy, the shops were unique and full of treasures, there were big ole sweeping magnolias in the the plethora of parks, the coast was literally RIGHT THERE, and one could just imagine getting a wee cottage in Fairhope and making a go of it as a spy thriller writer.  Me and Lis kept looking at each other, saying, "I'm serious!  Are you serious??"

I will indeed make it back someday, but if anyone ever hops through this town headed points South East, well...hit up Pinzone's Italian.  It's worth it for the baked bread and their dog happy ways.  Not to mention the ragefully delicious lasagne with pesto.  I just can't quit thinking about the place.  And guess what our waitress had just done?  Left NYC and started over in Fairhope :).  Every road has a story.

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My New MST Tradition - Gift Myself

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With Mexico being the norm.

See, here's the thing.  Look how happy these pictures of Casa de Mita in Mexico make us.  Compared to the doldrums and horror of the snow and sludge and cold of winter in most of America at this moment.

I was just there at de Mita last month for my b-day (a big fat treat to myself) and listen, to me...there is pretty much no place on earth right now that rivals this magical little haven.   I have been multiple times, but this time - yet again - solidified that I not only am looking for a guarantee of happiness in my travels, but I'm also really super jazzed about being taken care of while out there.  

Lalo and Memo are sent from above as far as their social skills, drink making skills, and humorous attitude day & night.  Really, everyone there is a spectacular artform in their ability to make me feel at right at home and very far away all at the same time.  

I can practice my Spanish, I can walk the beach 24/7, I can eat incredible food, I can read book after book, I can work the killer tan, and I can play with the doggies while missing Minka - (I have a heartwrenching tale I will share sometime about their newest pup Madison some day, but I'm still too tender over it all to go into it - however, she is a rock start and doing great)!  

Thw owner, Marc, has created the perfect paradise in my fave place on earth (well, it ties with Indo) and I simply cannot wait to get back.  Again, the cold is here in these dark mountains and Mexico tends to be a place in my soul where the sun always shines, the smiles always burst, and the drinks are always frosty cold.  

Bless you, Casa de Mita.

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The Road Trip Home - Hello Snow...

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Reminds me how much I loathe snow...and cold for that matter.

That said, it was the perfect road trip.  Me 'n Lis loaded up the Disco, made a mega cozy bed for Minka, and hit the road straight up outta LA.  

Yep - we got caught in every snowstorm all cause I was on the hunt for tiny towns and better than average food.  Plus, when you have to take dog friendly hotels into consideration...and I'm not super keen on staying at chain hotels...well, let's just say a 3 day road trip turned into 8 days! But, full of such amazing food and charming towns.

Probably one of the best dog friendly hotels EVER is La Posada in Winslow, AZ (you know the name from the Eagles song).  First of all - this historic monster has an amazing restaurant, The Turquoise Room,  and literally the best honey butter doused cornbread ever to be made (like, each piece was so soaked in it, it had to be picked up with a tong).  

2nd of all, the whole joint (save for the restaurant) is dog friendly...and has tons of game tables, a big ole fireplace, a massive yard and best of all a full blown HAY STACK MAZE.  Omg, Minka played forever in this enormous gift from the doggie heavens, especially after being trapped in the truck on horrific roads - though she adored the snow and played HAWD in an Arizona dog park with a puppy doberman.

Anyhow - La Posada  also had this soup rockin' that was insane.  1/2 black bean and 1/2 creamed sweet corn.  Sounds a bit off, but was once again, something out of the history books for taste sensations.  Lamb posole was also on the make (and we all know from my Isla Mujeres days that I'm a posole nut)...also with juicy red wines on tap.  

I will def be stoppin' there on the way back through.  In fact, I'm pretty much basing the whole trip back to LA around that maze.

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Why the Kitchen Matters Oh So Much...

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For starters, it makes any and every place feel like a home.

Pretty much everything shakes down in the kitchen.  If you aren't a cook, I hope you have friends who love to get messy behind the stove with a few drinks in hand cause it is the very best way to live.  To always have something brewing up on the stove or simmering away in the oven is a little piece of heaven to me.

The kitchen in the Flo is pretty small, but oddly perfect.  I can spin from stove to sink to fridge on a 3 point turn, with access to all my spices and cookbooks and drink elements within arms reach.  Minka can sprawl on one of her many rugs, resting patiently until a crumb of something delish flips her way, and anyone who wants can plop down at the tiny bar (with a drink in hand) and watch it all unfold or simply get involved.   We don't have a TV on floor 1, so it's all about the music (best thing ever - hidden speakers in every room) and the convo and the food.  I love finding serving platters and funky stuff to put food on.  Even the plates I got for the Flo are awesome.   All handmade and engraved with lace imprints and elephants and such.

My parents kitchen is the same way.  We start cooking about 4p - anything that suits our fancy (lots of soups, gratin's, salads...very homey stuff).  Last night, my mom had a fire burning outside, so we slung some potatoes on them.  I almost caught myself on fire using a little too much olive oil, but man...were they swoon worthy.  The dogs just lay about, on the watch for when the next stewpot is coming, and I'm lovin' the wine shop on the mountain cause I've been trying all kinds of new pinot noir's.  They have quite a special selection :)

When we were driving across country home to TN, I stopped in Austin to visit a way/way old friend from when I lived in Germany, and her husband had the house smelling all good with pork roast wrapped in bacon - guess where we all hung out?  The kitchen.  With 3 dogs, a ton of drink and a mess of memories...laughing til we cried.  Way better than going to a restaurant.

Even my condo in Chicago that I still have - I bought it cause a/it was on the lake and b/it had a perfect cottage kitchen - and at that time in my life, when I was traveling all over the world for shows...it was all about having something good to come home to.   I now have that on the Flo.  Plus, it's got a killer view!

And, let me put it this way, the meal I made on the Flo for Thanksgiving was just simply epic.  Not your typical Turkey day meal, but a little MST spin on it.  It all just makes me so so so happy. Chicken pot pie with a puff pastry crust; creamed kale and caramelized mushrooms made in a Japanese tagine of sorts; the house salad with dill buttermilk dressing; warm brussel sprout salad with bits of sweet bacon; and homemade cranberry sauce with pineapple of all things.  And of course, my moms banana pudding!

Guess what I'm trying to say...I just feel right at home in the kitchen - no matter who's it is.  Finally...a home...everywhere!  Turns out, it's not a specific place that's home.  It's a room that happens to span the globe.

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Flo living

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Just Some Neat Things

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And, it's all really the tip of the iceberg.

For my birthday, my bud Lis got me the BEST Scrabble board ever created.  We got to playing Scrab a ton this past year or so - started it in Indo at Alila with an few early afternoon old fashioned's and a long drawn out game before dinner...and it continued to dominate our days once we were back from Bali.  She had this board handmade (even the letters) and somehow, magically all the colors really brought together the little living room of the Flo.  It swivels and literally makes my day every time I see it (thinkin' about word ass-whoopin', I suppose).

Then, a random stranger who had read the LA Times article on the Flo dropped off a really sweet present - the artilces pix were fixed up nice in a lovely frame and delivered to me.  Who does that?  He was just delighted with the FLO and I def owe him a nice tour!

Best of all, in my quest to find a perfect little office, I found that my sailboat, Enola, works like a charm.  Its right next to Flo - perfect for Minka walks, drink replenishes, stirring the soup as needed and just generally a super fly set up to edit and write in.  Who needs 4 walls when you've got the Pacific?

And, I cannot wait to get home to do a mega rearrange on the Flo.  Gonna make the bedroom the great room for the SO CAL winter and my friends Nando and Bessie already did the flip for me (what would I do without them?).  Now, I gotta get home and mystify it...I love CHANGE!!!  I will def post pixs of all the little updates I'm planning for the winter and spring.  Dang, a whole new crop of plants are needed, as are new subscriptions, new idea boards, and just a mega life refresh.  'Sall good...

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Best Words Ever - Appalachian Bistro

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2nd Best Words - Tableside Hot Toddy

Of course, you know the first thing I do when I get home to TN is look up the best farm to table food happening 'round the way.  A little gem called Terra Mae pulled up and I was off like lightening.  Dont'cha know I learned 2 really great things over lunch.

#1 - I love, love, love hot toddy type drinks, especially when they are made tableside.  Good lord, what a contraption.  Took about 5 minutes for it to infuse and boil up into the top vessel, then it spit itself back into the bottom jug and our waiter reappeared outta nowhere to pour us a couple of warm delights into Moscow Mule style mugs.  YUMMMMM.

#2 - Pimento cheese is a force to be reckoned with.  I've been a mega fan since it was on tap at my grandparents house as a kid, but then my bud Lis started making it out in LA and it was like a drug...the very best cheesy, mayo coated kind.  Now, I can add to my life list - BEST PIMENTO CHEESE EVER FOUND.  This was a buttermilk blue pimento that was solid snow white and tasted nothing like blue cheese.  Instead it tasted like the best thing you will ever eat.  I bought a giant vat to haul home to my parents and they too were stunned.  This is a recipe from the heavens...I'm def gonna have to play with it til it comes up winning.

This little restaurant downtown was adorable and a few pals met up with us.  We kept picking the cheese of Mark's burger (I'm back on no meat) and it too was some kind of freaky good.  Now, ya'll know I chow on great food, but man...this was some kinda southern twist I wasn't expecting.  Pickled shrimp; some redic corn risotto; a duck reuben of sorts that Lis loved; sweet potato/rosemary biscuits with apple compote; candied bacon (oh - I guess I do taste test the meat now and again when it comes to treasures like that); perfect deviled eggs.  It was all just spot on.  And, I had forgotten how damn good Amaretto Sours were.  Make that 2!

I just love the South.  

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A Dog's Life in Tennessee

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Stewpot Love

I've introduced my mom and dad's dog, DOC, to the wonders of stewpot and the ferocious 24/7 love of Minka.  They are peas in a pod no doubt.  

This stewpot is loaded with lots of good chicken, broth from the bones, bits of carrots, peels of potatoes, and chunks of celery that simmer all day long (meanwhile, I'm shovin' the french onion and chips mom just grabbed from the store).  The whole house smells like a real home all day long, and then the pups get a bit of stewpot, a bit of kibble and some broth.  Heaven.  

Minka runs from here to high heaven in the back 40 all day long.  She cannot believe the very fact that she can go outside the front door LEASHLESS.  She turns back - like WTF?  We let her and Doc out about a billion times a day and they already have a mega sked that keeps up with mom's.  She checks in on the dogs that the neighbor boards multiple times a day, which means that Doc and Pea must check in as well.  They are the best of friends.

All over the yard are wild mushrooms and some kind of wild garlic we tossed in Lisa's spaghetti resides next to the wee house in the pet cemetery. Earlier today, I discovered a pile of huge onions growing out of the dirt.  Good Lord - it's homemade come to life in the hills of TN.  All dogs included :)

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