Today was different from the rest. I tried to eat 22 pies (or, at least part of them).
For some reason, Slow Food Miami asked me help judge a pie competition. The other six judges were professional foodies, chefs at top restaurants.
The charity event took place on the porch of Coral Gables' historic Merrick House. After the Pledge of Allegiance they locked the seven of us in the dining room where, for two hours, we studied, poked, and pecked at pies. They ranged from the "Coconut Cloud" to a dazzling "Key Lime Mango with Guava Creme".
One of the carambola pies was so liquid that Judge Hedy (Chef Hedy Goldsmith of Micheal's Genuine Food & Drink) said, "I'll need a straw for this". Later she corrected me when I noted that I could eat a bowl-full of extruded guava creme, "No, its not extruded, its piped!" Whatever. Judge John (Executive Chef John Critchley of Area 31) was a helpful neighbor. We figured how to get rid of the pie we didn't like without being noticed ( mouth... napkin ...spittoon). Helpful young women fill our glasses with palate-cleansing bubbly and emptied our spittoons every twenty minutes.
I found the table talk new and interesting. Chef John took one looked at a kumquat creation and commented, "This is just a Bavarian with folded gelatin and heavy cream". It tasted great.
All of the pies tasted great, even the avocado (where sugar and lime prevailed). Choosing the best seemed impossible.
After adding the numbers and sharing thoughts the beautiful Blueberry came out on top. Someone complained, "What's with that? Slow food is about eating locally". Someone added, "The blueberries came from Gainesville, close enough".
That pie didn't even make my top five. My favorites were the locals... the guava, papaya, mango, key lime, and coconut pies. South Floridians can step outside most anytime and and pluck enough fruit to make their own pies.
September is a bad time to visit the Everglades. Summer rain generates millions of mosquitoes. They descend on the unwary to suck their blood dry. You'd have to be nuts to go there now.
That's why Francesca and I went to Everglades National Park last weekend. We thought I'd be fun to see who was crazy enough to go. Killer skeeters? How could they harm us if we never left our camper?
As we approached the Long Pine camping area we noticed that the entrance station had been boarded up. Hmm. Driving beyond we entered a ghost campground, one devoid of tents, motor homes, and the usual 600 inhabitants. Site after site was empty.
In the distance a chartreuse tent flapped in the breeze. Closer inspection revealed rain fly (roof) missing and three inches of mosquito-breeding water inside. What had happened? I imagined a family abandoning ship in a storm of mosquitoes, rain, or wind. It happened to me twenty-three years ago.
That night we were also tenting in the 'Glades, in stormy weather. Every few seconds the wind would nearly collapse the canvas. Sleep was impossible. At 2 am we decided to grab the baby and run to the car. When I started back to get the tent it took off like a kite. It even glowed, illuminated by the fluorescent light tumbling inside. It looked pretty cool as it hit the ground and cart-wheeled into the woods. Saturday's haunted tent probably had a similar story.
Moving on we spied an old man walking our way. He greeted us by saying,
"A covey of Northern Bobwhites just scurried into the bushes".
I assume he was talking in code then remembered what had happened to Dan Rather in the 90's. The man looked quite frail so I did expect the whoopin' that Dan got. The fellow turned out to be a "birder", people that spend their lives searching for rare birds. Insects buzzed around his head as he listened to something in the distance. He asked, "Did you hear that "pioot" sound?".
We had not. Birds and the sounds they make were the last things on our minds.
We wished him well then looked for a campsite. We had 102 to choose from. When we finally stepped out of the van the mosquitoes were not that bad, maybe one on each appendage. That could happen in our backyard.
After sunset the bugs got worse. No campfires for us as we huddled in our VW van for the night. In the morning we saw another birder armed with binoculars, a long-lens camera, and an I-Pod that could tell you what every bird looks and sounds like. He told us was hoping to find a Cuban Peewee. He was excited as he told us, "You know, its been spotted just three times in this country!"
As the sun was rising he bounded off in hopes of being Number Four.
The mosquitoes were still asleep so we decided to give birding a try. In five minutes we saw a mockingbird, three crows, and two hawks checking out a dead rat. That was enough birding for us so we headed back to the van. That's when Francesca spotted a small bird in some bushes. I asked, "Are you the elusive Cuban Peewee?" The bird said nothing, not even "pioot".
The lovely Francesca Violich, toothbrush in hand, swats her way through the bugs on her way to the ladies room.
I led a hula hoop workshop in my backyard this morning. It was a typical Coconut Grove crowd which included a carpenter, a journalist, and an energy master. All mastered the art of making hoop in short time. After decorations were added they began to spin around our bodies. It seemed easy surrounded by reggae music, glorius weather, and good friends.
The Hooping Ten decided to re-convene at November 14th's, Great Grove Picnic. Its an annual affair in Peacock Park . You'll hear more about it next month. The vivacious Isa Salvador in a hooping fit of happiness
"The Coconut Players" is a non-profit group that promotes the arts, primarily the Grove's annual King Mango Strut Parade. Always needing money to operate, we decided to go into the button business last week.
I wasn't hard to do, Jody and Simon have a button machine and the Mangoheads have 28 years of King Mango art. Our plan is to come out with a new button every three weeks and to sell them for two bucks.
We're hoping that people like you will love them, that Coconut Grovites will start wearing them proudly like merit badges. Annamarie of the Windisch Gallery said as she pinned hers on, "I love it. It's like a miniature work of art!"
As you can see, the first one commemorates this year's Gulf Oil Spill. I drew it big but when it got down to button size ( 2 inches), it was hard to see the dead fish. Whatever King Mango is obviously enjoying his day at the beach.
The ones that follow will have designs from past parades. These will include, "Don't Taze Me Bro!", "Do the Mangobama" and the original King Mango design from 1982.
They are currently on sale at Grove businesses including Shell Lumber, The Grove Bookstore, and the Windisch Gallery on Grand Avenue. You can also order them by mail by inquiring at email@example.com.
All the money raised will be used by our non-profit, Coconut Players Inc., to promote King Mango, love, and peace.
You probably heard that a Bengal tiger got loose at Jungle Island last weekend. The popular tourist attraction is three miles north of our seaside community. The 500-pound cat ("Maheesh") caused quite a stir when he jumped a fence to chase a footloose monkey. Park visitors were quickly herded into a petting barn and no one was injured.
I met a Jungle Island employee last night and asked, "Were you there when Maheesh escaped?" "Oh yeah", he said, "about ten feet away. He shot straight to the top of the 14-foot fence, hesitated for a moment, then jumped down to the ground. It was incredible."
It took a half-hour to the the big cat back in a cage. "He was pretty docile", the employee said, "We didn't have to lure him with steak or use the tranquilizer gun." He then added, "The SWAT guys had the park surrounded with real guns. We're glad Maheesh came through okay".
So what's Jungle Island going to do with the bounding tiger? The young man told me Maheesh will be exiled from Miami. "He's being transferred to an out-of- state facility. We can't keep him here. He knows the way out".