Almost time for brunch at The Ranch

It can get pretty busy in where I live in Tampa Bay. Pinellas County – a  peninsula off the west central coast of Florida – can get jammed packed, especially once kids go back to school and even more so in the fall when the Snowbirds/winter visitors come back.

But about 10 miles to our north you can still find open land, ranches, and even one or two alpaca farms.

Our friend Tom has a nice little ranch up there. He’s extremely hospitable and opens his home once a month for Sunday brunches.

It’s always refreshing to leave traffic behind and  head over to The Ranch. Tom always has a huge table filled with food, a kitchen bar filled with champagne, Bloody Mary’s and other cocktails.

This tray isn’t an appetizer tray – it’s garnishes for Bloody Mary’s!

 

His pool is a great place to enjoy the Florida sun and unwind, watch the horses, donkeys, dogs, cats, chickens and ducks.

It’s nothing too fancy, but it’s such a fun place to be!

Fruit trees and forts mark the passing of another summer

MelbourneMango625X_edited-1

It’s almost the end of mango season here in Central Florida. I’ve been carefully watching the blooms on my tree for several months, waiting for when the fruit is large enough to pick. The mangoes haven’t reached their yellow or orange stage yet, so I want them to stay on my tree for a few more weeks. It’s hurricane season here, and even if there are no hurricanes, there are tropical storms or at least very windy storms that knock the fruit off the tree.

About how big my current mango tree was 20 years ago when I planted it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regretfully, annually, I see the work of the squirrels as well, with gnawed on mangoes littering the ground – pits exposed and squirrel teeth marks visible. There are others too far gone – just pits dirtied by the soil, embedded  from rains weeks ago.

I worry about my mangoes. Will there be enough to harvest, pridefully carry inside, slice from the pit and eat over the sink so that the juices dribble down my wrists and arms.

I worry I won’t have enough to satisfy me, and to slice and freeze for later months when there are no longer mangoes on the tree.

mango cutGrowing up in Miami, mangoes sustained my family and me almost every summer morning. We had one large tree out by the road next to the Phillips’ house, and it was enough to bear enough fruit for possibly 10 mangoes a day. When I’d take the garbage to the side of the road, I’d usually step on too-ripened mangoes that had fallen from the tree and we hadn’t picked up soon enough. They were orange with brown or black spots, or sometimes totally black on one side, rotting and smelly. Most of the time I was barefoot and would step right into it and slide, like a banana peel. Damn it, I’d think. Stupid mango.

We had other fruit in the yard as well. Oranges, bananas, carambola, calamondins, sea grapes and avocados.

It seems like I spent an inordinate amount of time outside, looking for ripe fruit, picking it, eating it. It seems all I did was wander around outside, foraging the neighborhood for fruit, climbing trees, roaming from yard to yard. Back then I judged people on two things: did they have fruit trees in their yards, and did they have “good trees.”

I know my mom fed me, because she would ring the outdoor brass bell just before 7:30 just before dusk, right after Gilligan’s Island and before My Favorite Martian was on and the sun was streaming through the back window. She’d make salmon and green peas and my sister and I would count who got more of the tiny round bones in our salmon. By then I had been out most of the day looking for fruit on neighbors’ trees. The Phillips had cherries; the Colemans had oranges; the Freemonts had tangerines, which were on the back side of their house and fairly protected. One had to be pretty clever to pick those without Mrs. Freemont spotting you. The unnamed neighbors next to them had the coveted mulberry tree. Their yard was pretty expansive, not fenced in and almost desolate toward the back. And they never seemed to be home. My best friend Gail and I would make the trip from her house to my house and then back again, stopping to climb the tree, grab handfuls of berries enough to stain our lips and fingers.

If we weren’t eating fruit, we’d search for forts, in trees or free-standing. Gail had a fort in her back yard between a few pine trees. It was big for a fort, and was away from the house so we wouldn’t be bothered by her siblings or parents and had the freedom to sing as many Sonny & Cher songs as we wanted. We were always in search of trees. Tall ones like the huge ficus in my front yard that branched out making encapsulated rooms that we could claim as our own. Or  the Australian pines in my back yard, that had shed saplings around their trunks, making smaller trees around their feet, in lines and curves, enough so that could once again make “rooms” out of them. There were bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. Somewhere we had found a black and white speckled pot that we used to make pine cone and water soup and serve to each other. in the afternoons,  we played happily as Betty and Veronica, sharing our pine cone soup and debating who Archie liked more. We would venture out to get mangoes and add those to our snack, or some of the small calamondins, which we dipped in Ziploc bags filled with sugar.

mango ixora

Now I have to remind myself to go to the side yard and check to see if the mangoes are getting ripe.  Once again this summer. For the 19th year at this house. It’s about half the size of the one at my old house and doesn’t give nearly as much fruit.

mango sliced

But soon there will be fruit I can take in and slice and eat over the sink. Soon I can store the  extra fruit, some yellow slices, some orange, in Ziploc bags and push them to the back so no one else sees them.

Now, they are all the fruit I have left.

Safety Harbor’s Parts of Paris Bistro always a great dining experience

It was a very special night for us tonight.

We were almost giddy as we headed off to Safety Harbor to our favorite local restaurant – Parts of Paris Bistro. We first found “PoP” in December 2015 when a local friend and Safety Harbor resident told us she had had one of the best steaks ever.

A very unstuffy and quaint entrance on fourth avenue in Safety Harbor, with French and Floridian flags to greet visitors.

We fell in love with it the first time we visited. We’ve been for a Sunday brunch, or to pop in for a couple extra large hand-crafted martinis, and often for an amazing meal of steak, boullebaise, grouper or mussels.

When you find PoP, it feels as if you’ve discovered it yourself. However, they are known by many and they have been awarded the OpenTable Diner’s Choice award from 2012-2017 for five consecutive years and have been featured in many publications and dining guides.

Love the white table linens.

So tonight we were especially excited that we had gathered 10 loyalty cards since we first started dining with them, and were now to be awarded a free meal.

 

We have watched the bartenders make hand-crafted martinis at the bar, as they’ve explained it courteously in detail, but we just can’t replicate it. No matter where we go, what special liquors, fruits or garnishes we buy, we cannot duplicate their martinis.

The pear martini, just one of several specialty martinis they make here.

We were ready to order the steaks, which we always enjoy, and the owner came over to tell us to make sure we order two appetizers as well, as these were also included in our free meals.

My husband often gets the French onion soup and we usually get the chevre chaud salad that includes beets and walnuts, but the owner suggested charcuterie. We had had it several times before and loved it, so we decided to order it again. It has  different items each time, and this night featured several  types of country style pate, fois gras torchon, duck liver mousse, cured salmon and house pickles, as well as mustards. ($18).

I ordered the steak steak char-grilled filet with bearnaise sauce ($36). The steak just melted in my mouth. There is a choice of two sides which are always delicious: The green beans are heavenly but tonight they weren’t available. I was very pleased with my choices of  Lyonnaise pototoes and bacon and carrots

It may look like the sauce is smothering my steak, but it was a perfect amount for this very thick cut.

My husband ordered steak fritas, sliced New York strip steak with summer squash, bearnaise sauce and pommes fritas. ($29)

By now we were pretty full from the charcuterie but it was too delicious to stop.

We also had our choice of desserts which included:

  • plateau de dessert
  • les fromages
  • crepe Suzette
  • mousse au chocolat
  • creme brulee
  • baies et creme glacee (ice cream with berries)
  • truffe au chocolat
  • crepe nutella

Usually if we order dessert, we get the creme brulee and split it. Since I had made homemade strawberry ice cream this summer, I wanted to try their homemade glace, or ice cream, to see how mine compared. So we took them up on their offer and devilishly ordered two.

Surprise. We loved it.

We love the ambiance of this old refurbished 1936  bungalow, which somehow reminds you of a ship or a boat house. The artwork, maps of Paris and several Eiffel Towers are dotted throughout the cozy venue. I’ve tried to count the Eiffel Towers  but there are so many, and some of them are hidden or small, so it’s difficult to find them all.

One of my favorite things about Parts of Paris is the music, which always seems to soak through to the soul. Whether it’s jazz, Bosa Nova, French or Frank Sinatra, it always makes you feel like you Just Want To Stay.

For such a small venue, there are many secret niches. Along with the dining room and bar, there is a front patio with heaters in the winter and fans in the summer, as well as a patio furniture area for groups to hang out and chill. The dining room can get rather raucous sometimes, but I think they like it that way – like a big happy family with everyone enjoying their food and company.

From the very first time we visited – from a quiet low-key appetizer, to a birthday celebration – we have always enjoyed the impeccable service from each of the staff members. We love Jeff the bartender (who doesn’t!?) and Chris and Sonny are our favorite waiters. You will be delighted with any of the warm and welcoming staff.

Remember to make reservations as they can get very busy.

Bon appetite!

Jeff, John, me and Sonny

A fresh take on white linen dining at Armani’s in Tampa Bay

Due to my relationship with Tampa Bay Bloggers, I was invited to Armani’s to try their new Happy Hour, where they shared several menu and cocktail options with us. All opinions are my own.

In Tampa Bay we are blessed with a never-ending roster of restaurants from the beaches to Ybor City to South Tampa. When most people think of a restaurant in Tampa, they think of Bern’s, but most people who live here know that one of the best special occasion restaurants is Armani’s, located atop the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

It is perhaps one of the top three restaurants one thinks of when they think of anniversaries or other special events. The restaurant, known for its Northern Italian cuisine and floor to ceiling windows with amazing views, has been awarded 4 Diamonds award for many years.

So I was pleased to find that they are extending their hours to include a happy hour with reduced cocktail prices and a more extensive appetizer menu.

Last week several of the Tampa Bay Bloggers and I were treated to an array of their offerings, and it was certainly a treat.

The very polite and professional waiters offered us a choice of several cocktails, including the Terrace Mule (similar to a Moscow Mule, but named after their amazing terrace and view) a peach martini. They also have several wines available on the happy hour list as well.

I have to admit Plate Girl can be a snob about these things, and I really appreciate nice dishes, heavy silverware and the glasses or crystal that restaurants use. So I was delighted to be served in the Terrace Mule in cut crystal glass. But it is Armani’s, so one wouldn’t really expect less.

Plate Girl also likes tablecloths at restaurants, and Armani’s is the epitome of a white-tablecloth restaurant. There is elegance everywhere, but at the same time, a welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff.

We were lucky to have general manager Michael help with the serving and explain the different entrees.

Armani’s is known for its antipasto, and they even have an antipasto bar from which guests can select from 45 items. Our antipastos included shrimp, baby clams, carpaccio, olives, roasted garlic and more. One can make a meal of this.

After this we were served Bison Carpaccio ($9) with truffled yolk frivolezza, pickled red onion, smoked sea salt and crostini. The carpaccio was sliced ever so thinly and practically melted in your mouth. I would definitely order this on my own.

Next served were the crispy pork belly ($10), lamb ragu tortellini ($11) and grilled and chilled octopus. ($10)

Of course, Plate Girl loved that they were served on different specialty plates, one even looking as if it were made of slate.  Taking the time to pair a special serving dish with the food almost brings a tear to Plate Girl’s eye. That’s the type of attention Armani’s pays to details.

The crispy pork belly is served with course ground white polenta and marinated local tomatoes. It was indeed crispy on top, which made it extra delicious. I had to go in for a second helping.

 

The lamb ragu tortellini was made with herbed caprino fresco cheese and lamb essence. I liked the tortellini but for some reason I’m not a fan of lamb. To be fair, the other bloggers really enjoyed it, so it was probably just me.

The grilled and chilled octopus was made with garlic-milk braised fennel puree, carrot top pesto and prosciutto vinaigrette. I have had octopus at least a handful of times in my life (starting at age 12) but I have to say seeing the tentacles is always a bit off-putting. Bravely, I told myself I would at least try it. And… it was delicious! The grilling gave it sort of a smoky flavor I really enjoyed. I admit again I went in for seconds and thirds.

After the long process of each of us photographing the food, and slightly less long process of us eating the food, we all went out to the terrace to enjoy the sunset. The terrace is expansive and gives a view to the east, where one can see planes arriving and departing from Tampa International Airport, the south – where one can see the boardwalk among mangroves of the Grand Hyatt property, leading to Oyster Catchers restaurant and the pool area as well as a wonderful panoramic view of Tampa Bay. Looking to the west toward the beaches, once can see the sunset on the horizon.

The terrace is large enough so that visitors can stroll from east to west side to get two very different but both amazing views. There is plenty of seating, as well as prime outdoor couches with a fire pit.

 

Since attending, I have to admit I’ve been trying to tell most of my friends they need to go, my networking groups they need to have events there, and my husband that he needs to take me again. Generously, Armani’s included at 25% off card for my next visit, so I think that will be happening quite soon.

 

Purple vintage glass plates pair perfectly with antique glass collection

Most collectors can remember their first collection. Perhaps it was stamps from your grandfather, paperweights, trains, or even something more quirky like rocks or bugs.

I’ve found it’s a distinct personality type – those that like to collect and those who don’t.

Sometimes the same circumstance that makes a collector, makes another person a non-collector. Both my parents and my husband’s parents lived through The Great Depression. My mother, who was just a little girl at the time, reacted by wanting to collect more and more, and had an appreciation of things  – clothes, antiques, dishes, ornaments – anything that money could buy and was worth something. My husband’s mother reacted by not collecting anything, not desiring to own much or be in debt, knowing or thinking that it may be taken away at any moment.

I inherited my mother’s love of collecting, and have collected many things over the years. One of my first was collections was at age 12 when I collected pretty paper napkins we received in restaurants during a trip through Europe. The napkins featured florals, imprinted pictures,  even lace edges, and they were different from anything I had seen in the States, so I made a folder of them and kept them for years.

Another one of my first collections was purple- or amethyst – glass. It started from my grandmother, whose favorite color was purple.  She had several decanters, glasses and bowls that I distinctly remember her using at Sunday dinners.

After she passed, the glasses were given to me, and I proudly use them, and remember her.

Here are the triangle shaped purple glasses with a clear square at the base. I haven’t been able to find the maker or the pattern as of yet, but perhaps a kind reader could tell me.

I love using her glasses and have several purple dish sets, including Spode and both the lilac and plum Fiestaware.  I just recently found this set of purple Arcoroc dishes – eight dinner plates and eight salad plates. I find it difficult to find purple and pink these days, so I was thrilled to discover these.

Here I’ve paired them with reproduction floral rose plates from the Albert and Victoria Museum. I bought them at Marshall’s, of all places.

The purple and silver plated-trimmed candlesticks are from Ralph Lauren and the two baskets are by Fenton.

What is it that you collect?