Category Archives: around Central Florida

Chuck Wendig in the flesh

Yeah, I’ve have been slacking with the blog lately. Too much going on with life, the family, the day job… Then there’s the recent horrible events here in Orlando which I still don’t have the strength to write about. In fact, I haven’t written much at all over the last month. Mea culpa.

I DID have a chance to meet sci-fi and urban fantasy author extraordinaire Chuck Wendig at the Orlando Book Festival at the Orlando Public Library. Chuck is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath, as well as the Miriam Black thrillers, the Atlanta Burns books, and the Heartland YA series, alongside other works across comics, games, film, and more.

But, many of us in the writing community know him best as our beloved foul-mouthed writing guru and author of the blog Terrible Minds. Seriously, he’s like our Yoda. Only taller. And I’m guessing minus the secret bad ass lightsaber skills. (Although he does write Star Wars books, so he may whip out some sabers as he plots in his writing shed.) His no-nonsense posts inspire legions of Penmonkies, driving us to sit our butts in the chair, keep on writing, and not stab our eyeballs out. And laugh. The man is funny.

And he is just as affable in person. Seriously.

The Kick Ass Writer

Writer that I am (ahem), I had him sign The Kick Ass Writer. My hubby had him sign a couple of his favorite novels, then bought a stack more for Chuck to inscribe.

Chuck began his keynote speech by saying he’d considered starting with a moment of silence, but then he realized that writers and artists are not at their best when silent. Six days before, 49 people had been killed and 53 injured at the Pulse Nightclub, a few blocks away.  (If you haven’t read his Recipe for a Shooting. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Some of the nuggets of wisdom he doled out to the audience of eager Padawans writers and readers:

  • Telling your parents you want to be a writer is like telling them you want to be a unicorn farmer.
  • In the game of writing, no one knows what their doing. (You’re not alone!)
  • Writing is a game of perseverance. It can be like putting a bucket on your head and head-butting a wall. Either you or the wall will fall down eventually.
  • Care less. Your writing and your life will improve. (And you’ll be less likely to start head-butting walls like a drunken billy goat.)
  • The man can write 30k words in a weekend. That is NOT a typo. THIRTY THOUSAND WORDS IN A WEEKEND. Forget man–he’s a myth. No, a legend.
  • And while we’re on the subject of writing faster than the speed of light, he wrote his first Star Wars book, Aftermath, in ONE MONTH. This was not planned. The publisher kept moving the release day up. The book hit the shelves exactly one year to the day after he tweeted about how he’d like to work on a Star Wars book. Note: this in NOT how anyone else will every procure a publishing deal. Like ever.
  • His measly little blog Terrible Minds get about 10k hits per day. Guess a few folks want to read his rants about writing. And food. And his kid. And don’t mind his creative use of naughty language.

 Chuck 2

Don’t bash the hair. The humidity hovered around 300% in downtown O-town that day. Between sessions, I’d made the pilgrimage to the makeshift memorial filling the grassy lawn of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts just blocks away.

I had to see it with my own eyes. I had to honor those we’d lost. I had to let my heart bleed.

You see, even as I watched the coverage on TV, it didn’t feel real. The 24-hour news feed running “Orlando Massacre” and “America’s Deadliest Mass Shooting” played like a reality show. How could this happen here? We’re the land of fucking Mickey Mouse, fairy dust, and overpriced Harry Potter wands. Not mass shootings. Until now.

I’m going to get off this tangent. I don’t want to write about it. The wounds are too fresh.Pulse shooting, Orlando Massacre, Pulse Memorial, Dr Phillip's Center

Now back to good stuff.

My husband joined me for the Chuck meet & greet keynote speech. He has a thing for signed books (and comics, and photos…you get the drift). He brought along a handful of books, then had to buy a few more because the temptation was just. too. great.

Back at home, our 12-year-old eyeballed the hubby’s loot, and thought Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy Book 1) looked like a good read. Kiddo is pretty bright and an avid reader. But ready for his first “adult” book? And that book be one of Chuck’s? (As I mentioned, the man is infamous for his potty mouth.)

Then I realized that age 12 I was about to start on my Stephen King kick. That shut me up.

Kiddo ended up reading Chuck’s Star Wars: Aftermath first.

Read whatever you want, my child. If books are the most corrupting element in your tween life, we’re doing okay.

Save

Save

Save

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Spreading Some Love Between the Covers

“Love stories are universal. Love stories are powerful.
And so are the women who write them.”

Last spring I wrote about how I was dying to watch LOVE BETWEEN THE COVERS, a feature-length indie documentary film that explores the little-known, surprisingly powerful world of women who write and read romance? I finally attended a screening thanks to the fine folks at the Orlando Public Library. I left inspired, enlightened, and I may have had a watery eye from time to time.

Love Between the Covers is the fascinating story of the vast, funny, and savvy female community that has built a powerhouse industry sharing love stories. Romance fiction is sold in 34 languages on six continents, and the genre grosses more than a billion dollars a year–outselling mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy combined. Yet the millions of voracious women (and sometimes men) who read, write, and love romance novels have remained oddly invisible. Until now. For three years, the film follows the lives of five very diverse published romance authors and a unpublished newbie as they build their businesses, find and lose loved ones, cope with a tsunami of change in publishing, and earn a living doing what they love—while empowering others to do the same.

During the three years the filmmakers shot the documentary, they witnessed the largest power shift in the publishing industry in the last 200 years. And it’s the romance authors who are on the front lines, pioneering new ways to survive and thrive in the rapidly shifting environment.

Many aspects of the film had me in awe. Bella Andre writes 25 pages a day?!!

The segments following the video diary of aspiring romance author Joanne Lockyer had me feeling all swishy inside. I found myself discretely dabbing the corners of my eyes after she saw her book, her quest, her baby in print for the first time in all its tangible beauty.

There were so many more nuggets of goodness, conversations about diversity, desire, power shifts, and how to write a damn good book.

I tried to jot down a few of my favorite quotes as I watched, but alas, as I read over my chicken scratch, I’ve realized that these should more be considered paraphrases. My profound apologies if any of these are too far off. (Feel free to kill me off in your next book if I offend.)

We’re not looking for a stupid heroine … we’re looking for a story where the woman has her shit together and the man is the cherry on top of the sundae.

Beverly Jenkins

Loyalty, love, loss, courage–all books in ALL genres circle around to these eternal themes.

Eloisa James

I love fiction because it’s fiction. Fiction is not real and it’s not supposed to be. Fiction is a dream. Fiction is a desire. Fiction is hope.

Len Barot/Radclyffe

Yes it’s a fantasy. But so are Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. It’s no great surprise that he never dies in the end. So what’s wrong with our
Happily Ever After?

Beverly Jenkins

This is the one place where you will consistently find women’s sexuality treated fairly and positively.

Sarah Wendell

 

But one of the main themes of the movie was the camaraderie. Through RWA (Romance Writers of America), these women, be them multi-millionaire business builders or publishing-shy newbies, shared a refreshing desire to share what they know to help others succeed. (I also see this in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, but this wasn’t their movie. Go WFWA!) They stress that there’s no finite number of readers, so we can publish an infinite number of stories.

After the movie screening, the Orlando Public Library hosted romance panel discussions about Tropes We Love and Hate and Vampires and Angels and Weres, Oh My!, followed by a book signing featuring local romance writers.

And…

pro rwa

 

I’m offically a PRO member of Romance Writers of America.

Come on in. There’s room for you here too.

 

5 Things I Learned During an Evening with Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan

An Evening with Rainbow Rowell and Devid LevithanWriters are my rock stars. I am not afraid to admit I am an unabashed Rainbow Rowel fangirl. And when the Orange County Public Library hosted An Evening with Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan, over four hundred writer-groupies drove from across the state to get up close and personal with two of the hottest names in YA fiction.

Rainbow is on tour for her latest release, Carry On, a Potter-eque/Twilight mashup story that delves into the fanfic world Cath created in the novel Fangirl. (Read both. Love both. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READS.)  David is promoting Another Day, a retelling of his previous bestseller Every Day told from Rhainnon’s point of view. Both novels are considered “companion” stories opposed to sequels, made to stand alone (though I recommend reading Fangirl before Carry On).

The dynamic duo entertained the crowd of booksworms with an hour of engaging conversation and readings from their new releases, followed an hour of Q&A.

rainbow rowell and david levithan at Orange County Public Library

Then came the book signings. Previously, the longest line I’d ever seen for a book singing had been for Queen of Romance Nora Roberts at the RWA Literacy Signing. This one beat it by a mile, but Rainbow and David stayed as long as it took to sign every books. (One public school librarian hauled a bag filled with every book by Rainbow and David in her school’s collection to autograph!)

rainbow rowell book signingThis fuzzy pic shows the people ahead of me when I finally made it to the line. There were just as many people behind me. And they’d been signing for at least 45 minutes.

 

 5 Things I Learned During an Evening with Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan

1. Rainbow’s voice in real life is as funny, quirky,  and accessible as her voice is in her books. Seriously. I wanted to beg her to move next door so we could sip wine after a day of writing and I could stealthily siphon some of her literary juju. Rainbow and David bantered like best friends hanging out, who just happened to have an audience of hundreds hanging on their every word. Oh, and neither mind swearing.

2. Fangirl was a NANO book. Rainbow wrote the first chunk of that favorite during November’s National Novel Writing Month. She still uses daily word counts to get her shit done. She and David disagreed on this one. He’s all quality, not quantity.

3. Rainbow is a semi-plotter. She starts with a basic 1 1/2 page outline, whereas David is a total panster, letting the characters lead him where they want to go.

4. Eleanor & Park was not intended to be a YA novel, but her publisher marketed it that way in the U.S. When writing her first novel, Rainbow wanted to explore a first love story set in a place she held deep in her memory. As she commented during the program, no one else knew Omaha in the mid-eighties like she did: the neighborhoods, the hangouts, the music. She wanted to capture that unique place and time before she forgot. In a high school that was either black or white, she’d always wondered what it would be like to be one of the four Asian kids in her school. She’d looked back to that one cool Asian kid on her bus, and tried to imagine his life.

5. Rainbow, admittedly, writes better than she reads aloud. (Don’t we all?) The pair funked things up by switching gender rolls when reading from David’s Another Day. Rainbow read as Soul A (a boy), while David read as Rhiannon. This gender-bending was deliberate, not just for laughs. Both authors write gay characters indiscriminately, reflecting a fresh perspective for teens and adults alike. The laughs came when they read from Rainbow’s Carry On. David read chosen-boy Simon’s role and Rainbow voiced brooding possible-vampire Gaz. Sound effects and flubbed lines ensued. The selected passage contained an actual sword.Yet when read aloud, both authors and audience picked up on some “swordplay” of another variety as the characters attempted to outsmart each other with witty remarks and counter-moves, while fighting their growing romantic feelings for each other. Everyone laughed, and Rainbow swore that Simon’s sheathing and unsheathing of his blade had not been written with ulterior motives.

Rainbow rowell

.

david levithan
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
#1 New York Times best seller!

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here–it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

Another Day by David Levithan

The eagerly anticipated companion to David Levithan’s New York Times bestseller Every Day

In this enthralling companion to his New York Times bestseller Every Day, David Levithan (co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green) tells Rhiannon’s side of the story as she seeks to discover the truth about love and how it can change you.

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person . . . wasn’t Justin at all

 

Thanks to the Orange County Public Library for a delightful evening!

Believe it or Not: Candy Michael Jackson, Tarantula Art, and Robin Williams Immortalized in Toothpaste

*cue dramatic music*

The scene: It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Sunshine State.
Moments before the library doors opened to the public,
I strolled up to our customer service desk.

when suddenlyI felt eyes crawling over me. Huge, glassy eyes. Upon the wall hung this dead pop star:

Michael Jackson portrait made entirely of candyYes, it’s Michael Jackson.
Any yes, he’s made entirely of candy.

For once, words fled me. I wasn’t quite sure if I should be amazed or horrified.
I’m still not sure.

My fellow staff members and I used our keen investigative skills to deduce which sweet treats made up this oh so unique piece. While the peppermint background appeared obvious and it wasn’t hard to conclude his hair and suit involved various brands of licorice, figuring out his skin tone was far trickier. After a close examination, we decided that M.J.’s skin was comprised of a mixture of chemicals most closely resembling —gummie bears. Who imagined the legend would end up as sugar and spice and everything nice instead of Botox and silicone? meanwhileWe discovered Candy Michael Jackson wasn’t the only unique artwork installed that day.

To his left hangs:

Spiderman scene painted on a tarantual. Believe it or not. #it'sreal #freakystuff #geekeryYes, that is a tarantula.
And yes, that is a Spiderman scene painted on its cephalothorax.

Did it escape from the Neverland Ranch? Honestly, this dude creeps me out. But it led me to wonder what inspires an artist to paint in miniature on a arthropod corpse? How close must you get to create such details? Do you use a magnifying glass? Force you face to hover over its hairy dead legs for hours?

Spiderman painted on tarantula spider. #geekery #wierdstuffAnd where, for the love of God, did these pieces of art come from?

things-that-make-you-go-hmm-o

later on

I noticed an oversized portrait gazing at me from across the building. Over the bowed heads of patrons busily filling out job applications and playing Candy Crush, the dearly missed master of comedy Robin Williams stared soulfully back at me. At first, I believed the melancholy portrait to be  a normal oil paninting, but we know nothing about Robin Williams was ever normal.
(And I mean this in an awesomely amazing and reverent way.)

Robin Williams portrait made of tootpaste  For this Robin Williams was painted entirely with…TOOTHPASTE.

But this work was signed! I had a clue to the mysterious origins of these pieces.
The artist is Cristiam Ramos, and he holds the World Record for the creation of the sculpture of a full size motorcycle made more than 20,000 candies. Who knew?

stay tunedNext time we will explore the world of miniatures painted on dead butterflies:
The Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and even The Last Supper.

I MUST remember to take my camera back to work.

 

 

Sucking Wind: The Real-Life Diary of a Couch to 5k (part 2—Bumps in the Road)

 

Sucking Wind: The Real-Life Diary of  a Couch to 5k (part 2: Speed Bumps)

photo credit: Stéfan via photopin cc

{Catch up on my journey with Part 1: Easy Street here.}

W4 D1: Friday 8/22

This training session about killed me. This one was NOT fun. Those little three minute runs had me feeling like this whole couch-to-5k thing would be a piece of cake. Then the damn app demanded that I jump from 3 minute runs to 5 minute runs. Be still my beating heart. My face feels like it’s a tomato about to burst and my heart is going to explode. I tried not to envision what would happen when I passed out on the treadmill—how I’d likely nail my head on the side rail, hit the belt, and be flung to the floor like roadkill. To keep from hyperventilating, I took my dad’s advice: sing. So I looked like a tomato-faced idiot, singing and trying not to swear as I ran.

5 min warmup | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 minutes | walk 2.5  min | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 min | 5 min cool down

 

W4 D2 8/25

Damn five minute sprints. The app calls them “jogs” but I’m not sure what the difference is between a jog, a run, and that heaving “I’m going to die feeling.” Need to find some more music, something I can sing along with. Yes, I know I’ll look like a fool, but it will be far less embarrassing than than scoring a concussion after passing out on the rotating belt of evil. But I did it…and since I was at about 2.5 miles once the app finished, I did two more “jogs” to push me over my 5k. Take that.

5 min warmup | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 minutes | walk 2.5  min | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 min | 5 min cool down (+2 more song-length sprints)

 

W5 D1  Monday, 9/8

You might have noticed I’ve had a bit of a time lapse…yeah, that’s what I’ll call it. The five minute sprints are killing me, so last week I did my own thing and worked on them some more. Uhm—extra-credit time instead of remedial class, right?  I’d peeked at Week 5’s expectations of three 5-minuts sprints and got scared. But I did it today. I did it wearing my Hot Pants, even, so I’m extra gross and sweaty. (Hot Pants are these neoprene biker shorts I was once sent as a product for review. See enlightening post here.) Don’t know if they’ll help sweat away the annoying ripples around my waistline, but worth a try.

The music selection on my phone needs updating and the app I’m using for training is a royal PITA, so I listened to Pandora on my Kindle while I read JoJo Moyes’s ONE PLUS ONE (recommended++). First station up: Alternative Endurance Training. Worked for a while, then I got over Muse and switched to 80s Cardio. Pour Some Sugar on Me had me giggling and flashing back to doing the Barefoot Mailman Scout Hike when I was about 13. Don’t laugh. That was brutal  35-mile 2-day hike along the beaches of South Florida. We carried everything we needed—tents, clothes, food, ect. It was hot. It was long. I had blisters and chafe marks for days. But I did it—I kicked butt in an event dominated 95% by boys. And one of the songs that I blasted through my Walkman (**oooh, flashback***) was that Def Leopard glam rock classic. Granted, at 13, I had no idea what it really meant.

If I could do it then, dammit, I can do it now.

5 min warmup | 5 min run + 3 min fast walk X 3 | added another 2 3-min runs to make 5k

 

 

 

Summer at the Springs—Kelly Park, Orlando

Drifting down the river from the spring head. -Rock Springs, Florida

Drifting down the river from the spring head. -Rock Springs, Florida

Florida is not all about its beautiful beaches. Our enticing waters come in many forms, and hot days locals flock to our crystal-clear springs—even though we may have a perfectly good swimming pool in our own backyard.

Locals know the best way to celebrate the first day of summer is at one of the  more than 900 natural springs scattered across the state. The clear waters remain at a chilly (for us) 72 degrees year round—refreshing enough to make you gasp when the air hovers in the 90s, but cool enough to keep the gators away—most of the time.

gators florida, alligator kelly park, alligator springs

The sign is posted at every Florida body of water, but last year was the first time we actually saw a gator at the springs. This little guy was about 3 feet long, and hung out along the banks all summer. No, he never bothered anyone. Yes, my heart did leap the first time my son snorkeled past him.

Our favorite local spring is Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park and State Reserve. The park is so popular with Central Florida residents in the know that there is always a line of cars trying to get in, and it’s often filled to capacity by 9 a.m. (And holidays. . .forget about it.) Deer sometimes drop by to entertain the throngs of families patiently waiting. Before mid-morning, picnickers fire up every one of the dozens of grills and fill the pavilions, saturating the humid air with the aroma of grilled meat.

But when you arrive early, you can sometimes spot some of the river’s locals.

otter in spring, ottter eating, otter florida, rock springs, kelly park

Not sure if this otter is munching on a fish or a turtle, but I did my best not to disturb his breakfast.

Rock Spring bubbles up from a cleft in the rocks beside a cave that looks like something the Spanish explorers would have believed was the Fountain of Youth. Swimmers jump in at the spring head or awkwardly plop into a tube while it bobs in the swift current. From there the water slows, and its a lazy 25 minute drift down the river, winding under mossy oaks and feather-leaved cypress trees.

SPRINGS HEAD, Kelly park, florida springs

Some try to walk along the rocky bottom, stopping to sift through pebbles for fossilized sharks teeth. Others snorkel down the river, spotting fish and an occasional turtle.  I go for the tube. That water is COLD.

walking the springs

While the river run and the swimming holes are the draw for most, my kid spends the majority of his day along the sandy shore. There’s always a swarm of kids there, and it’s easy to pick up some friends for water blaster fights or sand castle building.

Which means the hubby and I get to spend the day lounging in the shade with a book. HEAVEN.

springs, reading, reading outdoors, reading lake

And I have to admit, one guilty pleasure there is people-watching. Locals didn’t affectionately dub the place the “Redneck Rivera” for nothing. Folks from 8-months to eighty don their bikinis and sunbathe beside the ole swimmin’ hole. Tattoos are the norm, and I don’t mean the funky hipster variety. (Imagine Stewie from The Family Guy tattooed on a middle-aged could be an ex-biker chick’s inner thigh.)  It’s a great place to jot down character studies—I consider it research. But people are friendly, and the real wildlife is usually of the furry, finned, and feathered variety.

florida fish, fish in springs

For five bucks a carload, Kelly Park is an oasis just outside the suburban sprawl, the perfect way to escape from the traffic and tourists. Whether you’re a local wanting to get back to nature or a visitor looking for “Real Florida” this place is the way to go.

If you go:

  • Bring cash for the snack bar—typical concession fare like hot dogs, snow cones, and cold sodas.
  • If you want to claim a grill, get there super early. Pavilions are reserved in advance.
  • Water shoes are strongly suggested. Masks and goggles if you have some.
  • Bring an inner tube or raft (anything less than five feet is okay) or rent a tough tire tube at one of the shops by the park entrance.
  • The park also has Hiking/Nature Trails and a campground that’s supposed to be gorgeous.

The springs at Kelly Park, Orange county parks, florida springsHours of Operation Summer 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Winter 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Park Fees
Per vehicle: $3 (1-2 people);
$5 (3-8 people);

Rock Springs Run State Reserve

c/o Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle
Apopka, Florida 32712
Phone: (407) 884 2008

 

Happy Summer, y’all!

 

 

Mama's Losin' It   Hooking up with Mama Kat to celebrate the first day of summer 😉

 

The Southern Cowboy Cookbook Dishes Up Banana Dream Pudding (recipe) and Down-home Charm

In the mood for a fresh take on Southern comfort food? Have I got the cookbook for you.

Born of family, faith, and a passion for making the best blend of Southern barbeque around, one of Orlando’s foodie delights is 4 Rivers Smokehouse. Home of the neon “Hot Brisket Now” sign and lines ringing the building on a nightly basis, the first location in Winter Park, Florida, had humble origins. Back in 2009, businessman and weekend chef John Rivers decided to open a sort-of commissary for his “Barbeque Ministry” in the oft chance locals might want to purchase leftovers from his charitable events, or maybe even order take-out. . .

Five years later, John Rivers runs seven ridiculously successful  locations in Central/North Florida (with a Tampa locale in the works). Though his restaurants are one of the only places my family and I eat out on a regular basis, most of y’all can’t just drop by for a heaping portion of 4 Rivers tender smoked briquet, tangy pulled pork, or to-die-for baked beans (which my dad swears are second only to the beans his mom used to make). Lucky, John Rivers has kindly shared his delectable comfort food recipes in THE SOUTHERN COWBOY COOKBOOK.

The recipes are a bold blend of Deep-South specialties, traditional Texas BBQ, and Low Country cuisine. All of my favorite sides from the restaurant are in there: Smokehouse Corn, Baked Cheese Grits, Bacon-wrapped Smoked Jalapenos, and more.

The meat sections are the highlight of the book, as that’s what draws customers to the casual 4 Rivers Smokehouses, even though they know they’ll have to wait patiently outside in the Florida heat (sometimes an hour), salivating as whiffs from the smoker drift across the sizzling parking lot. (Don’t worry, when the lines are long, the clean-cut and uber polite staff hands out samples to waiting customers.) Rivers includes recipes for all of his signature smoked meats, including the rubs, marinades, and finishing sauces. While these particular recipes might not be that useful unless you have a smoker, chances are you know someone who does. . . And you can share the book with them. . .

Most of the other recipes are much more approachable for the average home cook. The sandwich section reads like the restaurant menu board, highlighting creations that sound odd, but are oh-so-scrumptious, such as the Messy Pig (coleslaw, pulled pork, dill pickles, pickled jalapenos, & BBQ sauce slapped on a sandwich bun). Yes, you need many napkins.

Tossed in with the iconic recipes are some contemporary favorites, like Coffee-rubed Ribeye, Gruyere Herb Biscuits, and Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. There are just far too many good ones to mention, and most are accompanied by drool-worthy photographs.

John rivers

 

I had the pleasure of attending a cooking demonstration and cookbook discussion with John Rivers at the UCF Book Festival back in April. He chatted with the audience about his unlikely rises as a successful restauranteur,  why he’ll never franchise (because he doesn’t want the quality and service to waver), his nationwide search for the perfect barbeque, and the role faith, community, and family play in his business and his life.

 

Then he made Banana Dream Pudding Cups and passed out samples to the audience.

Banana Dream Pudding Cups (from the Southern Cowboy Cookbook). Perfect for a potluck! Adding roasted bananas makes all the difference!

Banana pudding is a favorite in my house. The simple Southern specialty is a staple at our Easter potluck, and the bowl is practically licked clean by guests. But John Rivers added a twist I’d never thought of: roasting bananas to bring out the sweetness, pureeing them, then adding them to the standard vanilla pudding. Oh, and adding chocolate. And caramel. And Heath bar bits.

::Swoon::

4 rivers banana pudding

Of course I had to try the recipe at home.

And you can, too.

When you make the puree (I just used my good old mini food processor), blend until you have your preferred consistency. I tried leaving it a little bit chunky, and it added a nice texture to the pudding. Also, don’t use room temp Hershey’s syrup for the chocolate sauce–far too runny and not rich enough. A nice drizzle of hot fudge sauce (homemade or jarred) works much better. And use real whipped cream—it’s worth the few minutes of work.

Banana Dream Pudding Cups (from the Southern Cowboy Cookbook). Adding roasted bananas makes all the difference!

Banana Dream Pudding Cups

From  The Southern Cowboy Cookbook by John Rivers

Serves 6

Banana Dream Puree

5 large bananas
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups vanilla pudding (I used instant, but I’m sure homemade would be better)

Banana Dream Pudding Cups

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
18 (1/4-inch-thick) banana slices
12 tablespoons toffee-chocolate bits (like Heath)
3 cups Banana Dream Puree, divided
1 3/4 cups freshly whipped cream, divided
6 tablespoons chocolate sauce, divided
6 tablespoons caramel sauce, divided
18 vanilla wafers

 Make Puree

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay bananas, unpeeled on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until bananas turn dark brown and go soft. Allow bananas to cool before peeling.

Peel bananas and place in the work bowl of a food processor along with the sugar. Pulse until desired smoothness.

Add pudding to bowl and mix by hand until combined. Refrigerate until cold.

 Make Pudding Cups

Combine graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar, and melted butter in a bowl, and mix until well blended.

In each of 6 glass dishes (I used stemless wine glasses), place 2 tablespoons graham cracker mixture, then top with 3 banana slices and a tablespoon of toffee-chocolate bits.

Spoon in 1/2 cup puree, then top with 1/4 cup whipped cream.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon toffee-chocolate bits, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon chocolate sauce and 1 tablespoon caramel sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Place 3 vanilla wafers around each rim just before serving.

 *******

The Recommendation:

Buy it. The cookbook is worth the price just for the Thanksgiving menu, which I plan on making for my holiday celebration this year. (Potential guests, expect Prosciutto Brussels Sprouts, Southern Green Beans, and Smoked Turkey.)

Now that I’ve spent the hour salivating over the cookbook and dreaming of BBQ and banana pudding, I’m going to head off to the gym—possibly with a detour afterwards to pick up some 4 Rivers takeout.

The Details:

The Southern Cowboy Cookbook by John Rivers
Print Length: 223 pages
Publisher: Story Farm

https://4rsmokehouse.com/

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.com

 

Joining up again with Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.com. If you’re interested in more food-related posts, drop on by!

10 Principles to Build a Foundation for Your Dreams

medium_5008524257

Saturday I attended my second FLBlogCon here in Orlando, an eye-opening day full of inspiration, education, food, and fun. While I could write an entire post about surviving a conference for shy introverts (yup, that’s me), instead I’ll share one the biggest take-aways of the day. And it’s not just about blogging, it’s about life.

Pat Williams—Orlando Magic Senior VP, blogger, best-selling author, motivational speaker, basketball Hall-of-Famer, and father of 19 kids (no, that’s not a typo)—delivered the amazing opening key note speech. It all started with discovering our passion, our sweet spot.

{Sweet Spot} : an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities

For some of us that may be blogging, writing, our careers, or our family. For most, it’s that balance between. It’s our passion. We all dream of finding that sweet spot, of spending each day finding fulfillment in what we do, earning the financial rewards to make it possible, and feeling the peace in wanting to wake up tomorrow and do it all again. It’s finding passion in our work and having the strength to keep moving towards our dreams even in the face of defeat. We dream. Some of us dream BIG.

According to Pat Williams, we must first build a foundation for those dreams.

As I listened to his talk, I nodded my head and furiously typed notes. Below is what I took away from his words. It’s completely paraphrased, any mistakes are mine. What you take away is up to you.

10 Foundation Blocks for Building Your Dream

 

  1. Think the right kind of thoughts. What you think all day long will become your real life. And READ. One hour day. Real books.

  2. Say the right kind of words. The words we speak have a way of becoming our reality.

  3. Be specific in goal setting. A clear-cut, definite goal is a powerful motivator. Make three lists of your goals: short term daily, mid-range of a few years, and long range. Write them down, review them constantly, and  revise them when necessary. Goals without deadlines just kind of hang out there. Practice self-discipline. To quote Bobby Knight: Discipline is doing what you have to do, and doing it as well as you possibly can, and doing it that way all the time.

  4. Be responsible for your attitude. You yourself are not responsible for Syria, global warming, or tsunamis. Release it. You ARE responsible for your attitude. At the end of the day, that’s all you can control.

  5. Seek out the right kinds of friends. Get around a bunch of upbeat positive people, you will be like them soon. Negativity and resentment will pull you down. Also, when picking a spouse, ask yourself, “Does he/she make me a better person?”

  6. Don’t waist your disappointments. Take your hurts, pain, setbacks, and disappointments and turn them into strengths. We shine in good times and curl up in bad. But tough times are teachable moments — our spirits are open when we’re deep in that well. Be open to learning. Get something out of it.

  7. Go the second mile. Do twice what ‘s expected of you. Outwork people. It’s the old-fashioned way—it never will change. The current entitlement mindset (it’s owed to me) doesn’t work. We need to cut it off. Two of the most important words in English Language are What Else. As in what else can I do/contribute/etc. The people who grasp those words and follow through will dominate.

  8. Never give up. Winners in life plow through the tough times. Practice “Stick-to-it-ivity”—a phrase coined by Walt Disney.

  9. Character still counts. Honesty. Integrity. Responsibly. Humility. Courage.

  10. Live your life by the faith phenomena.

Honestly, I need to work on every one of these principles. Every day. I stink at most of them (see, there’s that negativity I need to kick-in-the-butt).

live your dreamPin It

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write myself into my sweet spot. Because I can. Because I must. I have some work to do.

Thanks Pat.
Click here to read more about Pat

 Do you practice any of these principles? Which points do you take to heart?

 photo credit: SweetOnVeg via photopin cc

Hot Air Balloon Rides at the New Smyrna Beach Balloon Fest

hot air balloon ride, new smyrna beach
Floating through the skies in hot air balloon is on everyone’s bucket list, right? When I saw the ad in the newspaper for the New Smyrna Beach Balloon and Sky Fest, I knew my family had to check out the action.

 

The weather looked iffy—I’d read hot air balloons can only inflate if the winds stay below eight miles per hour. The festival site was just minutes from the beach, where winds gusted stronger than that daily.  AND the weather forecast warned of a storm front moving through the area over the weekend.

We set up camp at the In-laws house for the weekend, because I knew if we picked Friday OR Saturday to hit the balloon fest, the show would not go on that night. (Murphy hates our guts.)

hot air balloon fesitval

Friday night the hubby, kiddo, and I stuffed ourselves silly at our favorite local diner (technically, it’s an open air surf shack serving the best dang tacos in three counties) and then met up with friends and family at the  local airfield hosting the festivities. The place was crazy packed. Normally, New Smyrna is a sleepy little beach town — I think the city by-laws state you must be retired or a surfer to live there. Half of Central Florida tromped the muddy parking lot that evening.

Vintage planes sat parked along the runways, displays for the airshows taking over the skies all weekend. Nearly a hundred vendor booths took up far too much space, and of course Kiddo talked his grandmother into buying him a souvenir. People jammed the obligatory greasy food court, eating anything imaginable that could be fried or stuck on a stick (or both). But we discovered REALLY cheap beer — win!  A giant Ferris wheel and a bustling, overpriced carnival lit up the evening sky.

But I didn’t care about any of that. I bee-lined it straight for Balloon Island.
New smyrna beach balloon fest
Withered nylon bags lay strewn across a field, their colors and shapes not clear in the twilight. Handlers tugged wicker baskets from the backs of vans and trailers. The baskets were so much smaller than I had imagined, only 4 x 5 or so— barely big enough for four people to squeeze into and small enough to easily fit into the back of a pick-up truck.

The winds gusted faster than the allowed eight miles per hour, but a few brave crews tried to get their balloons inflated. Each basket and balloon started on the ground lying on its side while the mouth was held open to capture the wind. Once enough air filled the nylon balloon, the flames turned on, sporadic bursts lighting up the sky.
inflating hot air balloon, new smyrna balloon and air fest

balloon monster

But the balloons never left the ground that night. It was just too windy. We watched jets flare like sparklers across the sky, parachutes fall with flaming trails, and a jet-engine-rigged school bus roar past at 200+ mph instead.

We skipped the full airshow Saturday afternoon, but as we sat on the beach, we caught glimpses of jets and biplanes cruising by in tight formation above the sand and sea.

A storm threatened to cancel all the night’s activities; rain chances went up as the day grew long. The afternoon brought a few brief showers, but a few of us decided to brave it anyway.

I could see the outlines of balloons as soon as we neared the entrance.  We raced through the crowds, eager to get in line for a ride.  My wonderful Hubby joined the queue while a friend and I took our boys to explore — but not before we enjoyed a smuggled-in champagne toast {shhh}.

tethered ballon rides

While we would LOVE to go for the hour-long ride gliding high above the Florida countryside, we didn’t have the $200 bucks a person to shell out.  I’ll save that luxury for a ride over wine country or some foreign destination, thanks. We went the tethered balloon ride route. Heavy ropes connected the balloons to trucks and vans. I would have loved to have ours break free, escaping above the crowds, but that wasn’t going to happen.trucks tethered to hot air balloon

Tickets in hand, we let Kiddo select our balloon. He was impatient, dying to get into the sky—so was I.  To climb into the basket, we had to find the foothold low on the wicker, and I was barely able to swing my leg over the top. Inside, there wasn’t any room to maneuver, and I thanked the stars that I vetoed my skirt at the last minute.

The three of us just barely fit in there with the captain.
  balloon flame
The flames burned hot against my slight sunburn—they were close, bright, and blinding as the sun.
The inside of the nylon dome was huge, a brilliant hollow Easter egg holding us suspended in the air.

 

Storm clouds closed in on us, and lightening flickered in the distance. Our time up in the air was far too brief, but the lines snaked across the field, others waiting (some rather impatiently) for their time in the sky.  Kiddo scored a second ride with our friends, and not minutes after they descended the rains came.

We grabbed a cheap beer and stood in the drizle watching the balloons deflate. There were going to be many disappointed people that night, but we would not be amongst them. We had a blast.

magic balloon

Pin It

Hooking up with Mama Kat—a post inspired by the word ‘balloon’

 

A Summer Show Initiation —The Kid’s First Dave Matthew’s Band Concert

For Dave Matthews Band fans, the summer tour is ritual. It doesn’t matter if the band released a new album recently. There are no glitzy effects or troupes of scantily clad backup dancers—there’s just a prolific jam band playing their hearts out for you, and if you love DMB, you savor every second of the spectacle.

I’ve been going to DMB summer tour shows—eating, drinking, and being merry—for more years than I care to admit (long before cell phone cameras were popular, thank god). I’ve married, matured, become a parent since—but I still cherish my one night of everlasting freedom dancing to Dave under the stars. 

While this summer pilgrimage to Tampa or West Palm Beach has been an annual event for the hubby and I for well over a decade, this time it was different. This time we were bringing the kid. I almost wish we’d planned an initiation ceremony (although tamer than, say, Rocky Horror “sacrificing of the virgins”).

All bets were off. The adventure was on.

Traffic screeched to a halt before we even made it to the highway for our two hour drive to the show. Red and blue lights flashed, and though our senses were on high in anticipation of a night of technicolor glory, these lights were of the wrong variety.

The little one piped up from the backseat. “Looks like an accident.”

Turns out it was—AND the remnants of a police chase following a shooting. As we sat in the stalled traffic, cops cuffed the alleged perp and shoved into the back of a squad car.

We hadn’t even left the “safety” of our suburb. This was going to be one heck of a night.

The skies opened up just past Disney. My fingers practically hot glued themselves to the steering wheel, but the kid relaxed in the back, playing something on his Kindle. Lucky duck.

Yes, he’s wearing his DAD’s shirt. ::sniff sniff::

An hour and a half later, the amphitheater appeared. Our plans to arrive early to beat the always wicked concert parking debacle mostly worked.  We pulled into a swampy parking spot, set up the bag chairs, and popped our respective PBR, cider, and juice box. It was tailgating time.

Tailgating like a rock star. (must. finish. Harry. Potter.)

Now, normally, the DMB concert is the one night a year Hubby and I act like drunken dancing fools. We join 20,000 fans grooving in the dark (and often stormy) night to a three-hour marathon of music, sharing in a moment of consummate oneness with the happy hoard of fellow faithful enveloping us.

But this time, we had to behave. Instead of going as a wild and winsome twenty-something (as I did sixteen shows ago) I was going as  . . . one of those parents . . .

Respectable. Sober. On my best behavior. ::chills going up my spine::  My how times change.

Change can be good.

The amped up festival atmosphere hit us as soon as we approached the main gate. By arriving early, we staked out a prime piece of real estate. With our dollar store shower curtain spread across the soggy grass, we picnicked as the opening band played. We may have skipped our usual vodka-soaked watermelon, but we had hoagies, an unencumbered view, and an excited kid.

Though the clouds hung heavy, threatening to turn our field seats into a mud pit, someone up there had sympathy for us, and the rains held off.  I had visions of my  9-year-old  sliding down the sloped seating area like it was a giant mud-drenched slip-and-slide. (I’d seen it done by drunk frat boys before. Unfortunately, concert venues provide no showers.)

The crowd sat tamely this year, a trend I’ve noticed during other concerts in recent years. (Last time we saw NIN everyone SAT the entire show. Un-freaking-believable.) Those around us thought kiddo was adorable and they acted slightly more decorous than usual (meaning no one spilled beer on the kid, elbowed him, or blew smoke his way). They praised us for introducing him to the joys of live music. Seeing a real band live is a completely different experience than just listening on your device of choice—each one of your senses becomes immersed in the music, lighting you up from within.

This show was amazing, as always. And while kiddo enjoyed himself . . .

He grew a little tired being up past his bed time. (Let’s hope this trend continues well into his college years.) Never imagined I’d be holding Goldfish instead of a beer at a DMB show.

But at least he stayed awake the whole time, unlike his first concert. We introduced him to Paul McCartney at the ripe old age of six. (Figured we’d train him young—and we hoped he’d think we were cool parents someday. A mom can dream.)

He passed out cold as Sir Paul performed some of the most momentous songs in rock history. Not even the fireworks during Live and Let Die roused him—but we did wake him so he could sing along to Hey Jude.

Though DMB didn’t play his favorite song Funny the Way It Is (which will always be his theme song to our Costa Rica vacation back when he was just five), he sang along to the songs he’s been raised on.

We all grow up someday. Though the hubby and I felt almost our ages this time, we made memories the kiddo will hopefully remember. And we loved every moment of it.

Have you ever taken your kid(s) to a concert? Do you go yourself? Or do you think I’m just plain crazy?