The waiter at the waterfront restaurant set a pint glass on my table. ''It's on the bartender.''
On the house? This was a warm night in south Florida. Maybe a sweat drop had lodged in my ear, causing me to mis-hear. The first George Bush was in office the last time a man bought me a drink. It wasn't always such. Back in the day, I was a looker. Not ''Get-this-girl-a-Vogue-cover!'' gorgeous, but pretty enough that construction workers hung off buildings to holler as I walked by.
But I'm over fifty now. It's been ages since anyone shouted at me on the street, ''Ooooh, baby, how'd you like to hold MY hammer?''
I interrogated the waiter like he'd delivered a Swine flu cocktail. He seemed a bit evasive. Even so, dim memories surfaced of long-ago club nights with girlfriends, when free drinks stacked up like planes over Atlanta. Half the time, I'd take a sip, nod my thanks, and leave the rest sitting on the bar. I never thought about a day the attention would stop coming. But it did. And usually I don't miss it. Until that night the waiter brought a beer. On the house.
I was flattered. I was flustered. I felt twenty-nine again. ''What's the bartender's name?'' I think I even batted my lashes. ''I want to make sure I thank him.''
Long pause. ''Actually, the beer was a mistake,'' the waiter finally admitted.
Turned out, a new bartender inadvertently poured a beer I never ordered. Instead of tossing it, the waiter served it. On the house. In a way.
So, I'm still old after all. Still invisible. Just the beneficiary of an inexperienced bartender's learning curve.
I drank every drop.
And, as I did, I wondered: Why don't those gratis drinks get spread around? Take a cocktail or two from the line of liquor awaiting some nubile twenty-something, and pass it to someone old enough to be her mom. Those young girls won't miss it. One more free drink means nothing to a gorgeous girl in her twenties. Trust me.
But to the formerly pretty, now middle-aged and dowdy? Well, let's just say that one beer on the house -- briefly -- made my day.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I'm honored to welcome my first guest blogger, the terrific chef and newly minted author, Victoria Allman. (Photo, left). Flexing her fiction muscles, she writes below about an encounter with my series characters in the make-believe town of Himmarshee, Fla. (And, yes, geography sticklers, we know Himmarshee's landmarks don't truly exist along any waterway off Lake O.) Victoria also reveals the formerly secret recipe for Mama's famed Butterscotch Pie--Deborah Sharp.
My name is Victoria Allman. For the past 10 years I have been traveling the world as a chef on a yacht. I write about my experiences and the food I find in each port on my blog, following my stomach, and in my book Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean. Usually, my tales involve a trip to the markets in Spain, grilling octopus under the scorching Greek sun, or catching mahi-mahi in the azul waters of the South Pacific. But, last weekend I encountered a woman that some of you might know—Rosalee Deveraux, soon-to-be Provenza, aka ''Mama.''
My husband, Patrick, is a captain and was hired to deliver a 40-foot Sunseeker from Ft. Lauderdale to Lake Okeechobee and on up the river to the town of Himmarshee. It was a different type of delivery for us—into Florida’s cattle country and away from the Caribbean islands we normally cruise. The day was hot, the air still; the humidity made me feel like I was a loaf of bread inside a steam oven. I missed the ocean breezes that normally caress my skin as we travel. I lifted my hair off my neck with one hand to try and ventilate but that only revealed a new place for mosquitoes to land.
''I'll be glad to get back to Lauderdale and a pitcher of margaritas tonight,'' Patrick said as he maneuvered the boat toward the dock.
An older woman in a lemon-yellow skirt and matching jacket strutted our way, followed by three younger gals. On the woman’s head was a yellow hat with enough tulle and silk flowers to make Carmen Miranda proud. She must have just come from church. No one in their right mind would dress like that for any other reason. She looked like a cone of sorbet about to melt in the heat.
''There she is, girls.'' The woman’s southern accent cut through the muggy air. ''There's Miss Rosie!'' She clasped her hands together, beaming like a lighthouse. ''Mace, honey. Take off those awful boots before boarding my boat.''
''Yes, Mama.'' I thought I could see the girl in work boots and jeans roll her eyes a little before bending down to comply.
I held my hand out to help the women aboard. Mama passed me a wicker basket. ''I brought a picnic of fried chicken and biscuits for our cruise.'' She pulled a bottle of Spumante champagne from the basket. ''Now, I normally don’t condone drinking, but this here is for the christening.''
I exchanged a look with Patrick. She was nothing like the typical yacht owners we had experienced in St. Tropez or St. Barth’s.
He shrugged and pulled the boat away from the dock. ''Where to, ladies?''
''Now, I don’t like the idea of showing off, but this boat is my pre-wedding present from Sal, so maybe we should just take it for a spin past a few spots. Let's see, Hair Today, Dyed Tomorrow Beauty Salon, the Pork Pit BBQ, the church, the bingo hall and ...'' She turned to one of her daughters. ''Do you think that’s enough?''
''Everyone in town is sure to see you, Mama,'' Mace said.
I busied myself with setting the table and arranging the food as Mama asked Patrick about the possibility of pirates over-taking us. I placed the coleslaw and three-bean salad next to a platter of sliced ham and a bowl of juicy watermelon. Dishes of macaroni and cheese and trays of cornbread were still in the basket. I shifted the plates on the table to make room for everything; there was enough food for a whole cruise-ship of passengers.
''Lunch is ready,'' I called.
Mama was standing next to Patrick waving like the Queen of England as we cruised through little Himmarshee. ''You girls go on and help yourselves, I’m busy navigating.'' She turned to speak directly to me. ''Make sure you bring the captain a piece of butterscotch pie, it’s my own recipe.'' She preened like a peacock, looking just as colorful. ''It won the bake-off at the Swamp Cabbage Festival, you know.''
I cut the pie, and brought a slice to the cockpit. Patrick took a bite. Barely swallowing, he took another. ''Delicious!'' he said, before taking a third forkful.
I pulled the plate away to taste for myself. He was right. It was good. The filling was sweet like candy and smooth like pudding. The fluffy meringue topping cut the richness while the crust flaked like shortbread in my mouth. Rarely have I tried a dessert that I liked more than a savory dish but this was heavenly. Like Patrick, I too, reached for another bite.
I turned to ask Mama for the recipe but she was busy trying to get someone’s attention onshore.
''Yoo-hoo! Betty! It’s me, Rosalee!'' She waved frantically, leaning out over the rail of the bow.
I made a mental note to get the recipe later, when she wasn’t so busy avoiding being a show-off. I turned back to speak with Patrick. I saw his eyes go wide at the same time I heard a shrill squeal from the bow.
I spun on my heel and looked around frantically. Mama was nowhere to be seen. Patrick threw the boat into neutral and ran for a life-ring. I hurried to the bow. Mama’s bright yellow hat floated beside the hull of the boat. Mace shouted from the stern and pointed. Ten feet behind the boat Mama’s bottle-blond curls broke the surface of the water. The yellow fabric of her skirt ballooned around her like the sun.
She gasped for air, sputtering and laughing at the same time. ''Oh my, isn’t boating fun!''
(Here's the recipe, which is so yummy that when Victoria tested it, the yacht's deckhand and first mate polished off half the pie before she even finished cleaning up--Deborah Sharp)
Mama’s Butterscotch Pie
1 ¼ cups flour
1 tablespoon icing sugar (also called confectioners sugar)
¼ cup cold butter
¼ cup shortening
2 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups brown sugar
3 large egg yolks (reserve the whites for the meringue)
½ ts vanilla
1 tablespoon whiskey
¼ cup soft butter
3 egg whites (reserved from the filling)
½ ts vanilla
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup white sugar
Pre-heat oven to 350.
In a bowl, mix flour and icing sugar. Using a pastry cutter, blend in butter and shortening until a fine crumb is achieved. Stir in water and sour cream to form a dough. Press into a disc; wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to 1/8-inch thickness. Fit into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Line the pie shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dry rice. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and bake an additional 10 minutes until the crust is golden. Cool.
Whisk milk, cornstarch and flour together in a heavy-bottomed sauce-pot. Add the brown sugar and egg yolks. Gently heat the mixture; stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add vanilla, brandy and soft butter. Stir to smooth. Pour into prepared pie crust.
Whisk egg whites on high until soft peaks form. Add vanilla, cream of tartar and sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form.
Spread meringue over the top of the pie and bake for 15 minutes until golden.
Cool and refrigerate for 6 hours to set.
Friday, April 3, 2009
There are trucks ...
. . . and then there are TRUCKS. This baby, pictured right, is a 100-percent, Made in Americuh, So-Big-It's-Insane TRUCK. This monster eats foreign sports cars on Ritz crackers as canapes.
Don't you want one?
On a trip last weekend to Bubba World (my nickname for Bass Pro Shops' Outdoor World) in Dania, Fla., we ran across a parking lot festival of swamp buggies, airboats, and the occasional ginormous truck. This is a spot where they were wearing Hillbilly.com baseball caps without irony, where the Stars and Bars flew proudly, and where a briskly selling lawn pennant pictured a snarling pit bull and the caption: Rebel Blood in my Veins, Yankee Blood in My Yard.
In other words: My peeps. (Joking, of course)
I do love it, though, that you can still find this slice of redneck life in thoroughly urbanized South Florida. It reminds me this is a truly diverse place. And that not far away are the untamed Florida Everglades, where airboats sail over sawgrass, good ol' boys gig frogs, and gators loll in mud holes awaiting unsuspecting prey (Note: I did not say ''awaiting unsuspecting Yankees.'' )
Now, excuse me while I get an extension ladder, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and my pit bull so I can go take a ride in my new truck.