Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Best and worst places to 'staycation' this year

WalletHub looked at 150 of the country’s largest cities and, based on 28 key metrics, measured the most enjoyable and wallet-friendly staycation spots in America. It’s no surprise that in 2016’s Best & Worst Cities for Staycations Orlando, Fla., took the No. 1 spot. With DisneyWorld, Universal Studios and other attractions in your backyard, and discounts for annual passes, who wouldn’t want to staycation in Orlando?The worst place for a staycation — in other words, if you live there, save up and get the hell out — is Chula Vista, Calif. Actually, quite a few California cities nabbed the bottom, including Los Angeles at No. 143.
Southern states that fared well were:
Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, at No. 2 and 3;
Atlanta at No. 6;
            St. Petersburg, Fla., at No. 9;
            New Orleans at No. 15;
            Jackson, Miss., at No. 16;
            Knoxville, Tenn., at No. 20;
            Miami, at No. 21;
            and Chattanooga, at No. 27.
            Here’s a few more statistics to ponder, thanks to WalletHub.
            New Orleans has the most museums per 100,000 residents, 23.34, which is 79 times more than in Aurora, Colo., the city with the fewest, 0.29.
            Columbus, Ga., has the most parks per 100,000 residents, 213.37, which is 22.5 times more than in Hialeah, Fla., the city with the fewest, 9.47.
            Seattle has the most coffee shops per 100,000 residents, 109.43, which is nearly 30 times more than in Laredo, Texas, the city with the fewest, 3.67.
            Orlando, Fla., has the most ice cream and frozen yogurt shops per 100,000 residents, 57.15, which is 13 times more than in Detroit, the city with the fewest, 4.31.
            Columbus, Ga., has the most tennis courts per 100,000 residents, 70.11, which is 26 times higher than in Gilbert, Ariz., the city with the fewest, 2.69.
Columbus, Ga., has the lowest cost of house-cleaning services, $110, which is four times less expensive than in Salt Lake City, the city with the highest, $454.
You know what we think? Forget Orlando. Visit Columbus, Ga., and enjoy the parks, play tennis and let someone else do the cleaning.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Biscuits, pour-over coffee, poetry and love at Greenhouse on Porter in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.
Carl Sandburg

When someone tells me there’s a new restaurant serving homemade biscuits and pour-over coffee, I don’t hesitate to haul my butt out of the chair. Couple that with the quaint Mississippi Gulf Coast town of Ocean Springs, and you’ve got a winning deal.
            Greenhouse on Porter only serves coffee, beer and delicious crispy homemade biscuits. The day I visited I sampled a savory cheddar and mushroom biscuit that was out-of-this-world good, followed by a sweet potato biscuit with honey butter. The insides were soft and chewy while the outer skin a nice brown crust. Perfection. They serve Reve coffee out of Lafayette, my town where said chair is located, so I was familiar with this craft coffee roaster and knew of their rich, smooth javas.

            The Ocean Springs restaurant is located in an actual greenhouse. Co-owner Kait Sukiennik said the greenhouse had existed on the spot for years, fallen into disrepair. She and partner Jessie Zenor lovingly renovated the greenhouse, although it still owns a rustic ambiance — no air conditioning but fans, plants everywhere, free books inside an old suitcase and poetry lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling.
Kait Sukiennik
            Sukiennik sold her biscuits at farmer’s markets and other places and when she decided to open a storefront did so with only $10,000 to her name. The front of the house (which is air conditioned by the way) contains a tiny kitchen and seating area for about six to eight people, plus a restroom. The seating was made by hand using bare particle boards (although you hardly notice) and the front of the counter is an old door, glass knob still attached. Sukiennik said they used lots of recycled architecturals in the design and enlisted the help of family and friends to help build the interiors.
            The walls are filled with local artwork, various works of poetry and posters by Amos Kennedy. Greenhouse also offers special events such as meditation classes, benefits, cat bingo and live music.
            If only I lived closer!!

Poetry lining the walls at Greenhouse on Porter.

The tiny kitchen with a door as the counter.


Monday, May 2, 2016

The South's official cocktails — and a mint julep recipe for this week's Kentucky Derby

Give it to the South to come up with official cocktails for their towns.
First, the Louisiana Legislature named the Sazerac the official New Orleans cocktail, a drink that hails back to 1838 and apothecary owner Antoine Peychaud, named for his favorite French brandy, Sazerac-de-Forge et fils. The brandy toddy included Peychaud bitters and was mixed using a jigger then known as a coquetier, pronounced ko-k-tay. Many people believe this is where the word cocktail comes from and New Orleans, of course, claims the city as the cocktail's birthplace.
You can find the delicious drink with a peel of lemon all over the city but especially at the Sazerac Bar of the Roosevelt Hotel, my personal favorite with its Depression-era murals and Huey Long history. You can read more about the hotel and bar in a previous blog post by clicking here.
Louisville got in the official spirits act in 2015 and chose the Old Fashioned for its official drink of choice. According to the Louisville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, legend contends that Louisville’s Pendennis Club created or reinvented the Old Fashioned in 1881. “Though other historic reference point to bourbon cocktails being made in the ‘the old fashioned way,’” the Bureau insists, “the Pendennis recipe was the first to name the drink and has been on the menu ever since.” 

And not to be outdone by either town, Lafayette, Louisiana, where I reside, created its own official cocktail, this one from scratch. Called the “Rouler” — as in “Laissez les bons temps rouler” or “Let the good times roll” — the drink is comprised of Sweet Crude Rum produced by Lafayette’s own Rank Wildcat Distillery. Add sweet and sour, simple syrup, bitters and club soda, then serve over ice, and you’ll want to roll with the good times too.
Want to know what your home state calls its signature drink? According to Buzzfeed.com, here are the spirits of the South:
Alabama - The Alabama Slammer (amaretto, Southern Comfort, Sloe Gin, and orange juice), also known as the signature drink of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. We LSU fans would call that a sissy drink.
Arkansas - The Arkansas Razorback (rum, vodka, amaretto almond liqueur, Kahlua coffee liqueur), another nod to the SEC, this time the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.
Florida - The Rum Runner (Captain Morgan, blackberry liqueur, creme de bananes and orange juice), originating at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada, Fla., when the bartender was dared to make a cocktail out of the liquor surplus.
Georgia - The Scarlet O’Hara (typically Southern Comfort, cranberry juice, and a lime wheel), that will make you forget everything until tomorrow.
Kentucky - The Mint Julep (bourbon, sugar, water and mint), best made with Woodford Reserve, the official drink of Churchill Downs. See recipe below.
Mississippi - Mississippi Punch (dark rum, bourbon, brandy/cognac, fresh lemon juice and sugar), first noted in Jerry Thomas’ “The Bon Vivant’s Companion,” attributing its location in Mississippi, according to BuzzFeed.com.
North Carolina - Dirty Beetz (vodka, local beet syrup, lime juice and orange juice)
originating from Raleigh’s The Fiction Kitchen, but we have to ask why?
Jaleberry Strawpeno
South Carolina - The Hemingway Mojito (Bacardi, sunset-red Italian Campari, muddled mint and grapefruit, soda water and grapefruit juice), a colorful drink that looks like a Key West sunset, born from Charleston’s Amen StreetFish and Raw Bar. Shouldn’t that be a Florida drink?
Tennessee - Lynchburg Lemonade (Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Triple sec, sweet & sour, and Sprite), because JackDaniel’s is made in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I’d say that anything with Jack would be a proper Tennessee drink.
Texas - The Mexican Martini (tequila, Cointreau orange liqueur, sweet and sour mix, lime juice, orange juice and Sprite), served straight up in a cocktail glass. On a recent visit to Austin, I had a jaleberry strawpeno made with strawberry jalapeno tequila, lime and agave at Searsucker and I vote for that drink as the official Texas cocktail!

Just in time for the Kentucky Derby, here’s the Woodford Reserve recipe for a traditional mint julep. I got to watch a demonstration of the making of a mint julep at Churchill Downs. The key here is to use fresh mint and muddle the leaves in the bottom of the glass to release that delicious taste.

2 ounces Woodford Reserve
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3 fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice

Directions: Express the essential oils in the mint and rub them inside the glass. To the same glass, add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice. Stir. Garnish with more ice and fresh mint.