Crab Cakes

We’ve made it three for three. For the past three years, my husband and I have driven down to Pensacola, Florida for the annual Crab Cake Cook-off. The food frenzy and fundraiser at Seville Quarter — a block of restaurants and bars in downtown Pensacola — benefits ARC Gateway, the local association that helps people with developmental disabilities. Our son-in-law is the one who found the cook-off three years ago during a family beach vacation, so Husband blames him for our annual addiction. But can you blame us? I mean, you get to help a worthy cause AND eat all the crab cakes you want. Let me say that again:  All. The. Crab cakes. You. Want. I mean, you get to sample crab cakes from about 20 local restaurants and caterers. I’m only sad that it’s only once a year. I absolutely love having so many different crab cake recipes and techniques all in one place. And it’s such a diverse offering. You get everything from simple crab chunks with hardly anything masking the fresh crab flavor to artfully arranged plates featuring salsas and sauces. There are spicy crab cakes, sweet crab cakes, flat and crunchy ones, thick and soft ones — anything you can dream of, crab-cake-wise, you can find at the cook-off. Before we walked in this year, we agreed to learn from past mistakes and take it slow — perhaps sharing crab cakes instead of each of us having one from each vendor. I immediately dropped that plan, however, when faced with the treasure of unlimited crab cakes. Maybe next year … You can click here for cook-off results, here for info on ARC Gateway and here for more about Pensacola’s Seville Quarter. (Also, I wanted to show off that I finally figured out how to do links the correct way. Thank you!!!)

Gulf Oil

Word that the leaking Horizon well is under control is encouraging, and that is good. But damage has been done in ways we’ll be dealing with for years. Husband and I were in Pensacola, Florida, this past week for a quick couple of days. It’s one of our favorite vacation spots and we were anxious to check out the oil-leak effects. Here’s what we found: The Emerald coast was gorgeous, as always … but, sadly, clean-up workers seemed to outnumber tourists. We didn’t mind no lines at restaurants and no crowds on beaches, but that also meant no money coming in and no jobs for the folks who live there. And that is not good. At Joe Patti’s Seafood, there were more employees behind the counter than shoppers in front of it — and no local shrimp, grouper or oysters. The Boardwalk shops in Pensacola Beach practically echoed with emptiness. A local newspaper story quoted locals as saying it was “January in July.” And even though theoretically folks who’ve lost money and jobs to the oil leak will be reimbursed, what’s going to happen next year when all the tourists who got scared off by the oil this summer decide to stick with the new places they found? We’ll be back. And you should, too. You can order from Joe Patti’s online at http://www.joepattis.com and keep up with the latest Pensacola happenings at http://www.visitpensacola.com/.

Travel

Fellow fans have begged me to not say this, but as a journalist I’ve sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so I have to be honest and tell you all that you’ve got to to go to Apalachicola and St. George Island, Florida, for your next vacation. Here are the things these towns are not: Big. Crowded. Noisy. Full of high-rise condos. Here are the things these towns are: Small. Quiet. Peaceful. I have to admit that there can be a crowd at the Seafood Grill in downtown Apalach if you time it wrong, but you can sit outside and watch the world go by while you wait for your table, so no worries. And with only one tiny grocery store and a handful of eateries, St. George Island is even smaller than its across-two-bridges sister town. Slow-paced and easy-going, SGI offers casual beach houses with no roof-line higher than three or four stories. If you want total relaxation with the only stressful decision having to decide between shrimp and oysters for supper, then this is your place. Visit http://www.apalachicolabay.org/ and http://www.resortvacationproperties.com/ to learn more. We were there just a couple of weeks ago, and I’m ready to go back.

Vacations

This looks like we had our car all packed up and ready for family vacation, doesn’t it? And we did … although we really hadn’t started packing yet. Fourteen folks in my family were headed to the beach in various cars and at various times and turned out Dear Husband and I had the fewest people and the most room in our car. So of course when we were all in the pre-packing stage, I told everybody, “Sure, we’ll take those chairs/boxes/bags for you if you don’t have room. No problem.” I was happy to help out and it wasn’t a problem — until I realized I’d almost offered out all available space and left only a few square inches for Husband’s and my bags. But some creative shifting freed up the necessary room. And, as usual, I overpacked, anyway. Anytime I’m lucky enough to go to the beach, I end up being totally minimalist and pulling on whatever’s easiest — T-shirts and shorts over swimsuits most of the time  — and not even caring if I’m wearing the correct white top-with-black-capris combo accented with appropriate jewelry and handbags I usually do during Real Life. (Hey, I’m a Southern girl. Appropriate handbags are in our DNA, you know.) Sadly, I forget that and always persist in carefully packing coordinated outfits that end up unworn in favor of the wrinkled three-days-in-a-row tank top. And I bet there are lots of you all who suffer from Vacation Overpacking Disorder, too. We should band together and start a support group. And of course the only cure for our afflication is — more vacation packing! Who’s with me???

Food

When winter is getting to you, isn’t it lucky to have friends with beachfront condos? Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mary Bonnie! She invited some of us to share one of her weeks at the Gulf coast condo she and her husband have — and just in time, too, since here in Alabama we’ve had enough snow and ice and cold to last us, thank you very much. We had a great time and I’ll tell you all about it, but first I want to give you a Florida wildlife report. No, not that kind of “wild life.” The nature kind — well, our version, anyway. One night we went to the Shrimp Basket in Perdido Key, Florida, when we all spied the most realistic statue of a blue heron ever and were in the midst of speculating why someone had placed such a statue so close to a parking space when suddenly the “statue” blinked its eye and we all jumped — and reached for our cameras. We got the distinct impression that the heron was posing for us and waiting for us to notice he (she?) had given us his (her?) best side for photography purposes. We didn’t see any dolphins/porpoises in the water while we were there, but we did spy an osprey perched high up in a tree next to its nest one day and walked along the beach with hundreds of twittering (in the non-online sense, of course) sandpipers. The weather was clear and sunny and gorgeous while we were there — too cold for us to get in the water although I did see a couple of energetic teenagers brave the waves one day. The sunsets were stunning — I caught a bit of the light in this photo. And the Shrimp Basket was great! Nothing fancy — just fresh good seafood and friendly service. It’s where the locals hang out and is about half the price of touristy seafood places (Crab Trap, we’re talking to you!). I had the blackened shrimp and fish with new potatoes, cole slaw (with shrimp in it) and hush puppies. Plus, I saved one of my oh-so-good raw oysters to show you. Other orders at our table were fried oysters, fried shrimp and tuna dip — everything was perfect. Check it out at http://www.shrimpbasket.com. There are locations all along the Alabama/Florida Gulf coast — just watch out for blue herons in the parking lot.