Travel

Every time a disaster strikes, we who are seemingly untouched by the crisis always wonder what we can do to help those who are most affected by it. This time, luckily, the solution is easy: Go to the Gulf coast and eat fresh seafood! My family just got back from a long-anticipated and much-planned week at St. George Island, near Apalachicola, Florida, and ate our way through as much fresh seafood as we could find: Shrimp, oysters, crab and scallops were the stars, along with grouper. The water was gorgeous, the beaches beautiful and the rental houses full, as always. But, sadly, due to the oil leak, there are beaches where that’s not the case and people are hurting. If you still have some vacation time this year, head down to the Gulf. You’ll be treating yourself at some of the most gorgeous spots around — and helping boost an economy and industry that desperately needs some help.

Gulf Coast

This is the Gulf Coast my family loves — serene white beaches, startlingly clear water and nature peacefully humming along, doing its thing without any interference from us. But we’ve sort of messed that up lately. Coastal communities in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana are in hurricanne-like crisis mode as oil gets closer from the recent BP deepwater drilling rig explosion that killed 11 people and is leaking more than 200,000 gallons of crude a day. Nobody can predict for sure what’s going to happen. But it for sure is not good. Read the Pensacola, Florida, News Journal at http://www.pnj.com/ ; the Biloxi, Mississippi, Sun Herald at http://www.sunherald.com/; and the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register at http://www.al.com/press-register/ for the latest oil-spill news and volunteer opportunities.

Food

If you’re headed down to the Alabama/Florida Gulf Coast — and a yet-again winter storm headed our way here in north Alabama makes me ready to go anytime — you’ve got to try Cobalt, a fairly new restaurant in Orange Beach, Alabama. Under the bridge on Perdido Beach Boulevard next to the Caribe Resort, Cobalt is a must-go especially during nice weather when you can stroll along the water and eat outside in the breeze. When I went with friends a couple weeks ago, it definitely was a cool and gray stay-inside-sort-of-day. But that was all right, because inside is nice, too. Cobalt is a huge space but it didn’t feel too big — just sort of light and airy but spacious enough to handle how every many we could crowd around our table. We were there for lunch. The menu featured seafood dishes, of course, with salads and sandwiches, too. Food was good, beer was cold and service was friendly — and I’m sure this place is hopping during prime time. There was a fascinating salt-water tank in the lobby that was less an aquarium and more of a sort of river where you could stand for a while and watch all sorts of fish swim lazily by. I didn’t take many photos because I was too busy eating and drinking and talking my camera batteries were weak but I did manage to shoot two of the most important features: the immaculate and sparkly women’s restroom and the wonderful array of goodies available for take-out. Check it out yourself at http://www.cobaltdining.com/ — and save me a truffle, please.

Travel

When the gray and cloudy days of winter seem as if they’ll go on forever, just remember that somewhere the sun is shining and the sky is blue — and sometimes that somewhere is just a few hours away. Some friends and I were lucky enough to get an early spring break this past week when we gathered for some girls-only time at Perdido Key, Florida. We stayed at Needle Rush Point, and if you are looking for a non-high-rise Gulf Coast vacation spot, you need to check it out. It”s comfortable and homey and just right for hanging around, talking and laughing and eating and not doing much of anything else — which is exactly what we needed. Needle Rush is on the Gulf and also across the street on the bay/river side, which faces famed and exclusive Ono Island. We tried our best to spot some of the rumored celebrities who might or might not have houses over there, but the only folks around were locals and snowbirds — retirees who’ve had enough of winter and come south to enjoy the sun. Of course, it still seemed chilly to us Alabamians, but when you can walk along the beach and eat fresh seafood, who’s complaining? Check out Needle Rush Point at http://www.needlerushpoint.com/

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.