Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I Don’t Own a Kindle or Any Other E-Reader...Yet.

I just got the word that my book Table for Two – The Cookbook for Couples will be released for Kindle and other similar electronic reading devices.

When I asked why, they told me that by not doing so we would leave money on the table. Naturally, I hate to leave money on the table -- unless, of course, the wait service was exceptional.

Besides, they were starting to get requests for Table for Two in e-book format -- like one they just got from a small town in West Africa.

So I think it is a good thing.

But I don’t own one. Yet.

At first it was because I am always a slow adapter to new technologies. I believe I was one of the last documented holdouts for vinyl as opposed to CD’s back in the 80s. And I’m still not sure what to make of Blu-ray. (It’s a type of sunglass lens, right?)

However, my very first laptop and desktop computers were Macs, so I’m at least good for something.

But it just was not my inner Luddite raising his head again. I, like many others, enjoy the tactile feel of a book in my hands. But that is changing. I used to have my local paper delivered until we moved a few years ago. I never got around to re-subscribing and began to get most of my news off the internet. I never thought that would ever happen, but it did.

So I see myself getting a Kindle or Nook someday. But not just yet. And it has little to do with my technological lag time or my love of all things tactile. The main reason? These items are not waterproof.

Or to be more specific: margarita proof.

Here’s how I know.

Two years ago I was at Book Expo America. It is "the" publishing event in the country. Held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, it features several floors and miles of aisles of all things publishing. For just $250 I can have the privilege of chatting with publishers and authors from all over the world. It also allows me the privilege of buying $6 beers and $10 sandwiches. And this year I could have the privilege to join several hundred other attendees at breakfasts hosted by Julianne Moore, Jim Lehrer, Diane Keaton and Roger Ebert. Heck, even if it was only Julianne Moore, that’d be worth at least 100 bucks right there. If she'd let me butter her toast it'd be worth $200. At least.

But I digress. Two years ago I was wandering through this roiling sea of publishers and vendors when I stumbled into what appeared to be a tropical island. It seems one vendor shipped in a couple of tons of sand, a small forest of palm trees, and a bevy of statuesque blondes in micro-bikinis to showcase their new e-reader: The Cooler.

As one who has always harbored a fondness for the beach, I soon found myself wandering over to check it out. One of the women, her name tag read Ivana (though I am not sure to this day how that name tag was attached due to a lack of actual material to affix it to) led me over to a bamboo cart that held a chrome and glass margarita machine the size of a small nuclear power plant, as well as stacks and stacks of their Coolers. She handed me a glass and told me to help myself as she expounded the virtues of the new e-reader.

I placed the glass beneath the spigot and, not wanting to appear rude, gave Ivana my full attention (how the heck was that name tag attached?) and proceeded to fill up my glass.


In my desire to be attentive and polite, I did not get my glass completely under the spigot. In fact, I wasn’t even close. Instead, quarts and quarts of ice-cold margaritas poured past my glass and began to soak the Coolers that were on display.

If I hadn’t felt my socks getting wet, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I looked down and with a loud “crap” or similar word I released the spigot and stared at the lime-infused e-readers which only moments ago featured the works of great literature on their screens but now only flickered and buzzed.

Ivana could only hold her hand to her mouth and utter, “Youski  ar oneski bigski dumbasski!” Which I took to be Russian for, “Here, let me clean that up.”

I smiled a sheepish smile and filled my glass. Then I backed away and disappeared into the crowd while some men in suits stumbled into the tropical tableau from somewhere behind the curtain yelling and screaming about something that must’ve happened a few moments earlier.

As I wandered down to the more boring McGraw-Hill booth, which employed women dressed as flight attendants and served tea, I sipped my frosty concoction and vowed that I would never invest in an e-reader until they had perfected it.

Yes, it must be margarita-proof.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Restaurants You Might Visit Just So You Could Steal Something With Their Name on It

As you may already know, I've been traveling around the state of Florida meeting new folks and taking in the local cuisine. In doing so, I'm often tickled by some of the names of the restaurants I come across.

Some are classy, some are creative, and some are just downright clueless.

Since I always carry a pen and scratch pad with me in the car (for those rare times when I have an idea worth keeping) I started jotting down some of the more unusual restaurant names to share with you. I even included the cities in case you want to drop by and filch a menu or mug when you're in the neighborhood.

Chinee Takee Outee (Jacksonville)  I love Chinese food and I love any restaurant whose name invokes the mysteries of the orient. This little dive certainly does because it's a mystery as to why any sane restaurateur would pay good money to set up a joint and then name it this. Unless of course the owner relocated here from West Virginia, at which point his stab at the Chinese language makes complete sense. But every time I drive by, I have to smile.

Gas (St. Augustine) I imagine they decided to adopt this moniker because the building may have been an old gas station. Perhaps it was. But the place has had so many tenants and has undergone so many renovations over the years that any semblance to a gas station is long gone. Sorta like welding two wheels onto a horse then calling it a bicycle.

Pho King Noodle House (Jacksonville) Not really sure what to make of this one but I hope the noodles are good. I mean really good. Because this isn't just any noodle house. This is The Pho King Noodle House.

Fu King Restaurant (Lake City) Another oriental restaurant with a name that leaves little to the imagination. Good thing these guys aren't located in Jacksonville. Then they'd be duking it out with the Noodle House for the title of best Fu King restaurant in Jax.

Dogwater Café (Clearwater) This name is about as unappetizing as they get, especially for those of us who own dogs. I mean, what were they thinking? Was "The Litterbox Brasserie" already taken?

Dirty Dicks Crab House (Panama City) Another one that defies explanation. I don't know about you, but I make it a point to steer clear of any restaurant whose name includes both unhygienic reproductive organs and a parasitical venereal disease.

Phylthy Phils Waterfront Cafe (St. Pete Beach) Not as bad as Dirty Dicks. But not much better, either. Besides, word on the street says that Phil has crabs, too.

Gassey Jacks (Orange City) Not to be outdone by the St. Augustine restaurant with the similar name, this establishment at least has the integrity to identify the guy responsible for all the gas.

Better than Sex (Key West) I ate there. It's not. 

Lulu’s Bra and Grill (Fernandina Beach) Methinks the guy they hired to paint the sign for this popular joint started in on the project after downing a couple of six packs. Since the restaurant was just getting on its feet and probably didn't have the cash to redo the sign, they just let it ride. The rest is history.

Mema’s Alaskan Tacos (Tampa) Nothing gets my saliva running like the smell of grilled beef, sizzling onions and sauteed chilies wrapped up in a warm, cheese-filled tortilla. And who better to create this delectable south-of-the-border creation than those who have honed this culinary craft over the centuries. That's right: the Aleuts. Nobody dishes up better tortillas, refried beans and frosty margaritas than those who tramped across the Bering Strait only to settle in a state that is best known for grizzly bears, ice cubes and goofy politicians.

Molly Goodhead’s (Ozona) For some reason this place has been popular since day one. Of course it caters mainly to rising CEO's, professional athletes from the visiting team, and members of the construction trades. Although occasionally some beefy girl on a Harley has been known to stop by. Don't know what that's all about. 

B. O.’s Fish Wagon (Key West) Any eating establishment that has B.O. in the title is worth driving by. And because it looks like a dump, that's exactly what most people do. But the food is very good. And here's the deal: if you go to B.O.'s for lunch, be sure to ask for the 'Daily Special.' Doing so will get you a sandwich far below the price they charge for tourists. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.

Cheap (Tampa)  You gotta give 'em credit. At least they're honest. 

Junk Food Jacks (Clearwater) Another joint with the integrity to own up to what really comes out of the kitchen. 

O’Boobigan's (Clearwater) When the original Hooter's opened on Gulf to Bay Blvd some 20-odd years ago, who could've predicted the impact it'd have on the culinary world. Soon dozens of copy cats began popping up all over Pinellas County to cash in on the Hooter's vibe: Melons, Headlights, Knockers, Mugs & Jugs, O'Boobigans... Alas, only a few remain. O'Boobigan's Irish Pub is one of them. (Personally I've never been much of a frequenter of these mammary-influenced establishments. As far as I'm concerned, if you've seen one, you've seen 'em both...)

So...these are some of my discoveries.

What are some funny restaurant names in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Best Advice is Always Free (Or: Why I Love My Job)

I just came off a weeklong book-and-cooking tour on the west coast of Florida. For those of you who have never been, the west coast of Florida is similar to the west coast of California in that the sunsets, the beaches, and the women are gorgeous. It is unlike the west coast of California in that most of the people who should be in institutions are already there.

One of the pleasures of touring is getting to meet so many different and wonderful people. Whether it's sautéing some shrimp under a tent in 95-degree heat for a crowd or cooking up some chicken Marsala in a comfortable waterfront home for a dozen new friends, I always enjoy this aspect of making my way in the world as an author.

Of course another added benefit is hearing about new places to eat and new ways to cook.

For instance, Bill told me about a killer mobile eatery called, appropriately, The Taco Bus. I also found out about a restaurant called The Refinery. It features locally grown ingredients served up with a bit of panache minus the attitude. Both of these are on my list for a visit the next time I’m in town. There’s a new tea shop down near Davis Island that I’m dying to visit, and of course there’s always Kelly’s in downtown Dunedin. My visits here would be incomplete if I didn’t stop in at least once for breakfast.

I also met Chef John at one of my favorite after-work attitude-adjustment emporiums. He has a cookbook coming out, and we spent a good bit of time discussing the possibility of hosting a foodie event in the area. We are moving forward on it. Details to follow.

And then there’s always the simple suggestions and advice that flows between folks who have something in common (food) and are having a good time (festivals). Here are a few that I filed away in that part of my brain called “Good Ideas.”  Some are mine. Most I gleaned from others:

For perfect pasta, make sure you boil the water before adding the pasta. (Thanks, Brendan.)

Don’t try to sharpen a knife after three or four margaritas. (Thanks, Rod.)

Cooking up some food at a festival will help sell more cookbooks. Cooking up the birds you accidentally ran over in the festival parking lot will not. (Mine.)

Don’t try to sell your books if you’re wearing a wife-beater t-shirt. This is probably true for cookbooks but it is especially true for children’s books. You want to see parents grab the hands of their kids and drag them to the opposite side of the venue from your booth? Just wear a wife-beater t-shirt. Heck, even I was tempted to move to a different booth. (Mine again.)

Buying the absolute cheapest of anything will never save you time or money in the long run. This goes for chef’s knives, cookware, and unidentifiable yet creatively-named items in the meat department. (Thanks, Randy.)

Make sure the beater blades on your mixer have completely stopped before you attempt to lick the icing off them. (Thanks, Sheila.)

Growing your own herbs is both healthy and frugal. Growing them where your dog decides to relieve herself is not. (Thanks, Megan.)

Don’t fry bacon naked. (Thanks, Laura.)

And finally, tossing around ideas and suggestions with friends is a great way to spend the evening. Tossing back some frosty glasses of Blue Moon at the same time makes it even better. (Mine.)

So…you got any ideas? Speak up while I grab another pitcher and a few more oranges.