Monday, April 26, 2010

Make-It-Yourself Hookah Bar

My friend, Matt, and I were having a discussion and the subject of hookah came up. He smokes a pipe from time to time and is a connoisseur of fine cigars, but had never tried smoking from a hookah. I love hookah, but haven't had an opportunity to partake since leaving Louisville 2 years ago. One of my favorite places to hang out in the Ville is Cafe 360 on Bardstown Road. I'd go with a girlfriend and we'd get a table on the sidewalk, order a hookah and a bottle of wine, and watch the world walk by. The food was pretty good at Cafe 360 as well. A great way to spend an afternoon as far as I'm concerned!
When Matt expressed an interest in trying it out, we made plans to go to Key West on his day off and hit the only hookah bar in the Keys, The Kooler. We made all of our other stops first...Baby's Coffee, GFS, Ben Franklin, Oppenheimer Eye Clinic [to pick Capt. Jack's glasses up for him], Captain Tony's, and the sponge market...saving the best part for last. We took the walk up Duvall, but before turning on Southard to our final destination, we stopped in a little shop on the corner with hookahs in the window. The proprietor of that store then informed us that the hookah bar had closed down about 2 weeks prior to our little field trip. What a bummer!
Making the best of the situation, we decided to go ahead and buy a small hookah and couple of varieties of shisha, tobacco mixed with honey and other flavors. We'd just have to wait and try it on Matt's back deck when we returned to Marathon.
On the way back to the car, Matt mentioned needing to find a bathroom before the long drive home. Captain Tony's was just a couple doors down so we decided to just pop in there again. While I was waiting, I told the bartender how our plans to go to the hookah bar had been ruined by it's closure and was it possible for us to set our newly purchased hookah up right there in the bar. He replied that as long as it was legal, he didn't care what we smoked.
So we did!
We ordered another drink, gathered the supplies we needed [water, aluminum foil, and Brian Paul's lighter], and fired up the hookah.
Part of the fun of going out to a hookah bar is being out...people watching, live music, and a bartender add to the overall experience. We had a couple of people watching what we were doing with curious glances and one guy even sat down with us and had a puff or 2, but for the most part, no one paid us any attention as we relaxed and smoked in our Make-It-Yourself Hookah Bar.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weekend in the Fish Bowl

Since Good Friday was a city holiday, Jeff had the day off April 2nd. We decided to take a break from the great, sponge boat caper to work on installing our new solar panels. We use to have 4 - 50 watt panels [200 wts. total] and decided to upgrade to 2 - 210 watt panels [420 wts. total], more than doubling our previous solar output. The coolest part about the new solar panels is that they didn't cost us a dime!
A couple of years ago, we attended a boat show up in St. Pete with our friends, Matt and Kendra. The sailing magazine, Latts & Atts, hosted an after-party for subscribers with free beer and pizza and a raffle for many a splendid prize. The tickets for the raffle were one for a dollar or for $20 you could get as many tickets as would reach from the tip of your finger from one extended arm to the tip of your finger on the other extended arm. In essence, your wingspan.
Well, I had the longest wingspan [36 tickets!] and was therefore, our designated ticket-getter. Matt and I went together and each put in $20...but, we never tore the tickets in half to determine who's were who's...and then we won! But, who won?
We were very excited about our luck and figured we'd sort it all out later. The prize in question was a Solar Stik: 2 - 50 watt panels with a mounting system and charger controller all included in one unit. Solar made easy. All you have to do is plug it in.
The next day we went to claim our prize and told Brian, the Solar Stik guy, about how we won but hadn't torn the tickets in half. He thought we had a great story, and even though he couldn't believe we hadn't divided the tickets before the drawing, he wanted both couples to win something. So he started asking about our boats and since we were anchored right off in the Vinoy Basin, he actually took a dinghy ride out to look at the S/V Exposure. He determined that we had plenty of space to mount solar panels with our extensive bimini top and didn't need the mounting Stik. He would get us some solar panels and Matt and Kendra would get the Stik and all that included.
We were all happy.
Since that time, Matt and Kendra have sold their boats, and with Kendra's Coast Guard assignment to Marathon, moved to the Florida Keys and brought the never-been-used Solar Stik with them. They have no use for it and with Kendra's career, they are going to move quite a bit over the next several years, so we gained possession of the Stik. Jeff then used it to make a trade with a local business, S.A.L.T. - Sea, Air, and Land Technologies, for the bigger panels. They want the Stik in order to power their marine refrigerators and freezers using solar at boat and trade shows. S.A.L.T gets an easy - yet flashy - display unit, Matt and Kendra get to lighten their load, and we get POWER.
And once again, everyone's happy.

Friday morning, we warmed up the motor, dropped our lines, and pulled up to the seawall to make installing the panels a little easier. With the marina closed, I felt like we were the unofficial Information Booth with so many people walking by and inquiring about different things whether it be about the new panels or marina business.
Saturday was much of the same with everyone who passed by asking about the new panels or having an opinion about our installation. I started feeling as if we were in a fish bowl with everybody walking by tapping on the glass.
Our weekend on the wall did have it's benefits. Friends, Ken and Barbara, dropped by at sunset for a cocktail and brought a huge plate of snacks: peel and eat shrimp, deviled eggs, figs surrounded by cream cheese and wrapped in prosciutto, slices of dill pickle, crackers, and cheese...yummy. Another woman who was cleaning out her boat to put it on the hard for the summer brought us all her beer, wine, and liquor...some of it still cold from the fridge.
Saturday night, we had Matt over for dinner. The boys took care of the grilling, and we ate in the comfort of the cockpit.
We also had the convenience of unlimited electricity and took the opportunity to fill the boat with fresh water. The latter we did quite literally when we realized the bilge pump wasn't working with the water just inches below the floor boards.
So, Sunday morning, we installed a new hose to the bilge.
This involved pulling out all of the old hose, required Jeff to climb into a very small space, and left the dog with very little room to lay down...the rest of the floor being riddled with holes and open hatches.
Janus was none to happy with the current project and was not shy about expressing his displeasure.
But we got it all done with a minimal amount of cursing and bleeding on Jeff's part and the boat didn't sink, so all is well.
The dog eventually forgave us for messing up his boat once we covered all the dreaded holes in the floor and we left the fish bowl.
Currently, we are back to happily sailing around our mooring ball producing all the electricity we need with our newly installed solar panels.

Now it's back to working on that darn sponge boat...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Angela's Adventure

Just recently...alright, it was last month and perhaps not so recent - I told you I had some blog catching up to do! But, back to the subject at friend, Angela, made a return visit to the Keys during her spring break from Wright State U. I picked her up at the airport Saturday morning [the 20th of March and the first day of Spring] and we made the trek back to the Keys, fruity drinks in hand. Lunchtime was quickly approaching and we decided to go to the Island Grill since I had never been there, had wanted to go, and it came highly recommended by Cap'n Deb. We were not disappointed in our decision! Newly renovated, the Island Grill is a sight to behold with open-air, indoor seating, live entertainment, and...get this...tables on a beach. We chose beach seating and were directed around the docks to the next hostess station. At this point, I took my leave to find the restrooms and let Angela take over the table-getting which in hindsight, was a mistake. Ask a tourist if they'd like a table with an umbrella or without and straight off the airplane they'll always pick the sunnier option. I came back to our umbrella-less table and just shook my head. I ordered a banana daiquiri and wished for darker sunglasses and a hat. When it came to ordering food, Angela took the route that we've had so much success with over the years and let me order stuff for the two of us to share. I chose the panko breaded, cracked conch and the tuna nachos. The conch came out in big, crispy pieces and was fall-apart tender but the pièce de résistance was the tuna nachos: raw, ahi tuna served on a bed of seaweed salad atop crispy wantons drizzled with wasabi, sweet soy, & sriracha [hot, red sauce] and then sprinkled with sesame seeds and green onions served on a long, narrow, rectangular, white plate. Way yummy with a beautiful presentation. After we ate, it was time to get the pale one out of the sun and we were back on the road.
Jeff was waiting for us back at the Marina, freshly showered from his day of working on the newly-acquired, sponge boat...which is what got him out of the long drive to FLL and back to begin with. We headed out to the boat and got our guest settled in. Then it was back in to the tiki hut for a cookout and music. One of the new guys in the harbor, Eric, who'll be mentioned again later, made up a huge batch of kabobs with shrimp, chicken, pineapple, onions, and peppers and we grilled up some burgers. It was a good time.
The next morning, Angela and I got up and went to breakfast at the Cracked Conch Cafe while Jeff went on to work on the boat. Afterwords, us girls headed back to put on work clothes and joined Jeff...although, I have to admit I don't think we were much help at all, except, perhaps, moral support. Later that evening, we stopped in The Hurricane for dinner where Angela got to try jerked shrimp, fried conch, and crab cake sliders.
Monday morning came along and Jeff had to go to work...this time at the marina...and us girls were left to fend for ourselves. The plan was to go kayaking, but the rainy weather didn't seem to want to cooperate. While Angela relaxed and read, I did the Cruiser's Net [VHF channel 68 @ 9 am] and whipped up an egg frittata for breakfast. We decided to go ahead and chance it on the kayaks & set out on the water.
Our destination was Lazy Days South, a restaurant on the other side of the bridge in Marathon Marina where our friend, previously mentioned Eric, would be tending bar.
As soon as we were situated and away from the docks, the sun came out as if on queue and we peeled off our t-shirts for a little sunbathing as we paddled. We had a great trip through the harbor, under the bridge, with a stop at the boat, Hobbit, to say hi to Don Owens [this part will be important later in my story].
Then it was past Burdine's to cheers of, "Looking good, girls!" and to the mouth of the channel.
Here's where things started to get a little hairy. The water is fairly open there and just as we made the turn to the North we had a bit of a blow come up. We made it through the chop against the wind, and after making one wrong turn which caused us to squeeze in between boats and under the docks to the other side, we arrived at the docks of Lazy Days...only to find the docks under construction and without ladders.
After a few expletives on my part, we continued on to the North to try to figure out a place where we could safely, and most importantly - dryly, get out of the kayaks. I spied a dock with a ladder and we headed for it. We certainly weren't on marina property anymore but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. We climbed out of the kayaks while managing to stay dry and headed for the restaurant.
No one came out of the surrounding buildings with a shotgun to accuse us of trespassing [which we were] and we made it to the bar without incident. Eric was there as promised and he was quick to get us some refreshments. Next, we ordered the oysters rockefeller and a lobster wrap to share. The oysters were topped with fresh spinach and hollandaise then decadently smothered in creamy, melted cheese. The lobster was tender and panko breaded surrounded by baby greens, tomato, and onion with a drizzle of key lime butter wrapped up in a sun dried tomato tortilla. Mmmmm.
The food was delicious and the view was magnificent, but we couldn't sit there all day...we had places to paddle. We found the kayaks right where we left them and climbed back in. After a quick stop at Burdine's, where Angela managed to shop from the kayak with a little help from friend, Karen - who just happen to be there as we approached, we explored the far side of the harbor, made a right into Sister's Creek and on into Whiskey Creek. From there we decided it was time to turn around and head back to the docks. Usually when I kayak I go into the wind to start with to help make the return trip easier, but today we had had a destination and pretty much ignored the wind direction. As we came out of the protection of Whiskey Creek, we quickly realized that not only were we headed dead into the wind but we were fighting the outgoing tide as well. When we managed to finally reach the docks, we both found ourselves without the strength to lift ourselves out of the kayaks with our way weary arms hence inducing fits of giggles which did not improve our situation at all. Somehow we managed to get out of the tiny, tipsy boats but certainly not without making a spectacle of ourselves. We met up with Jeff at Matt and Kendra's [that's where the sponge boat is] and when Kendra made us a key lime pie, we ordered pizza to be delivered and stayed for dinner.

Now, Tuesday was a big day. Karen had taken the day off for a teeth cleaning appointment in Key West and wanted us to tag along. So we headed to Key West bright and early with a quick stop at Baby's Coffee for breakfast and t-shirts and promptly dropped Karen at her appointment.
Then it was time to do a little shoe shopping. One of Karen's specific goals for the day was to find a decent pair of tennis shoes...which as you can see, she did. And, yes, she walked around with the tag on them all day. But Key West is full of weirdos so almost no one noticed.
I picked out a snazzy new pair of Asics for myself, the Asics' Kinsei 3...very comfortable. Then after thoroughly harassing our ill-humored sales girl [I would like to think that her lack of amusement stemmed from her tentative grasp of the English language, because we were hilarious!] we moved on to our next stops: GNC for vitamins; GFS for a monster slab of beef to cook at a later date and a huge slab of ribs for dinner tonight; and Ben Franklin, a personal favorite of mine.
Lunchtime found us at Louie's Backyard after we called and asked for directions. We got a table outside in the shade even though we didn't have a reservation...for lunch? On a Tuesday? Why, yes, Louie's is that kind of place...quite swanky, but absolutely gorgeous overlooking the beach and a fishing pier with crystal blue water as far as the eye can see. Angela and I started with an Island Cosmo made with homemade, pineapple vodka, while Karen, our DD, had iced tea. We started off the meal with a basket of conch fritters served with wasabi and hot chili sauce and fresh baked bread. Karen ordered a roast beef and horseradish sandwich on rye and Angela opted for the Key West Shrimp salad sandwich, both of which came with homemade potato chips and were arranged beautifully on huge, white plates.
I had the lobster mac & cheese and was very happy with my selection of el dente cavatappi pasta expertly blended with a creamy, cheese sauce topped with Maine lobster claws and garnished with Parmesan cheese crisps. Even though mine was an appetizer selection, it was plenty to share bites of and we all had nibbles off of each other's plates. Ang and I finished off with a bloody mary and after a few photos [I especially like the picture to the right because all 3 of us are in it...that's Karen's thumb up at the top!] we were off to conquer Key West.
We drove by the Southern-Most point for a Southern-most photo op and then found a parking spot on Southard St. We walked by the Hemingway house; stopped in at the Lighthouse; had a drink at the bar and perused the gift shop at My Blue Heaven; took our picture at the "0" mile marker; stopped at Captain Tony's for a pirate punch, a pirate smooch, and a bit of Brian Paul; bought sundresses at the sponge market; walked the steps of the old Custom's House; cruised the historic waterfront; embarrassed Karen at Fairavilla; and listened to Rob Sweet entertain at Turtle Kraal's. It was a pleasant surprise to see Rob at Turtle Kraal's...the only reason we went in at all is because I said, "Hey, I know that voice!" So, we went in and had the mandatory cocktail and enjoyed the show for a spell. Another surprise was seeing people [and dogs-Roxie & Beemer] we had met at the outdoor concert we attended at Lazy Lakes RV Park back in February. They were enjoying the Rob Sweet show as well. Our last stop was Mac's Sea garden for a few souvenirs and another sundress and then on to the task of finding the car. With Karen's direction we were able to locate the vehicle and she drove us back to Marathon. Upon our return to the boat, I noticed a mysterious cooler that hadn't been there before. Further inspection revealed that the cooler was full of fresh, Florida lobster and packed with ice. Remember I told you about kayaking by the Hobbit boat and saying "hello" to Don Owens? Well, Don Owens is a lonely, old guy here in the harbor and I often send Jeff with food to drop off for him. During our recent stop-by, I told Don I was sorry I hadn't sent any meals his way in a while [more to jog his memory as to who I was more than anything] and he replied that he been been eating real well as of late...lobster to be exact, right off the local fishing boats. He told me he'd just lob the guys a couple of cold beers and they'd hand over lobsters in exchange. Hmmm...
"Well, Don, I've got company in town. Can you hook me up with some of those lobsters?"
He said he'd see what he could do but I didn't put much stock in it.
Hence the mystery cooler containing 6 live lobster. Guess what we're having for dinner tomorrow? Add butter & lemons to the grocery list and we'll be set.
But tonight, it's ribs in the rotisserie and fried ripe plantains...that'll work.

Wednesday morning, after running Jeff to work, Angela and I drove to the beach at Bahia Honda (meaning deep bay in Spanish, locally pronounced: BAY-ah HON-da [báya hónda], also pronounced (in Spanish): Bah-EE-ah OWN-dah [baía ónda]). She was determined to get some good pictures and hoping to improve upon Janet's iphone pic of the bridge [which is too awesome to have been taken with a phone!] After some good shots from the bridge, we hiked down below to find the right spot to take a photo looking up. The tide was up and wading out to the point was a little tricky, but Angela managed to get in a few snapshots and we headed back to the safety of the beach before the camera got wet...well, mostly. I yelled "Rock!" but she didn't hear and landed shin first right on the submersed obstruction. She made a nice save and fell camera up as I quickly grabbed it. Disaster averted with minimal damage - a nice bruise and a scrape. Time to settle in for some beach time.
At some point, we determined that we'd cooked long enough, and speaking of about some lunch? We shook off the sand and headed to Big Pine for a stop at the Cracked Egg Cafe for sandwiches and an order of their fried mushrooms. Next stop was Out of the Blue, a cute, little shop I discovered on my/our birthday then it was back to the boat to clean some lobster.
Well, I had never cleaned lobster before and I truly expected to scream [like a girl] and freak out at least a little bit when it came to twisting the tails off of the spiny crustaceans. So I put on my gloves, and lo and behold, I apparently have a natural talent for slaying lobster. I hardly even flinched. When it came time to shove the antennae up the "poop shoot" to devein the lobster, I did it without hardly even an "ewwww." I may have discovered a new super power [because everyone should have a super power or two] which should come in totally handy while living in lobster land.
Angela had mentioned wanting shrimp and grits, so earlier in the day we had gone by Keys Fisheries to pick up a pound of Pinks which I steamed and served with a creamy pile of smoked gouda cheese grits. Accompanied by our tender, broiled lobster tails and a bowl of drawn butter, it was quite the seafood feast and more food than we could eat. G'night.

Thursday was Angela's final day in the Keys before shipping out to Dayton and she saved the best activity for last. Today she was going to swim with the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center [DRC]. Our first stop was the local dive shop to rent a wet suit - I don't know exactly what the water temperature was then, but its 74-ish now and that's still pretty chilly. Next, we were bound for Grassy Key to sign up for a Dolphin Excursion. I, too, was excited about going to DRC since I would start in their volunteer program the coming Monday. As luck would have it, Angela was assigned to have her swim with Gypsi, whom Jeff "adopted" for his niece, Lainey, as a Christmas present. Gypsi was accompanied by Jax, the only wild-born dolphin at DRC and the most easily identifiable with his pre-DRC scars.
You can tell by the big smile on Angela's face that she had a great time being in the water with these guys and I am sure the experience was over way too soon. We left DRC on a high note, ran a few errands on the way home, hit the showers on our return to the marina, and got ready for an evening out: sushi at Castaways. We had a great time sitting at the bar with raw oysters, good sushi, and live entertainment. We didn't stay too late since we all had an early morning with Angela catching a pre-dawn shuttle to the airport.
And that's how Angela's Adventure ended: an early ride on the Keys Shuttle...but she didn't leave empty-handed nor would she be hungry on the drive. I sent her with a huge lobster and shrimp salad sandwich on a croissant made from the left-overs of our seafood feast, add celery, onion, mayo, and a sprinkle of lemon pepper. She claims it took her 2 hours to eat it and I'm not surprised.

We look forward to seeing Angela again for her next visit, perhaps over her Summer vacation. We also think "Angela's Adventure" would make a great name for a sailboat. Someday.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Harbor Gossip

These are our friend's Matt & Kendra McJunkin. We met them several years ago through a mutual friend in St. Pete. and we were absolutely thrilled when Kendra got her Coast Guard assignment to come here. We've had several dinners over at their house since their arrival in Marathon and they have come to the boat as well. They even took us in for the night when the temperature plummeted to a low of 39 degrees.
Just the other night, my phone rang and it was Kendra asking if we were home. We had just finished up stripping off the bimini top [the canvas over the cockpit for you landlubbers] which we had to remove to get to the solar panels. Jeff sold the old solar panels to a young man here in the harbor and he was anxious to get them as he would be doing some traveling in the near future. So, yes, we were home. She was on a Coast Guard boat and they were doing a patrol of Boot Key Harbor and was it alright if they stopped by. Well, of course! So the big, bright orange, Coast Guard boat rafted up against the S/V Exposure and Kendra introduced us to her fellow Coasties. Before long, one of them had coaxed Janus on to the boat and was throwing a tennis ball for him to fetch. Janus loves taking advantage of people who don't know the rule about NOT throwing a ball on the boat. But hey, they were on their boat and he wasn't likely to tear anything up due to the fact the thing is literally built like an armored car. When the dog tired of the game he took his ball and jumped back to his own boat and soon the Coast Guard was back underway.
Within 2 minutes of their departure the first curiosity seeker arrived at the boat.

"Are you all alright?"
"Why, yes. Why wouldn't we be?"
"Well, the bimini top is down, the solar panels are gone, and the Coast Guard just left."

We explained that we had sold the solar panels, taken the bimini down ourselves, and the Coast Guard was just our friend Kendra out on patrol stopping by for a visit. We should have known then that the rumors were already flying.
Shortly after it had gotten dark, we were inside making dinner and a knock came on the side of the boat. I looked out the port hole to see Cap'n Deb in quite the tizzy.

"What the [expletive] is going on?! Are you alright?!"

After reassuring her that we were fine and had no idea what she was so worked up about she told us the story she had heard at The Tree. Those of you that have been here understand my reference to The Tree of Knowledge. But for those of you who haven't, The Tree is where marina residents can gather and chat. It is often occupied by some of the lesser desirables and those prone to tell a story.
So, the word at The Tree was that someone had boarded our boat during the day while we were gone, slashed down our canvas top, and had stolen our solar panels and the Coast Guard had come to investigate. Sheeewww...those Tree People sure do have some imagination. They had even determined who the perpetrator was and had him tried, convicted, and hung [figuratively] at The Tree in one fell swoop.
We had one more visitor to the boat that night inquiring about our situation and a couple of inquiries the next day.
We think we have laid most of the rumors to rest but there are perhaps a few that still believe the tall tale that came from The Tree.