Saturday, April 25, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes us to Brandon, Florida to an area where I spent the first fifty years of my life. Brandon is located east of Tampa, Florida and sports a population of over 100,000. Only down for a quick weekend, we managed to squeeze in visits to three of our favorite eating establishments.

We couldn't visit Tampa without stopping in at our all-time favorite Spanish restaurant, La Septima, surprised to find that they'd moved a few blocks down the road. We started with the Yuca Fries. Yuca is starchy, much like a potato. Cooked yuca tends to be a bit mushy, but fried yuca is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and La Septima sprinkles theirs with cheese.
Yuca Fries
I chose the Pescado a la Rusa, whitefish filets, fried and topped with a Russian-style sauce (butter, parsley and hard-boiled eggs), complemented with yellow rice and black beans. The fish was tender and flaky, and paired perfectly with the sauce.
Pescado a la Rusa
Dora here. My fave is the Palomilla steak. I'm not sure which kind of beef they use, but it's pounded thin then breaded and fried, and topped with grilled onions. Tender and yum! I used to make black beans and yellow rice occasionally at home, but I never could replicate the exact flavor profile that jazzes up my taste buds like theirs. :)  
Palomilla Steak
I would rate this restaurant 4 forks out of 5 forks for a family friendly restaurant serving great food.
La Septima Cafe on Urbanspoon
The second visit was to our favorite BBQ place. Tucked into an obscure corner behind the Adamo Home Depot, you could probably follow your nose to FirstChoice BBQ.
First Choice B-B-Q
The combination plate includes pork ribs, sausage, fries and baked beans. The food was just as I remember from 8 years ago. The sausage was smoky without being spicy, and the ribs were fall off the bone. The fries, made from fresh potatoes, were just crispy enough and the beans were molasses-sweet and tasty, great for dipping fries. Definitely order the fritters. Crispy on the outside, but tender and moist on the inside, they're not sweet, more savory since they stuff them with pork morsels. They are the most unique tasting, and that is in a good way, fritters I have ever tasted. 

Dora here. My fave is the chopped pork with fries and baked beans, but the turkey is also a close second. Today I chose the pork. Made me want to close my eyes and just savor the flavor so I could tuck it in my memory for the next few years! We lucked out getting here early on a Saturday because normally the line is out the door. And don't come all dressed up. It's warm and you'll smell like woodsmoke when you walk out, but that's all good because the food is worth it.

I would rate this restaurant 4 forks out of 5 forks for a family friendly restaurant serving great food.

First Choice Southern BBQ on Urbanspoon
Our last choice was Babe’s Pizza. This favorite local pizza joint has a model train tracking around the ceiling of the restaurant and a bar to watch them make pizza, definitely a kid pleaser.

The large Greek salad easily fed five, and the fresh ingredients made it better than average. We also ordered cheese bread, thick slices of mozzarella cheesy goodness.  

Go for the gusto with the double decker pizza, thin dough topped with mozzarella and your selected ingredients, and then loaded with a second layer of everything, basically two pizzas in one. We ordered one with pepperoni and banana peppers and the other with pepperoni and black olives. Both pies were great, just the right amount of sauce and cheese, and not too greasy like you sometimes get from thick pizzas. Definitely the type of pizza that you only can eat a couple of pieces before you are full.  
Large double decker with pepperoni and banana peppers

Large double decker with pepperoni and black olives
Dora here. Definitely carb overload, but oh-so-good! 

I would rate this restaurant 4 forks out of 5 forks for a family friendly restaurant serving great food.
Babe's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Excited about Reading ~ Be My Love By Bella Andre writing as Lucy Kevin

Purchase Link
The cover story:
Come for a visit to Walker Island where you'll find stunning Pacific Northwest ocean views, men too intriguing to resist...and five close-knit sisters who are each about to find their one true love. 

After four years on the Seattle mainland, when Hanna Walker returns to Walker Island to make a documentary about the infamous Peterson-Walker feud from the early 1950s, she's shocked to realize that passions still run high. Especially when it comes to Joel Peterson, the one man who is totally off-limits...but that she's never been able to stop dreaming about. 

The last thing Joel wants is for Hanna to dredge up the past, but when he realizes she's determined to follow through with her documentary no matter what, he knows he has no choice but to join her. But despite vowing to hold back his growing feelings for her, as Joel works with Hanna to unravel the mystery of what really happened between their two families, he soon begins to see that love is an unstoppable force...and that sometimes two people are meant to be. 

My takeaway:
After living four years in Seattle, Hanna Walker returns to her home, Walker Island, to film a documentary, a piece on the 1950’s Peterson-Walker feud and the truth behind Poppy’s suicide that would guarantee her a spot in the graduate program. But Joel Peterson, the only remaining Peterson on the island, isn’t keen on Hanna dredging up the past and vows to preserve his family’s dignity. After all, it’s his duty, same as operating his family’s shipping company, and just as uncomfortable and tight as the tie clamped around his neck.

While Joel and Hanna slide easily into romance, other islanders and family members continue to add fuel to the decades-old feud.

Shame,” she muttered as the two of them went past.
"What’s that?” Hanna asked, not understanding.
The look the woman gave her was actually a little frightening in its intensity. “I wasn’t talking to you, girl.” She turned her narrowed gaze to Joel. “Don’t you have any shame, walking around with a Walker? What would your father think? What would your grandfather think?”

In my fictional visit to Walker Island, I could almost feel the wind whipping my hair, the sand tickling my toes and the salt kissing my cheeks. I felt like I got to know the rest of the Walker clan, the four sisters who make up the other books in the series, and grandmother, Ava. The setting was a major part of this book, just as valuable as the characters.

While I haven’t read any Bella Andre books, I enjoyed this “sweet” romance by Lucy Kevin. It was a departure from my normal inspy books, but when I read the blurb, I decided to take a chance and I’m glad I did. Be My Love was all about family and how they take care of and protect each other from life’s hurts. It’s about events from our pasts and how they aren’t always as they seem, and a strong love that overcomes bitterness and hurts that have festered for decades.

I appreciate that this book didn't contain any steamy love scenes, but I would’ve preferred a dash of sizzle to go along with the sweet on this side of the bedroom door. Overall, I enjoyed Be My Love enough that I plan to read the rest of the series.

Disclaimer: I received this book free on Amazon. This review is my opinion, and I didn't receive any compensation.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

For this edition of Excited about Eating we visited Passage to India, located in the Campus Station Shopping Center in the University area of Charlotte. Now, I have to admit, I normally don’t eat at Indian restaurants because I have heard the food is very spicy. But today we were up for trying something different.

We were in luck. Instead of choosing just one dish, we were able to experience multiple items from their lunch buffet, and many of them were very good. My favorite was the Chilli Fish, fresh tilapia marinated with spices, fried and tossed with bell pepper and onions. The fish was lightly battered and perfectly cooked. Dora here. Tilapia typically isn't a fish I'd choose, but I really liked this dish. Not too fishy and great flavor.

Another favorite was the Tandoori Chicken, marinated in yogurt, ginger, garlic & fresh spices and grilled in a clay oven. This dish was outstanding with the ginger and garlic shining through and the chicken carried a smokey favor. The Goat Curry, baby goat cooked in onion, tomato, and ginger gravy was great over the Basmati rice.

My wife’s favorite was the Chicken Tikka Masala, boneless chicken breast marinated in ginger, garlic, yogurt & spices and grilled in a charcoal clay oven. Dora here. The Chicken Tikka Masala was moist and tender, and sported just the right amount of heat. Unlike the Chicken Biryani which lit my mouth on fire! One taste of the Biryani and I was begging to switch my iced tea to diet coke. lol. And I really liked the Gulab Jamun, sugar-soaked balls shaped like doughnut holes, and that's what they tasted like: dense, sweet doughnuts. Ernie wasn't a fan.  

For dessert, we had the Mango Custard, made with fresh fruits. Not too sweet but just the right amount of fruit in a creamy milk sauce. Dora here. The mango custard was light and refreshing, not too heavy after eating from a buffet. And that's another thing. Normally, buffets leave me stuffed and bloated, but neither of us felt that way when we finished eating.

Overall, this experience was enjoyable and I would eat Indian food again. I would rate this restaurant 4 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant that serves great food.

Passage to India on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 17, 2015

Excited about Eating ~ BONUS Edition by Ernie Hiers

This bonus edition of Excited about Eating takes us to Cheddar’s Restaurant in the University area of Charlotte. This casual family restaurant, founded in Arlington, Texas boasts that they want to “be a great restaurant that serves quality food fresh from the kitchen in a friendly, comfortable atmosphere at a fair price.” I believe they accomplish this.
Cheddars - interior
For lunch I chose the Homemade Chicken Pot Pie served with a fresh Caesar salad. The Pot Pie was full of chunky chicken, potatoes and vegies, and a tasty cream sauce. The crust was flaky, golden brown, and just the right thickness.
Homemade Chicken Pot Pie
Dora here. Candy pecans, honey lime dressing and a finger-licking-buttery croissant jazzed up an ordinary salad to over-the-top for me, and I could drink a gallon of their unsweet tea.
Grilled Chicken Pecan Salad
I would rate this restaurant five forks out of five for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food. 

Cheddar's Casual Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Crazy about Writing: Beaver Pond Newspaper

Lifestyle, May 1, 2015
Meet Tate and Shelby Malone, owners of Beaver Pond’s newest and funkiest art boutique, From Junk to Treasure
By James Collins

Recently, I met with Tate and Shelby in the most eclectic art boutique Beaver Pond has ever seen. What most people would consider junk or toss in the trash, Shelby Malone revives and repurposes into unusual art pieces. Clothes, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, pallets, you name it. They’re all here.

Shelby and Tate sat across from me, practically sharing the same space on a revitalized couch. His arm was draped across the back of the couch and his fingers toyed with the tips of her apricot hair. Newlyweds of just a few weeks. Meet Tate and Shelby Malone…

“So tell me. Where did you two first connect?”

A slow grin slides across Tate’s face, and Shelby’s face sports a bright pink hue.

This I can’t wait to hear.

“The men’s restroom,” Tate replies.

OK. That was rather unexpected.

“I tend to be rather clumsy. Tate came to my rescue that time—”

He laughs.

“Well, lots of times actually,” she amends. “Growing up, my parents joked that their insurance company always required extra coverage for me.”

“You both work at Beaver Pond High School, right?”

“Yes. Shelby decided to keep teaching full-time, and I’m a guidance counselor.”

“Did you grow up wanting to be a counselor?”

“Not exactly,” Tate’s jaw clenches.

“He had a wonderful role model. Just like he is to the students in Beaver Pond.” Shelby casts an adoring look at her husband.

“You rose above the homeless statistics to graduate from a top-rate college.” I skim my research notes for the counselor’s name. “Mr. Harris, wasn’t it?”

Tate stiffens. His thick eyebrows narrow. “Yes.”

Shelby pats his thigh in a comforting gesture, and he visibly relaxes back against the couch.

“Was it love at first sight?”

“Yes!” Shelby nodded, as if her ‘yes’ wasn’t emphatic enough. “But, not so for Tate. He took a little convincing.”

“That’s not quite—”

“How so?” I ask, interrupting Tate.

“For starters, he’d given up dating.”

“Not into the bar scene?”

Grimacing, he shakes his head.

“It’s tough when the ones who are supposed to love us let us down, isn’t it?” Compassion warms her face. She turns to her husband, her knuckles skimming his whiskered jaw. “His parents’ abandonment created this emotional barricade. He worried about losing the people he loved, and he mistakenly assumed his disadvantaged upbringing would keep me from loving him. As if I cared about material things.”

“That seems rather obvious.” I glance rather pointedly around the space filled with recycled treasures.

“Her parents actually bought a store for her! How could I compete with that?” Tate asks, brandishing a palm.

“I could see how that might present a problem. So what happened with that?”

“They only put down a deposit to hold it. They didn’t actually buy it. Besides, it was in Promise Lake. I told them my heart was here, in Beaver Pond. With Tate.”

“You did?” Tate’s words come out soft, as if only meant for her, but his deep voice carries.

She nods. “I had to show him that I wasn’t going anywhere and that things weren’t important. He was.” Although her words indicate she’s speaking to me, her head is turned towards Tate.

Tate smiles, kisses the top of Shelby’s head.

Thick lashes shutter over ivory cheeks, but only for a few seconds before she focuses on me. “He lived through horror, but he never gave up. He’s the kind of man teenagers can look up to because he gives 100%. He taught me that dreams don’t always come wrapped in shiny packages like we expect. Sometimes you just need to let them go, and then they come back to you, a hundred times better than what you imagined. He’ll make a wonderful daddy someday.”

Tate’s chest puffs up, and a clump travels down his throat. “And Shelby…she saw into my soul and reinvigorated my wounded spirit much like she does with her art. Where everybody else sees junk, she sees treasure.”

And there you have it, folks. The real deal. Tate and Shelby Malone, owners of From Junk to Treasure.

Available 5/1 by Subscription
to Pure Amore
Did you enjoy meeting Tate and Shelby? Friends, I'm so excited to share May's Pure Amore release, When Hope Rises, with you!

Art teacher Shelby Coltman transforms junk into treasure and longs for a place to showcase her creations. She’s thrilled when her friend volunteers to room with her. Shelby can finally buy a storefront. Unfortunately, Kennedi’s brother can't seem to let go.

Abandoned as a teenager, guidance counselor Tate Malone has become surrogate and over-protective father to his sister. Life is great until Shelby Coltman wheedles his impressionable sister into sharing an apartment. Raised in wealth, the beautiful Shelby could never understand poverty or rejection, and Tate doesn't appreciate her uprooting his sister.

When Shelby hands over her savings to a homeless student, will God obliterate Tate's fears and deliver all of Shelby’s dreams...when hope rises?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Enthusiastic about Faith: Wrestling with God

Not long ago, I shared that I was a Bible hoarder. If you missed that post, you can read it here. But, just as I suspected, now I'm reading scripture with fresh eyes.

You all probably remember the story of how Jacob stole his twin brother's blessing and birthright? Then, when Esau threatened to kill him, Jacob fled to live with his uncle for over two decades while he worked off the wages for two brides. When God instructed Jacob to venture back to his homeland, the land God had promised to give him, his brother came to meet with 400 men. Naturally Jacob was terrified. I'm not sure I'd have worked up the courage to get that far. What about you?

Jacob prayed and split his family into groups, sending the servants loaded with gifts for Esau well ahead of him and his precious wives and children. As always, the fact that Jacob spent the night wrestling with God made me pause. Was this a real wrestling match or an all night prayer meeting, wrestling with fear and guilt over what he'd done to his brother? Whatever, Jacob left that morning with a limp. And all for what? Because he refused to surrender God's blessing. Ironic, isn't it? The very thing that sparked his rapid departure in the first place...stealing his brother's blessing.

Jacob expected a battle, but his brother greeted him with a kiss. Surprise, surprise.

But isn't that always the case where God is concerned? He divided the Red Sea, fed thousands with a little boy's lunch, called a man from the grave, and yet somehow I forget how mighty God is, that He makes miracles from my messes, and that He is more than able to restore broken relationships.

If only I'd ask...

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. ~1 John 5:14-15

My takeaway from Jacob's experience...

Obedience rewards. Although Jacob must have quaked in his sandals when God instructed him to go back to his homeland, he obeyed. The reward was a restored relationship with his twin, but he also became Israel, a founder of nations and kings.

Persistent prayer pays off.  Frightened, Jacob prayed for God's protection and recalled God's promise that He'd make his "descendants like the sand of the sea." (Gen 32:12 NIV) And then again when he wrestled with God all night, persevering until God blessed him.

Don't make hasty decisions. Jacob remained where he was for the night to pray and regroup.

Expect favor. Our God is bigger and mightier than any problem I might face, and when I ask Him for help, His response is to bless.

Oh, and my old Bible? I moved it to my desk. All those highlights and notes make for a fabulous research reference. :)
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