Eating local in Tallahassee is easier (and tastier) than it may seem

Call it ignorance or naivety, but I always carried a stigma that Tallahassee simply wasn’t the place to indulge in a locally-minded lifestyle. Places like Chattanooga and Boulder are rampant with the local mentality, but Florida just doesn’t seem to have hopped on that train yet.

After checking out the Locavore Index 2012, a chart that ranks states based on commitment to locally-sourced foods, I was disappointed to see that Florida not only ranked poorly – we were at the very bottom of the list. Not cool, Sunshine State. So, to further my adventures in local eating, I journeyed to three different places this week that showcased some of the best locally grown and owned destinations in town. Check ‘em out:

The Cool Cow

The vacant space next to Fat Sandwich on Railroad Avenue has seen many eatery ideas, but it wasn’t until an ice creamery popped up that the void was finally filled. Walking into this joint isn’t exactly impressive – but the simplicity is part of the experience.

The Cool Cow offers six flavors daily. Chocolate and vanilla are always on the menu, but the four other varieties are swapped out every two days – a total of 200 flavors rotate through the soft serve machines. On the day of our visit, we were offered Georgia orange, kiwi frozen yogurt, berry sorbet, and mocha hazelnut.

 Eating local in Tallahassee is easier (and tastier) than it may seem

I went for the mocha hazelnut – and it was outrageous.

Topped with rainbow sprinkles and marshmallows, my cup teeming with creamy mocha ice cream was beyond tasty, but Niko’s treat took the cake. He ordered a banana split, and got everything on it – which was a solid decision. His chocolate, vanilla, and mocha hazelnut ice cream plops were layered thick with hot fudge, caramel drizzle, waffle cone bits, fat dollops of whipped cream, and even a cherry on top. It was pure perfection.

The mocha oreo milkshake my buddy ordered also deserved an honorable mention, but the part of our cool experience that deserves the biggest ovation is the service we received. Our ice cream guru was not only a wizard with a can of whipped cream, he handled everything with the best attitude I have ever encountered in the food industry. He was kind, courteous, and complimented Niko’s choices of toppings. He’s the kind of guy you leave a 40% tip for. Kudos, Cool Cow – we’ll be back.

The Tallahassee Farmers Market

I am a huge fan of produce markets – so much so that I am dedicating a portion of the 2013 trip to exploring as many as I can. Niko and I have made a few trips out to the Thomasville Farmers Market in Georgia, but we had never taken the quick trip to the convenient one located in Market Square.

After a few weeks of failed Saturday morning attempts, we finally made it out to explore the covered pavilion loaded with local goods. Some of my favorite farms were in attendance, including Turkey Hill and Orchard Pond Organics. The pavilion wasn’t huge, but it was certainly big enough to hold every bit of produce I needed.

We strolled around the stands before making our final selections, feasting our eyes on a huge assortment of goods. There were plump peaches, thickly husked corncobs, freshly cut sunflower stalks, ripe heirloom tomatoes, and more. My bounty was a harvest of ripe blueberries, Japanese eggplant, okra, lemon and lime, and more tomatoes than I know what to do with – plus a little rosemary plant!
 Eating local in Tallahassee is easier (and tastier) than it may seem  Eating local in Tallahassee is easier (and tastier) than it may seemHands down, this is the best fresh produce market in town, with friendly farmers, great edible offerings, and unbelievably reasonable prices. Whoever said eating healthy and local is expensive clearly never stopped by a farmers market. [Read more…]

My new GoPro Hero 2 takes its first adventure to Beer Can Island in Tampa

In preparation for the mysterious #ProjectZ trip with the OmniTen crew, Columbia Sportswear teamed up with GoPro to supply us each with the new Hero 2 HD camera – and naturally, I figured I ought to put my new toy to the test before taking it out to Sedona for an epic adventure.

While tagging along with Niko during a trip to visit family in Tampa, Florida, we made a trip out to the coast for a day spent at one of the neatest beaches I’ve ever experienced. The spot is called “Beer Can Island,” and while it may conjure up images of littered shoreline strewn with discarded aluminum, it’s actually a pristine slice of coastal wonderment unlike any other beach in the area.

Rather than the usual stretches of shadeless Floridian sand that line much of the Gulf Coast, Beer Can Island is home to a sprawling landscape of enormous driftwood pieces, including one upright tree that boasts a little wooden swing – and by swing, I mean a chunky, splintered log tied haphazardly to a suspiciously fraying rope.  My new GoPro Hero 2 takes its first adventure to Beer Can Island in Tampa

We set up our little beach camp a few yards away from the temptress swing, and it wasn’t long before I was lured towards the idea of swaying above crashing waves and creating my own little breeze on the particularly scorching day.

Initially, I hopped right on the swing with my feet planted on the wooden base, and my fingers clasped around a series of knots along the upper part of the rope. I attempted to swing myself back and forth – but quickly realized I wasn’t going to make any significant movement on my own. Niko lent a hand and sent me soaring through the sky (and a few times directly into the tree beside me).

While playing on the swing, we decided to sample a few of the many settings found on the GoPro Hero 2. We took still shots, video footage, and used a unique feature that takes ten photos in a one second burst.

 My new GoPro Hero 2 takes its first adventure to Beer Can Island in Tampa

While reviewing all my footage from the day, I had originally come across a short bit filmed by Niko while we were splashing around in the shallow sea. It started off great, with Niko swooping the camera in and out of the water like a leaping dolphin as he snagged footage of our group meandering in the saltwater. Suddenly, the clip became a no-go as someone decided to pull their pants down while the camera was peeking underwater. I figured it would be inhumane to subject my readers to the pale sight of that soggy behind, so instead, enjoy this clip of me fooling around on the swing. Enjoy!

It ain’t too fancy, I’ll admit that much.

Stay tuned for way cooler clips, photos, and stories as I embark on a wild adventure this week in Sedona!

The foodie gods answer my edible prayers with Pho 7 and Latin Xpress in Tallahassee

Living in Denver introduced me to a lot of things, but the biggest culinary revolution I experienced was being exposed to the liquid paradise that is pho. A Vietnamese tradition, pho is arguably one of the best dishes of all time that combines broth and noodles. Returning to Tallahassee after indulging in the rich cultural offerings of Denver brought disdain to my tummy, until I happened upon a sign advertising for Pho 7.

I was instantly intrigued.

Niko and I vowed to try it out, but we weren’t fully committed or convinced until our foodie climbing friends Barbara and Andrew tested the waters. Their report on Pho 7? It was authentic, and it was delicious. Delighted by their positive feedback, I made a dinner date with some friends for the next day.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Pho 7 is their walls; they’re painted my favorite shade of marigold. The casual seating is reminiscent of an adult cafeteria, and I appreciated the no-frills layout of the restaurant – plus, each table is adorned with enormous bottles of sriracha and hoisin sauce, my favorites. It took our group a few minutes to survey the menu, and then we ordered a true feast.

20120409 103056 The foodie gods answer my edible prayers with Pho 7 and Latin Xpress in TallahasseeWhile my companions took their taste buds on an adventure with Vietnamese subs and meaty rice platters, I stuck with what I came here for: pho. I ordered a tofu pho, cheese and crab wontons, and vegetarian spring rolls.

Everything was amazing. 

The beefy pho broth was easily the best I have ever tasted. It was richer than any other broth I’ve tried, and offered the perfect balance of spices. My soup only came with one slice of lime, but the meaty pho hardly needed any fixings anyways. Our entire table was satisfied with their meals, and we all agreed to return soon.

 The foodie gods answer my edible prayers with Pho 7 and Latin Xpress in Tallahassee  The foodie gods answer my edible prayers with Pho 7 and Latin Xpress in Tallahassee

While chatting over our scrumptious Vietnamese grub, my buddy Juan mentioned the Latin Xpress eatery that sat at the opposite corner of the strip mall. I had heard good things about the joint, and my input peaked Juan’s interest – so we decided to pop in to “just check out the menu” after pigging out at Pho 7.

Fast-forward about an hour, and you’d find our little crew slouching in another cafeteria-style booth. This time, we weren’t surrounded by chopsticks and bean sprouts. Our table was littered with tiny mugs that were once filled with sweet, strong Cuban espresso shots. We drank ten total, unable to resist continually ordering more rounds.
20120409 103108 The foodie gods answer my edible prayers with Pho 7 and Latin Xpress in Tallahassee

Displeasing my already bursting belly, I was unable to shake the temptation of Latin Xpress’s surprisingly affordable menu. Cafecito shots were just 60 cents, guava and cheese pastelitos ran under $2.00 each, and a dry-erase addition to the menu hanging over the counter lured me in with mamey shakes for only $2.50.

My stomach aches just thinking about it.

Needless to say, the strip mall that I previously knew solely as the place where Planned Parenthood resides has now taken on a new identity. Within a single visit, it was reborn as my go-to destination for cheap, tasty eats with unique cultural flair.

Tallahassee, you never cease to amaze me with your hidden gems.

Announcing a bittersweet shift from snowy Colorado mountaintops to humid Floridian flatlands

If you haven’t figured it out by now, my life is a constantly evolving adventure. It’s taken me from the shores of the Atlantic to the rocky cliffs of the Pacific, from lazy living in Tallahassee to a spontaneous move out to Denver, and on more whimsical outings that I can remember.

And along my journeys,
there is always an element of constant change.

As with many of my announcements, this may not come as a shock to those who chat with me frequently, but may come as a surprise to many of my readers. It is with a heavy, bittersweet heart that I announce:

I’m leaving Colorado next week.

But I just got here. After a very short six months of living, exploring, and adventuring in and around Denver, Colorado, I am packing up my meager belongings and preparing to return to the southeast.

But I just got here! I roughed out the frigid winter months, braved my first snow season, and here I am, gearing up to ditch the Rockies right before the spring sets in. The gorgeous warm months in Colorado are part of the reason I moved out here, and now I’m leaving before it even begins. Sigh. Announcing a bittersweet shift from snowy Colorado mountaintops to humid Floridian flatlandsAs my lady friend Gina Bégin discovered during her own unexpected move, part of being a full-time adventurer is rolling with the punches – whether you feel particularly fond towards those punches or not. A combination of losing some freelance markets while LivingSocial ‘rethinks’ their business strategy, and coming upon a project in South Florida that I feel truly passionate about influenced my decision to pack up and head ‘home.’

These next few weeks will be an absolutely whirlwind for me. In two short days, eight of my climbing buddies from Tallahassee will be visiting for their spring break – which means a lot of climbing, and not a lot of time to prepare for moving. If I survive the week, Niko and I will be driving from Denver to Florida on March 9th. I’ll then spend a few weeks in Tallahassee preparing for the annual Save the South competition at Tally Rock Gym before finally trekking down to Miami to unload my carload of junk.

So what comes next?

After my frantic move across the country, I’ll be alternating between bouts of working in Miami and traveling around the southeast for climbing. I’ve already got an April ladies’ trip in the works; a week or so of camping and climbing in Tennessee and Georgia, followed by a ‘writer’s retreat’ in Chattanooga while shacking up at The Crash Pad. Other than that, I plan on spending the rest of the year training for climbing.

And naturally, a few cross-country road trips for conferences, outdoor expos, and generally adventuring are also on the agenda – but you’ll just have to stay tuned for those.

Send good travel vibes, I’m certainly going to need them!

Help save the future of the historical Matheson Hammock in Miami, Florida

My childhood was built on bike rides through mangroves, picnics beneath an old limestone fort, sandy sunning along a coast inlet, and boating excursions – all enjoyed at Matheson Hammock Park & Marina. One of the outdoor staples residents of ritzy South Florida, this slice of nature offers an escape from the surrounding mansions and 5 o’clock traffic jams along Old Cutler. For now.

The sanctutary (for humans and wildlife alike) at Matheson Hammock is gravely endangered.  Help save the future of the historical Matheson Hammock in Miami, Florida

It recently came to light that Miami-Dade County awarded a private company the rights to construct an enormous 5-story boat warehouse in the park – and the folks who cherish Matheson simply won’t have it. Obviously thinking with their calculators instead of their souls, the county selfishly allowed for a potentially disastrous edifice to be built.

Why is this boat warehouse such a horrible idea? Well aside from the giant eyesore that will forever change the skyline, this facility will have a monstrous impact on the community and park. The once peaceful destination will become crowded with traffic to and from the storage warehouse, and if you’ve ever taken a drive down Old Cutler at rush hour, you know how torturous congestion is on those roads. Not to mention the noise pollution, the potential for run-off and introducing harmful chemicals into a delicate ecosystem.

As a park enthusiast, I am outraged by the idea of my beautiful mangrove landscapes becoming defaced by a looming structure, and I am livid at the thought of my favorite raccoon family slurping on water tainted by the extra pollution introduced by the warehouse and extra flock of boats within. As a boater, I can’t even fathom the idea of the marina becoming any more crowded than it already is on any given sunny morning. I have to wonder if those in favor of this storage facility have ever been to the park on a warm Saturday – do they really think there is capacity for more people/boats?

So what can you do to save Matheson Hammock Park? Help save the future of the historical Matheson Hammock in Miami, Florida

First, and foremost, you can sign the petition against the boat warehouse. Then, you can share it with all your friends. While the City of Coral Gables is infamous for making any home renovation permits a nightmare, it’s also well-known for it’s excellent history of listening to the people. Unlike the county, the city is truly concerned for the welfare and well-being of its residents. Contact the City of Coral Gables, and let them know how you feel about the future of Matheson Hammock.

You can also ‘like’ “Save Our Matheson Hammock Park” on Facebook, so you can keep up with all the updates and happenings. Finally, you can watch and share this video, which provides an excellent view of the park, and illustrates why Matheson is such a vital lifeline for our community and environment:

Still not convinced? Check out this blog for ten photographic reasons to save Matheson Hammock.

Take a bite out of this traditional Cuban Feast

20111224 210005 Take a bite out of this traditional Cuban Feast20111224 205603 Take a bite out of this traditional Cuban Feast

How’s that for a Christmas Eve meal? Celebrating holidays with a bite of Cuban fare is my favorite family tradition. Tonight’s menu included my abuela’s famous black beans and rice, homemade pulled pork, fresh avocado salad, garlic yucca, sweet plantains coated with brown sugar, roasted chicken, and a platter of lime wedges.

Food like this will always keep me coming home for the holidays.

Happy Holidays from hot and humid Miami, Florida

Loyal readers, fellow bloggers, and travelers across the world – Happy Holidays to you and yours! I’m enjoying a little escape from the snowy streets of Denver, Colorado for a few weeks of sweet Floridian sunshine. My Christmas festivities involve a traditional Cuban noche buena feast, served beneath tall palm trees on my parents’ warm patio – I hope everyone is enjoying lots of warmth and family cheer where ever this holiday finds you.

 Happy Holidays from hot and humid Miami, Florida [Read more…]

Join me for a month-long trip down to sunny Florida and the southeast – if I can figure out how to pack…

After two cross-country climbing trips, one epic seven-week solo trip, and countless excursions around the country, you’d think I’d be a seasoned expert when it comes to packing my bags and gearing up for traveling – but this upcoming trip has me stumped. I’ve grown so accustomed to road tripping that the idea of fitting everything I need in a small suitcase and backpack is befuddling. Not to mention that this will be the first time I’m traveling via airplane in over two years.

In less than 24 hours, I’ll be boarding at plane at Denver International Airport to head south like a migrating goose escaping the cold. My first stop will be a brief layover in Atlanta, then I’ll hop another flight that will leave me in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The plan from there is to scoop drinks on the bay with my dad, then make the short drive home to Miami – to do lots of this:

 Join me for a month long trip down to sunny Florida and the southeast   if I can figure out how to pack...I’ll be spending the first ten days of my trip in my hometown of Miami, sipping cocktails while tanning by the pool, feasting on real Cuban cuisine, hiking through the Everglades, and catching up on all the sunshine I’ve been missing. After Christmas, Niko will be driving down from Tampa to spend a few nights in Miami before whisking me away to the panhandle. We’ll make a pitstop in Tampa for a night, then it’s off to Tallahassee for two weeks of hanging with hipsters – and copious amounts of time spent at Tally Rock Gym.

Somewhere in all that Floridian exploration, Niko and I hope to find time for a climbing trip somewhere in the southeast. Chattanooga, Alabama, Georgia, who knows.

Follow my travels in real time on Twitter @themorningfresh!
and stay tuned to The Morning Fresh for adventure updates, photos, and more. [Read more…]

Hermit crab parties, mason jar feasts, and kayaking across the bay in Pensacola

During my last brief stint in Tallahassee, I was convinced to extend my stay to witness the homecoming of two darling friends, Jeff and Ryan, who had spent their summer toiling away as river guides in Moab, Utah. I agreed, and naturally, my plans were thrown into the blender of life, which led me to meet them out in Pensacola for a few days of seaside adventuring.

The crew consisted of myself, Niko, Jeff, Ryan, and our lovely host, Dan. We all met Dan during our stay at the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab. A constant explorer traveling the world with permanently tanned skin and a rusty pick-up truck, Dan embodied everything the boys aspire to be. During our adventures together in Utah, which included a wild day of hiking through Arches National Park, Dan extended constant invitations for us to come visit him in Pensacola when we all finally returned to the state of sunshine. None of us ever expected those invitations to come to fruition, but a little luck and three spontaneous hours of driving brought the clan back together on the coast.

dsc 1359 Hermit crab parties, mason jar feasts, and kayaking across the bay in Pensacola

This trip’s highlight was the day that Jeff and Niko decided to attempt a five-mile open water trek across the bay. Jeff has an uncanny knack for acquiring free swag, and during his Moab escapades he stumbled upon two virtually free kayaks – that bastard. We loaded those bad boys onto the roof of my Pilot, and headed to the Gulf Islands National Seashore to take a dip in the bay and launch the kayaks out to sea.

dsc 1412 Hermit crab parties, mason jar feasts, and kayaking across the bay in Pensacola

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but neither of those kayaks were outfitted with skirts, and the bay waters weren’t exactly calm on this slightly overcast day. Nevertheless, the two adventurers set out from the sand with smiles plastered on their faces, and the remaining three of us retreated back to Dan’s abode on the opposite end of the bay to kill time down at the dock.

The 5 mile trek was supposed to take them about two and a half hours, but the gruesome twosome managed to extend their trip by at least double the time – and 5 extra miles. How did this happen, you ask? Well, first, those knuckleheads managed to get themselves caught in an afternoon sea storm that blew them way off course. The new direction in which they veered guided them towards unknown land, but they beached their kayaks anyways and journeyed onto shore. Upon receiving quizzical glances from this strange place’s inhabitants, they realized the boys realized they had managed to infiltrate a high-security Navy base. Typical.

All the while, Ryan and I were left to ponder their fates as we bode our time waiting on the dock. As the hours melted together, we found a fantastic way to kill the lull of the clock: hermit crab parties. The dirty sandbanks below the dock were laden with hermit crabs, and Rya and I managed to collect a hefty heap of living shells to attend our crustacean celebration. Piled all over each other, the crabs provided excellent entertainment as they scurried towards the end of the dock planks, and promptly plummeted back down to the safety of the sand.

dsc 1467 Hermit crab parties, mason jar feasts, and kayaking across the bay in Pensacola

After a few too many hours of waiting for Jeff and Niko to surface on the horizon, the weather began to take on a menacing tone, and Dan decided we should take his dinghy out into the bay to search for our kayakers. A couple hundred yards into the choppy water, we were forced to retreat as the small boat was tossed about in the looming storm. Dan suggested that it might be an appropriate time to call the Coast Guard, and you can bet I got a bit nervous at this point.

Dan unloaded Ryan, myself, and our cooler of snacks back onto the dock, and continued to search for the lost boys while I sat with Ryan to impatiently wait on the shore for an update. Eventually, the three of us were forced to retreat up the street to Dan’s home to prepare for a supper of curried chicken out of mason jar, and a continuation of the waiting game.

dsc 1323 Hermit crab parties, mason jar feasts, and kayaking across the bay in Pensacola

Let’s pause from our harrowing kayak adventure to take a moment to bask in the glory of Dan’s saucy hoard of mason jar meals. It was impressive and inspiring. As soon as I return from my big trip, I’m investing in a pressure cooker so I can whip up insane batches of food like this. The curry chicken we devoured for dinner was prepared over a year ago, and it  tasted like it was freshly made that day. Genius – but back to the boys.

After sitting on Dan’s front porch for a bit, I grew restless and dragged Ryan back to the dock with me to wait for Jeff and Niko. As divine timing would have it, we strolled up to the waterfront just as the two waterlogged kayakers beached on the shore. They were sun-beaten, raisin-handed, and pumped on the completion of their epic adventure.

dsc 1485 Hermit crab parties, mason jar feasts, and kayaking across the bay in Pensacola

We returned to Dan’s home a reunited foursome, and gorged ourselves on a spicy supper while Jeff and Niko regaled us with tales of bailing out their kayaks with broken plastic cups, losing sight of land during a sudden storm, and pioneering blindly onto a Navy base.

Just another day in the life, I suppose.

Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.

When reflecting on what I’ll miss about my fleeting time in Miami, spending time out on the boat is one of the biggest contenders. Propelling across the bay with nothing but the sun and the air and the salt affords for a true escape from the realities waiting at the dock. Our family boat, unofficially named the Rusty Bucket, is no sprawling yacht — just a cozy vessel for trips to the Upper Keys, and rides up the Miami River.

dsc 1209 Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.

On this particular excursion, I accompanied my parents on a day trip down to Key Largo for lunch at a local gem, called Alabama Jacks. This joint embodied everything that the Keys represent; it was dirty, salty, full of beer, and offered finger-lickin’ grub all afternoon long. The elder Boue’s were pumped on the idea of chowing down at Alabama Jacks, but I had never experienced it before, so I just sat back and enjoyed the ride down from Matheson Hammock in Miami.

dsc 1145 Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.

The restaurant sits perched along a bank of Card Sound — basically at the base of the Keys, to give perspective to anyone who has had the pleasure of taking the beautiful drive down through the islands. The wood planks surrounding the establishment are mismatched and sloppily painted; this place has boater dive bar written all over it. We docked the boat along the side of the restaurant, and took the best table at the house in the back corner overlooking the water.

dsc 1191 Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.

dsc 1150 Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.
We ordered a combo platter with fried Mahi fingers, piles of conch fritters, crispy crab cakes, french fries smothered in cheese, and homemade potato salad. Served in a messy heap of seafood glory, everything was absolutely delicious. I’m not the biggest fan of oysters, clams, or conch, but the fritters at Alabama Jacks were too outrageous to resist. The conch was perfectly breaded and had an addicting crunch as you munched away. Top it all off with a cold beer, and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.

dsc 1161 Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.
While I deeply enjoyed my down-home, no-frills experience at Alabama Jacks, I would highly recommend that any visit to the area be taken via watercraft. Whether you roll up in a mega yacht, humble fishing vessel, or even a seaworthy canoe, half of the overall vibe felt at this restaurant is fostered by interaction with the water you sit perched above while getting your fill of seafood and salty air. Driving down to load up on conch fritters would likewise be enjoyable, but traffic and pavement shadow in comparison to a seaside ride.

dsc 1180 Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.
On the way back to town, we encountered a pod of about six dolphins powering their way up the channel. We spent a few minutes chasing them around so I could get a good shot, and of course during the sole moment of perfectly exposed hind flukes from a dolphin just a few feet from the boat, I had put my camera in my lap to wipe the lens and missed the ideal opportunity. Here’s the next best shot:

dsc 1093 Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.

Sadly, it will be at least until the next warm season that I’ll have a chance to head out on the boat again. I’ll be leaving on a six week solo trip on September 1, and won’t be back in Miami until the winter – which means no boat for me. In the meantime, I’ll have to get my fill of fresh air up in the mountains.