Fort Drum: A Story, A Refuge, A Rest Area

6:57pm – Behind the Wheel of a Parked Car

There was no where to go.  No escape.  The Turnpike, my only way out, lay incapacitated.  I was trapped.  I was famished.  Frustrated and road-weary, the burning desire to return home only made the situation worse, yet gave me hope for what was to come.  I desperately needed the solace of my wife and my dog and there was no way to tell when the sweet relief of home would become a reality.  This place.  Fort Drum.  This would be my lone house of respite as the outside world lay in immovable gridlock.

20 Minutes Earlier – Florida Turnpike, Northbound

I had reached the end of my patience with the traveling public.  A day that began in Orlando at 5 am, was now verging on the 7 pm hour and the road home was becoming as volatile as my need for caffeine and sustenance.  Just then, in the distance, arose a sign.  With my tank low and traffic increasing, I knew I had to make my move.  My path was altered toward the Fort Drum Service Plaza.  Unknowingly, I had just taken a turn that would drastically alter my view of what a rest stop could be.

ft-drum.jpg

I went down to the crossroads,
Fell down on my knees.
I went down to the crossroads,
Fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy,
Save me if you please.
– Eric Clapton

6:43pm – Fort Drum Service Plaza

I entered the atrium and was taken with the openness and cleanliness of the establishment.  Even as I pondered the meaning of a sudden influx of patrons, many seating areas remained untaken, suggesting an overwhelming abundance of places to take a reprieve from the rigors of the Turnpike.  “Are those REAL plants?” I remarked to myself.  No matter.  Focus on the task at hand.  Food and caffeine.

Ft. Drum Pano
A virtual arboretum amongst the masses
Now emboldened by my decision to break from my journey forward, I pondered the options and settled on an unknown.  The Earl of Sandwich.  Risky to go with a food option not previously experienced, but c’mon.  The man invented the sandwich.  He must understand the finer points of an Italian Sub.

6:56pm – Fort Drum Service Plaza, Parking Lot

As I make my way to my resting chariot, sandwich and Coke in hand, the newfound jump in my step turns to a stumble as I begin to hear some scuttle amongst the travelers.  “Accident at Yeehaw Junction.  10-mile backup.  All lanes blocked.”  I begin to panic.  As I consult my trusty navigator (Google Maps), my fears are confirmed.  The way home is stained in blood red.  I gaze upon the Northbound route.  Gridlock with no end in sight.  As I sit behind the wheel, I realize I am trapped.  No reason to venture forth.  I begin to realize I must take my as yet un-eaten feast and return to the refuge of the Fort Drum Service Plaza.

6:59pm – Fort Drum Service Plaza, Hi-Top Table

Sandwich_Italian-minUnhappy and inconsolable, I take my seat for what I envision could stretch a fortnight.  I unwrap my toasted Italian Sub and turn my attention to it, hoping for something to lift my spirits.  Within two large, yet respectable bites, all the Salami, capicola, ham, mortadella, mozzarella, Roma tomato, Italian seasoning & Italian dressing did was bring a much needed smile to my face.  I look up to see the gate go down in front of The Earl of Sandwich and marvel at how fortunate I am to have procured this culinary delight.  You magnificent bastards.  Earl, your sandwich legacy is in good hands.

8:39pm – Fort Drum Service Plaza, Lounge?

After 90-ish minutes of high quality people watching and numerous texts exchanged between me and my wife, the sea of red on the map recedes and I decide to continue on with my journey home.  To ensure proper alertness, a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is a must before hitting the ol’ dusty trail.  I take my place in line and smile, knowing I’ll be on my way at any moment.

9:01pm – Fort Drum Service Plaza, Dunkin’ Donuts

I stand frustrated and still coffee-less as the 10-mile backup seems to have extended behind the counter.

Yelp Review: 3.5-stars

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THE Best Fish Tacos. Period.

Cinco de Mayo es muy circa.  Yeah, that’s right.  This is what 3 years of Spanish in high school got me.  Well…that, and “dos cervezas por favor”.  And one thing we can all pretty much agree upon.  Me gusta los tacos!

Those who know me well and have frequented The Shavens Tiki Bar for dinner and drinks (don’t search this on Google Maps…it’s what we call our lanai), this fish taco recipe is legendary.  I actually feel a little awkward posting this in conjunction with Cinco de Mayo as its roots come not from Mexico, but the little Hawaiian Island of Maui.  Specifically, the “Fresh Fish Tacos” from Leilani’s in Ka’anapali.

I discovered these culinary wonders while producing the Big Break Ka’anapali series for Golf Channel back in 2008.  Up ’till then, I had never had, nor entertained the idea of, consuming a fish taco.  I’m a New England guy.  There’s not a deep taco tradition up there.  Seafood, yes.  Tacos, not so much.  Your typical options were beef, chicken or pork (all good options!).  Now, I’m sure this has changed since my formative years, but growing up, the “fish taco” was a decidedly Cali creation.  And that was nothin’ but wicked namby pamby gaaaahbage.

Time, age and worldliness has a way of adjusting one’s outlook on things.  And let me tell ya, these tacos from Leilani’s were a life changer.  I mean, the whole crew would eat these things for 2 weeks straight and continue to crave ’em upon returning to the mainland.  Hell, when my wife and I went to Hawaii the year before we got married, we made a point to go to Leilani’s for the fish tacos.

Since Hawaii isn’t necessarily a readily-accessible destination for us common folk, I needed to figure out how to replicate this back in the good ol’ FLA.  Which I did.  Sorta.  I would come close, but they were never quite the same.  It was from these initial copycat efforts, though, where I began to sample with different flavor/ingredient combos until I came up with a taco that supplants Leilani’s as THE best fish tacos.  Period. Continue reading

Steak That’ll Pull You Out Of Hibernation

Grilling season is neigh, my friends.  Well, unless you’re like me and live in Florida.  Then, it’s usually never a bad time to fire up that ever enjoyable outdoor cooking apparatus.  Now, if you happen to be in the northern reaches of the country and are still hesitant to embrace the charcoal life because of that jerk-ass named Jack Frost, fear not…I do declare that the early evening, summertime scent of charred meat has nearly arrived.  Yes.  All those feels.  Soon to appear. Continue reading

Kale You Dig It?

Let’s face it – Kale sucks ass.  Sure, it’s classified as a “superfood” (whatever that means), it’s low in calories, high in fiber and has zero fat. One cup of kale has only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. It’s high in fiber. It’s filled with so many nutrients, vitamins, folate and magnesium that one serving turns you into Iron Man.  That IS how it works, right?  Superfood makes you a superhero?

So, knowing that kale is so good for us, why are we not all running around as members of The Avengers?  Something is amiss.  The precise reason is that kale, on its own, tastes like a house plant.  It totally sucks.  Why must everything that’s good for you taste so bad?!?!  I know.  It totally sucks.  Life is just one big conundrum.  Well guess what, my little damsel in distress?  Here I come to save the day… Continue reading

Chicken That’ll Change Your Life

Ok, so maybe this headline is a bit hyperbole.  But, for me, I just happened to indulge in this perfect piece of poultry at a time in my life that revisionist history would demonstrate as a major turning point.  It really is hard to believe that it’s been just over a year since I went to this little hole in the wall in Montego Bay three times over the course of four days.  It’s equally hard to believe that after 10-plus years in the TV business, this would be the last production shoot I would be a part of. Continue reading

Mashed Cauliflower: (almost) Better Than Taters

When you make the best mashed potatoes of all time, it’s tough to not eat that creamy, mashy, garlicky, deliciousness at every moment possible.  There’s only a few flaws in that formula (starches + fat + calories = continually expanding stretchy pants).  So, yeah.  There needs to be another way to get this fix without going bankrupt from having to regularly buy new clothes.  Thankfully, mashed cauliflower is coming to the rescue.  Sure, it most certainly isn’t mashed taters, but it’s really darn close.  This recipe is also quick, easy and HEALTHY. So, no time to wax poetic.  Let’s get mashing! Continue reading

This Soup Is Neither Italian, Nor A Wedding…Discuss

In keeping with my current winter recipe kick (I mean…it is winter, after all) here’s the latest one-pot wonder to keep you warm and satisfied, without expanding your waistline.  Italian Wedding Soup.  Now, this is one of those recipes that you can tweak about a hundred different ways.  Some call for chicken meatballs, some for pork and beef.  Some pre-cook said meatballs and some poach them in the broth itself.  Some don’t have carrots and some do.  Some say you should finish it with parmesan and some have you whisk raw eggs into the hot broth.  No matter which way you simmer it, in order for the soup to be considered of the “Italian Wedding” variety, it needs to have meatballs, spinach, and small pasta in a chicken broth.  So, here’s my take on it.  Just so you know, this recipe yields a whole lot o’ soup and it’s absolutely delicious. Continue reading

Chili, Because It’s…Well…Chilly

As my friends up in the Northeast can attest to…it’s winter.  The struggle is even oh so real down here in the FLA.  It got down in the mid 30’s last week (GASP!!!).  I know.  Cry me an ice cube tray of frozen tears.  Regardless if it’s a Class-5-Kill-Storm or a Florida-frost-warning-freakout, this is the time of year when all you really want at the top of your list of food choices are whether or not said meal will take the chill out of the bones.  Not too many would argue that there’s no better food to help in that endeavor than a good ol’ bowl of chili.  And in the interest of keeping our meal choices figure friendly this time of year, I’ve decided to go with a White Bean Chicken Chili recipe that will not only warm you up and satisfy your appetite, it won’t have you using those leftover gift cards from Christmas to buy larger clothes. Continue reading

Dad’s Kitchen: PIZZA!!!

My Dad’s pretty awesome.  So much so, that he’s willing to divulge his secrets for a KILLER pizza.  Not that I’m biased or anything, but his pizza is as good as anything you’ll ever eat.  He’s been making this homemade circle of deliciousness since my brother and I were kids, but the recipe for the dough has been a continual work in progress over the years.  It’s always been good, but like all the greats, he’s never satisfied until it’s perfect.  And now, at 64-years of age, he’s got a pizza dough recipe that’s pretty darn close to perfect.  Not bad for an Irishman from Levittown. Continue reading

(Legal) Magic Mushrooms

I’m with ya.  The holidays are done and the (over) indulging on just about everything has you feeling like a big fatty McFat fat.  I get it.  Drinking is fun…and sometimes needed during the holidays.  Eating rich, fatty, carb-loaded foods at all hours without regard for your own well-being is awesome.  But, of course, we know this type of behavior cannot sustain itself.  We have clothes we like to wear and these eating/drinking habits are making us angry at said clothes for not fitting anymore.  Aside from the fact that directing hate toward an inanimate object is just weird and deserving of medication, we can’t just throw money at a new wardrobe every year because we can’t stop our waistline from expanding faster than the universe (NERD ALERT!!!).  It’s time to do your body and your favorite pair of jeans a favor.  Cook up some low-cal deliciousness (yes, it’s possible) and I’m here to help. Continue reading