The Local Sunshine

A native's perspective on living in Central Florida

All Jazzed Up

Just about any night of the week in Central Florida, you can find an abundance of neighborhood establishments hosting local musicians, who are more than willing to satisfy your melodious desires for the evening. If you are lucky, that establishment will also offer a tapas menu that will make your head spin, and a matching wine list to make it stop. If you’re even luckier, that menu will feature half-price tapas on the night you happen to venture in.

What better way to beat the heat on a Tuesday evening?

One sweltering July afternoon, adventurous friend H. and I were hanging around the Maitland area, and debating where to quench our thirst. After a quick deliberation, we decided to check out Jazz Tastings of Maitland (http://jazztastings.com).

For those unfamiliar with Maitland area, its located just off 17-92 at 164 Lake Avenue, near Lake Lily. It’s in the same plaza as the Copper Rocket (dive bar), tucked into the back half of the building. There is a cheery little sign that greets you at the front door:

Front entry Jazz Tastings of Maitland

Front entry Jazz Tastings of Maitland

The environment inside is shadowy, sleek and artful, with a brick wall housing a large mural of jazz artists showcasing their craft. There are small tables spread throughout the welcoming interior, and a stage to the left of the entrance, which was occupied by artist Sergei Kossenko (https://www.facebook.com/SergeiKossenkoMusic) on the night we happened in.

Mural

Mural

Jazz tastings menu

Jazz tastings menu

After checking out the menu, we ordered some champagne and the shrimp and grits, which were topped off with a sliver of andouille sausage. The sausage was so good, before we finished the grits we decided to order the individual serving. This was served sliced up individually, and swirled with a sweet apple bourbon glaze that made me want to lick the plate. Next time I go back, I would like to try the sweet potato bravas and the lamb lollipops.

Shrimp and frits with a sausage floater

Shrimp and frits with a sausage floater

From our vantage point at the bar, I noted that we were the one of three groups in the room, which is isn’t too unexpected for a small place on a Tuesday night. It felt like Kossenko was playing just for us, which made it seem more lively. Personally, I prefer an intimate setting and found the atmosphere charming. However, if you’re the kind of person who is looking to hear some jazz, eat some great food, and scope out U.C.F. undergrads scantily clad in sorority shirts, this probably isn’t going to be your new hangout. The website advises that there is a cover charge on the weekends, but if you are really a jazz fan or just looking to impress a date, you’ll be willing to drop the $5 to get in and enjoy the best place in town to hear this style of music. Now, lets see your jazz hands….

 

Pineapple Paradise

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Here in Central Florida, we have the advantage of being able to grow just about anything. A few years back, my beach friend J. told me that she had pineapples growing in her yard. My response went something like this:

WHAT!?!?! Pineapples????In your backyard????

How did I go my whole life and never know this vital bit of information? I felt like I had been shaken to the center of my very green core. It took me several times trying and failing to get it right, but I now have pineapples growing all over my backyard. We live in the Tropical South after all, why not impress your friends with a little taste of paradise at your doorstep.

Here is how you can start your own backyard pineapple paradise:

1. Go to the store and buy a pineapple that is whole, and ripe. I usually look for one with a large top, although that’s not necessarily a requirement.

Start off with one whole pineapple

2. If you have gardening gloves, feel free to put them on before you cut off the top. These things can be prickly, and cause skin irritation. However, if you are inpatient and lazy like me, you will probably just stab yourself with them as you carelessly grasp the thing by its points. Cut the top off like this:

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3. I usually like to trim the excess fruit off the bottom of the top. Notice how I cut as much as possible off the sides. After this step, I usually put the top in an out-of-the-way place, like the top of the fridge or a sunny window, to dry out for a few days.

Cutting off excess fruit

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4.  After the top has sufficiently dried out, I like to pull off about three layers of the bottom green spikes. This way, you get something of a point at the bottom of the top. It looks kind of like this:

Little spikes are sharp!

Peeling away bottom layers

5.  Take the top that you have, and plunge it into a small pot filled with a good quality soil. I like to buy whatever organic potting soil mix is at the garden center or Home Depot. Make sure to pat the dirt in firm around the sides. I usually use small pots, and then transfer to a larger pot after it gets roots. Here are two examples that I have going right now:

Tiny pot with saucer

Terracotta planter

6. Make sure you water these frequently, like every couple of days. For the first two or three weeks, I try to make sure the soil stays moist. After about a month, the tops will get roots. You can always pull them out, and check and see how they are doing:

Tiny white roots

7. After the roots have come in, you can move the pineapple elsewhere and watch it go. Here is one my mom planted in a big pot at her house, and it is about 2-3 feet tall. This is quite a bit larger than most of mine:

Giant pineapple top

8. You can always just plant them right in the ground. I have several friends who swear by it, but none of mine every grew that way. I like having it in the small pot first, because you can keep an eye on the root development then. You’ll also note that when it starts growing, larger leaves come out of the top center. It will take about 18 months-2 years for your pineapple to mature and deliver fruit, but in my mind, nothing says Central Florida living like having tropical plant growing at your door. Good luck!

 

Sunrail

Sunrail Station near Park Avenue

Sunrail Station near Park Avenue

Just when you thought your Central Florida workday commute couldn’t be any more miserable than it already is, the guard rails drop down and Sunrail whistles its way through.

Or not, depending on how efficiently the new high speed rail system is running that day.

When the state began talking about a commuter rail in Orlando several years back, I was excited about the prospect of what better transportation could do for the local economy. I was so excited that it spilled over on to my dinner conversation with Mr. Sunshine,the husband who contrary to his name, was not so enthusiastic about the rail. He thought it would be way more expensive than they were quoting, and would end up being a drag on the economy after the novelty of it wore off. He also thought that it was pointless to try and rush opening it, and thought that they should plan it out better.

I thought he was just being his cheery ole’ upbeat self, and blissfully ignored everything he was saying. Flash forward to now, and Sunrail’s Grand Opening back in May. I have been curiously sniffing around the stations and was looking forward to my first ride, which I finally went on the first week in June.

I convinced dear friend, H, to join me for a ride from the Winter Park station, located just off Park Avenue, to the downtown Orlando stop at Church Street. Although we could have rode for free last month before it officially opened, we decided to wait until now so that we could have the full ridership experience.

The ride itself was rough at times, and it took us nearly 3 hours to arrive to our destination (back to the place we started), but it was entertaining and we certainly felt wiser from the experience.

Waiting for delayed ride

Waiting for delayed ride

Here are some things that we learned:

  1. The train runs about every half hour for their early morning stops However, if you like to sleep in late on your days off (as we do), then be prepared. The mid-day service only comes through twice between about 11 and 4, so you’ll have to plan accordingly. Lucky for us, we were able to catch the 2:11pm train, which subsequently didn’t arrive until almost 2:45pm.
  2. The electronic ticket machines are somewhat irritating to use, and took us several minutes to figure out. The people waiting to buy their tickets behind us were not pleased.
  3. There are only 2 real stops with “places” to go at this point. Winter Park and the Church Street stop, which is still several blocks from any real places to go or things to do.
  4. The collected whole of drivers from Central Florida is still not ready for a high speed rail. For example, instead of waiting patiently behind the guard rails for the train to pass, they may decide to try and skirt on through, dodging to rails to the best of their ability. This may cause delays (of nearly an hour), as it did in our case.

    Driver ran through just before Sunrail came through

    Driver ran through just before Sunrail came through

  5. The staff of Sunrail entirely makes up for any technical, environmental, or civilian errors of Sunrail. They are pleasant, humorous, and accommodating, and will do their very best to make sure that your ride is enjoyable.

Our trip consisted of bad weather, a car running through the gates, and about a 2 hour delay. #sunfail. However, according to a passenger sitting next to us, who stated she rode every day, said this was the worst ride she had ever been on, and that it was not usually this bad.There is some work to be done, but its still in its infancy. The people who work for this company will go out of their way to get you where you are going, even if its a little bit late. With any luck, after they work out the kinks, this will become a valuable resource to the Central Florida community.

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