Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fort Walton Beach post

We are in Florida.  I love Florida.  My spouse, who graduated from high school in Jacksonville after having moved there his junior year, is less fond of it, but I've never lived here, just borrowed it as the location of some of the best vacations of my life. Every other year, my younger sister--who is so good at organizing people that she could be an army general with absolutely no transition and they would eat well, too-- finds us a condo or a house in the Destin area, and we descend en masse.  My mom, my older sister and her spouse and six kids (oldest is 12), me and my comparatively small crew, and my younger sister and her spouse and four kids--nineteen of us altogether.  This year we have an extra girlfriend courtesy of my 18-year-old nephew, and we're minus my oldest niece, but otherwise it is the usual suspects.  We have a blast.  We are in Fort Walton Beach this time, which I actually like better-- slightly less expensive, slightly less developed, and considerably less crowded, even if you do have to drive 20 minutes to get to the movie theater (and for the record, we went to Tangled the first night and all of us, even the dads, enjoyed it thoroughly). 

One of my favorite things is our proximity to the naval base.  I have a lifelong fascination with military aircraft.  Not as obsessive as some of the guys I know who know model numbers and size and how much they can carry, etc etc etc, but just a general fascination.  About six or seven years ago, the Blue Angels came to our small town and I spent four days hanging out at the airport and watching them map out their show.  It was so amazing.  Our neighborhood is slightly elevated from the surrounding area, and we are five-ish miles from the airport, so when they flew by our house, we could sometimes see the guys in the cockpit--one even spotted us and waved.  I pulled over to the side of the road to watch so many times that my son, who was about six at the time and should have been equally fascinated, started getting bored.  "Mom, we watched them yesterday.  Could we just go?"

So when we were here at the beach four years ago, we got to watch the Angels practice every morning at about 9 a.m.  It was great.  But for some reason it hasn't happened the last two times we've been here, which is disappointing.  But there is still an odd assortment of helicopters, fighter jets, and darkly painted fat-bellied planes that fly so low and slow that you can't figure out how in the world they are staying aloft.  So that is one of the cool things.

And then there are the birds.  Mostly gulls, of course, but also pelicans.  I told you I don't like nature writing, so I will not wax eloquent.  But I love watching them. 

And the waves.  It's the Gulf, so they're not spectacular--in fact, when it's still, it's practically like a bathtub out there.  But still they are cool.  The water is so perfectly clear, and it's the light green color of that recycled Mexican glass.  Sandwiched between blue blue sky and white white sand, you can just sit and be mesmerized all day long.

But, lest you feel jealous, I will add that the temperatures were in the 40s the first day, and up to the 50s the last few days but with a stiff breeze that still makes it uncomfortable to be outside unless you are well-jacketed.  Doesn't matter to us, since back at home they've received another 6 inches of snow in our absence and the temperature hasn't come above the mid-twenties, but the rest of the fam, who are from Texas and Louisiana, are bundled and scarved and hatted and still chilly.

The condos have the usual haphazardly stocked kitchens, make cooking a challenge, but one that we seem to have no problem conquering.  The food has been great--my Louisiana sister made gumbo Sunday, the next night we had a smoked turkey.  My contribution last night was based on a Rachel Ray recipe I found in the random collection of magazines that are always hanging out in rental condos.  It's modified since we didn't have many of the ingredients, but it was surprisingly good, so I'm passing it along.  First time ever (I think) for a recipe in this blog.  Nell and I had to make do with an 11" skillet and a 6 qt pot, but it still only took about 40 minutes to put together.  I'm giving you the feed-a-crowd version but you could halve it easily.  Since we have 5 or 6 little ones who hardly eat a thing, realistically this serves 10-12.

Fort Walton Beach Pasta
2 lbs penne pasta (I cooked 3 lbs and it was too much)
1 onion, chopped
2 fat cloves garlic (or 4 skinny ones)
2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 lb mild Italian sausage (remove casings)
1 t oregano
1/2 t cinnamon (I didn't measure this or the red pepper, so "to taste")
1/2 t red pepper
1/2 C chopped kalamata olives
1 C water or white wine
2 C whole milk
2 small cans tomato paste
2 cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes (well drained)
8 oz feta, crumbled

Soften onions in oil--six or seven minutes.  Turn down heat and add garlic, saute for about a minute, then add beef and sausage, cook until meat is no longer pink.  Drain excess grease.  Add spices, olives, water, milk, tomatoes and paste.  Keep at a bare simmer for about 15-20 minutes while you cook the pasta, heat up some garlic bread and open a couple of bag salads.  Stir about half of the feta into the sauce right before serving, and pass the rest as a topping.


  1. I couldn't find a place to say this in the post, but for the record I will just say, WISH YOU WERE HERE, CHEERY-O. :-)

  2. First of all, I've never actually had a vacation, so this is way cool. How lucky you guys are, and how wonderful to have all that family around. Seriously, way cool.
    You had me at ".....Beach Post."
    Thanks for sharing this, and the recipe (which I am printing), we always need suggestions.

  3. You've never had a vacation? Oh, dear. OK, someday I'm taking you with me.

    Just in case somebody wants to see the original Rachel Ray recipe, it is here.