Taco Traveler: The Black Bean, Hollywood, Florida

The newest installment of the Taco Traveler comes from Robert, aka Mr. Taco Traveler, while he is on the road in Florida.

This installment of the Taco Traveler is a journey away from the beloved Tex Mex cuisine into the parallel culture and food universe of Caribbean fare. Tonight I visited The Black Bean Restaurant in Hollywood Florida, on State Highway 7 just a few miles south of the Fort Lauderdale Airport.

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Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale, Florida is an area frequented by tourists and known for fancy dining and extravagant cuisine. While visiting on vacation or for business, most folks head over to Las Olas for a fancy meal or A1A for beach side dining. There are many restaurant options and cuisines represented in either of these locations, but often at a high cost. When I travel, I like to stay away from areas frequented by tourists and find unique culinary experiences savored by the locals. Tonight’s meal was just that – a local experience of delicious and authentic Cuban food.

Cuban cuisine exists at the crossroads of Spanish colonization, African slave heritage, and Caribbean flavors. It is also heavily influenced by the politics of the Cuban Revolution and the subsequent break in relations with the United States. The result is a delicious meld of rice and beans, indigenous fruits like plantains and mangoes, and slow cooked pork or beef. Cumin, peppers, onion, and bay flavors are strong. Preparations are simple and focus on making the most of the available ingredients.

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The Black Bean Restaurant delivered deliciously tonight on a very traditional Cuban meal – Ropa Vieja. This savory dish of slow cooked shredded flank steak in a rich tomato and pepper sauce served with a side of white rice and traditional black beans. The meal blended the very best elements of Cuban cooking producing a delicious meal that was very rich in flavor. The black beans deserve a special mention as an extremely flavorful part of the meal. In each bite you could taste the cumin and the bay in a creamy texture. Mixed with the rice, the black beans were heavenly.

The Black Bean is not pretentious, it’s just good local Cuban cuisine. There are no white linen table cloths and the wait staff are genuine and friendly. The decor is functional, if a bit dated, but this outing was about the food, not the trappings of the restaurant. Eight American and Caribbean beers are available in bottles to accompany your meal. Meals are very affordable at The Black Bean from $8-$20 per person. When business or pleasure brings you to South Florida, I recommend you give The Black Bean a try. You will enjoy the experience, the culture, and the food of Cuba!

A very delicious three tacos out of five.

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Spring Cleaning Day 3 – or not

So this is the third day of spring cleaning with SimpleMom. It is the second day of living room cleaning. For me, it will be the first day I go to work in an office in about 14 months. No worries, it’s not a 9 to 5 job in a cube farm or anything… it’s a part time writing gig in a creative online media joint and I’ll be going in one day a week to work there, have meetings, etc. I might do some cleaning in the evening, but for the most part i will be focusing on “going to the office.” I’m actually kind of excited about it. So, instead of clutter, let’s look at the garden.

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Look at that beautiful cucumber flower. I am hoping I can grow enough pickling cucumbers to actually do some nice pickling, well, at least one nice batch. We have gotten so much rain this week I was worried that the garden might get a little over saturated but it looks like it is actually thriving. The fact that it is not yet regularly topping 80 degrees is pretty out of the ordinary and due to the rain we have hardly had to water the garden for TWO WEEKS! Craziness. The peas are going gangbusters and getting tall and flowering, tomatoes, cantaloupes, squash, cukes, and pepper are all flowering. We’re eating lettuce from the garden almost every night in a salad. There are three tomato plants with little green tomatoes growing and my second batch of potatoes (planted in straw in a chicken wire tube) are sprouting. It’s all looking really good.

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The Spring Cleaning Party has been really fun. I’ve been trying to hit most of the pople that are posting about it and reading up what they are doing, looking at before and after pictures and leaving comments. It’s interesting to see other people’s organizing ideas, see that my house isn’t really the messiest place ever (it’s just normal) and read about some of the revelations people are having. I’m really glad i decided to participate. I think Robert is enjoying it too. He, of course, likes the clean house, but he’s also helping out and making an effort to purge some of his stuff too since I am making a real effort to go through my stuff. I hope being at work most of the day doesn’t derail the Spring Cleaning Party at our house, I won’t actually be behind but I have a lot going on Thursday and Friday as well. Not to mention I have some sewing projects I’d like to finish up so I can meet some deadlines. We’ll see I guess.

And here’s one cute puppy to start your day.

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Spring Cleaning, Day 2 – The Living Room

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Day 2 of the Spring Cleaning Party focuses on the living room, family room or wherever the family spends the majority of their time. Now, honestly, that might be my office but I’m saving that monumental task for the day everyone else tackles kids rooms (which we don’t have). Daisy woke me up at about 6:45 begging to go outside – even though Robert was in his office wondering why she hadn’t wanted to go out yet. I took her out, came back inside and considered staying awake and getting started. But, I decided a little more sleep might not hurt. 😉

I got up, made coffee and started pulling everything out of the living room. I know for some families this is going to be a huge undertaking. Luckily, our living room is pretty sparse so it wasn’t awful. There are no bookshelves, which helped. All my before pictures look pretty clean due to the clean sweep on Day 1 but I did get into all the drawers and sort things out.

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This is all the stuff that came out of the living room. The coffee table is a big rectangle with a drawer that pulls out from both sides. The end tables both have drawers and then the entertainment center had stuff in it too. That white laundry basket is completely full of DVDs. It covered the dining room table but it wasn’t packed init was definitely doable in one day for me.

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This is my before picture which I’m sure will annoy some of you since it looks completely clean. I’m telling you, before we decluttered, that coffee table was covered in magazines, DVDs, Wii stuff, books and more. The clean sweep did wonders for my house. This view will be important later though, I promise.

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I found these big piles of magazines in the coffee table drawer. They obviously got shoved in there several times in an effort to “clean up” before company came over. Unfortunately they were mostly all mine too. What can I say. I’m a writer. I like to read… wait til you see the bookshelf in my office. It’s scary!

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I kept two cooking magazines to go through and pull out recipes for the recipe file, a few that I haven’t read that will go on the to be read pile (and then to the recycling bin when they are done) and then, I went through a lot of Texas highways and Birds and Blooms my Grandma had given me and pulled out the full page photo pages. I use the pages to make envelopes for the handmade cards I make. I had been hanging on to the magazines for that reason. It is a much smaller pile now that I pulled those pages, and put them in a folder with my craft stuff. All the other magazines went into the recycling.

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We had some rather unfortunate puppy accident stains on the carpet. (Robert is going to be unhappy if he knows I posted this one – just keeping it real!) I used the heavy duty carpet cleaner recipe from the SimpleMom eBook. Whoa.

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That was after letting it sit on the stain for several hours (salt, vinegar and borax). Several hours after letting it sit and then vacuuming I can see the outline of the stain again though, so it may need another treatment or two to really get it all out, I’m not sure. I need to go buy a gallon of vinegar before I do any more treatments though since I’m out.

All in all, the living room is good. Things are organized, purged a little and it feels calm and clean. Oh, and I cleaned the windows which hasn’t been done in at least 2 years. They look so much better. Wow! And if you need to clean your screens?

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Put them in the shower and spray them down. It worked really well for me! The only thing that is left to be done is for Robert to go through the huge pile of VHS tapes. I am going to ask him to try and contain it to the wooden box with the duck on it. So they are put away and out of the way since it won’t be something we would use very much if at all. Most of them are EMS and Firefighter training stuff so I am just asking him to hopefully pare down some. So, ready for the after shot?

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I rearranged the furniture too. The couch wasn’t working where it was so it needed it. And even though there were only two magazines and one book that were ready for the coffee table, I couldn’t bring myself to put them out there. It looked too nice all clean and clear. I also worked on integrating some of our knick knacks on the mantle. I have Jim Shore angels, Robert has ducks. There were ducks in the guest room, ducks in one bathroom and ducks in the living room. I brought all the ducks into the living room. Two on the mantle, two on each end table. If I ask him if he wants to keep the ducks, he will automatically assume that I don’t like them, so I am working on figuring out a way to ask the right way. Plus, I don’t want everything to be totally minimalist.What do you think about the angels and ducks together?

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In case you’re wondering, the fireplace is directly behind the couch. There is no good way to arrange the living room it seems. One wall is the fireplace, one wall has three windows, one wall had french doors into Robert’s office and the entryway. The only blank wall has the TV on it. To face the TV, you have to have your back to the fireplace. Someday we hope to remodel the garage into a media room and have a formal living room which will fix it, but until then, we just kind of ignore the fireplace.

I’m a day ahead on this since I started on Sunday. I spent, I think, three hours in the morning and about two hours in the evening to get it all done. I went to my new office for a few hours in the middle and had dinner, called my Mom (she thought the Spring Cleaning Party sounded good but needed to know what an eBook was) and played with the dog a bit. The living room is supposed to be Days 2 and 3 but obviously, for me it was only Day 2. Tomorrow I need to spend some time working (I work from home) and I will either tackle my craft area in the dining room or do one section of my home office. I think my office will take two full days so I will be breaking it up here and there throughout my spring cleaning.

Ready for a puppy picture? Daisy definitely wanted to be outside playing today instead of inside where the mean old vacuum cleaner was. She hates the vacuum, we’re not sure why. She doesn’t mind the blender or anything else loud.

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Taco Traveler, Los Mariachis, Gainesville, Texas

A quick trip into downtown Gainseville became extremely worth it with lunch at Los Mariachis. Unassuming from the outside, inside the place has a fiesta flair in decorations without being gaudy or over the top.

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Located at 319 N. Commerce Street in Gainesville, the comfortable restaurant offers delicious Tex-Mex food at reasonable prices. Many of the dishes featured slow cooked, marinated meats that were full of flavor and authenticity.

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The Tacos al Carbon with spiced, marinated beef with a subtle smokey flavor were very tasty. I expected them to be good but I was surprised at just how good they were. The chips and salsa, refried beans and rice were all average but the beer was cold and the taco fillings were right on so it was definitely a good lunch option.

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Mr. Taco Traveler had some really tasty marinated chicken that he was not too keen on sharing so I can’t really describe it. The small bite I did have was excellent – flavorful and smokey.

If you’re in Gainseville, please stop by Los Mariachis. It is a strong 3.5 tacos out of 5. The main dishes taste like they are carefully thought out and prepared from family recipes. The sides unfortunately, do not. It is still worth a trip though.

Spring Cleaning, Day 1

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I decided to join the Spring Cleaning Party, hosted by SimpleMom and I can already say, I’m loving it! I purchased the eBook so I can more easily prepare each evening for the next day’s tasks and also have the time/ability to give Robert a head’s up of what will be going on. Day One is really simple. You have to go through your house two times. The first time, you pick up trash (and in our case, recycling galore) and the second time you make quick decisions on some of the little clutter-y stuff that visible. I actually decided to start a day early so that Robert would be available to help go through some of that clutter-y stuff that belongs to him instead of presenting him with a big basket of stuff to go through at the end of the day. Also (yay!) I’m starting a part time job today so I wanted to have a jump on things. So, the details. We worked on this on and off all day long. We stopped occasionally to watch TV, eat lunch, work on dinner prep and we even stopped to take an hour long nap because neither of us went to bed at a decent time last night. So, it could be done in a few hours I think. We have decided from the start that we are each responsible for our own home offices, so those will be done in bits and pieces throughout the week. And the guest room is not being touched at the moment because it has the emergency preparedness kit spread out all over. We have ordered some things to add to the kit so we don’t want to pack it all up, put it away, only to have to bring it back out in two days to reorganize it. So, those few rooms, we didn’t touch too much so far.

I did not take tons of “before” pictures because honestly, I was pretty embarrassed by the state of my house. Here is one of my desk in my office before I did anything to it. Imagine a similar state on oh, pretty much every horizontal surface in our house. I’m not even kidding! I meant to take one of the dining room table but it was almost done before I remembered!

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That is the area just to the right of my keyboard and such on the desk. It was obviously getting very disorganized. The coffee table in the living room was like this, the dining room table, Robert’s desk, portions of the kitchen counters. It was really really bad, to the point where I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by it and not really having a good plan on how to start. That’s why I bought the eBook. At first I thought, well that’s kind of silly, like I can’t figure out how to clean the house. Well, I found out by having it, it gives me a place to start and some clear instructions on what to do. I’m sure as I go along I’ll adapt lots of things and tweak things, but the thing that really helped me was just having a place to start. Want to see my desk later?

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It’s by no means perfect, I still need to find a place for some of those notepads but it’s about 99 times more calming and stress free to look at, don’t you think? And ALL of the rooms (except the guest bedroom) had a similar treatment. That’s one tiny space in my house but my whole house is like this. It feels really good just to sit and look around. I feel calm, I feel happy and wow, do I feel energized. I am completely shocked by the feeling too. I knew the clutter was bugging me but I had no idea how much. I am so glad I decided to do this. Robert agrees. It just feels better in our house. There is still dog hair on the sofa and a stack of books in the hallway that I need to sort through but overall the house just feels more calm. It’s wonderful. I’m totally psyched to do the rest of the job now. And check this out.. we had 2 bags of trash, just regular kitchen trash bag sized and a TON of recycling.

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We are a magnet for paper and cardboard it seems. Before I broke all the boxes down, they were in a stack taller than me! The best part is that we already ran them down to the drop off bin so even the recycling bins are empty. Well, except for the celebratory beers we had with dinner! Day One was a huge success. Did anyone else feel so completely happy once it was done? Maybe it is from the sheer amount of clutter/paper/stuff we had allowed to build up around us but it has really been motivating to get each room cleared out.

And now, to end with a puppy picture.  Daisy likes to run through the hose when I am watering the garden. She was just a little soaked here!

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First Camping Trip 2009

We finally took the camper out last weekend. And it has taken me a week to share it. I know. Craziness. The plan was to camp somewhere near Gainesville, Texas since we wanted to go to Lavender Ridge Farm and pick strawberries on Saturday. All of the Texas State Parks we called were already booked (this is a problem we have a lot). So, we ended up going up to Lake Murray State Park in Marietta, Oklahoma which was about 45 minutes further north of Gainseville. They have something like 400 sites so they usually have plenty of room. I took a laid back approach to packing the camper. Something like “Hmmm, I see sheets and pillows and blankets. Here’s the food. Ok, if it’s not in here we don’t need it that much for just two nights!” It really reduced my stress level and, it actually worked. We had everything we needed with no problems.

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We really enjoyed the state park. It was a nice, level site, easy to get the camper into and only $18 per night. Daisy did wonderfully and even when we let her off leash at the camp site she stayed relatively close to us and didn’t wander off. I think we made it in around 8pm on Friday night. Saturday morning we headed up to Gainseville to pick some strawberries. Unfortunately there were not all that many to pick and we only ended up with about a third of a bucket full. Enough for one round of shortcake. Well, better than nothing and we did have a nice time so it wasn’t a loss or anything.

We headed into downtown Gainseville after that. They have a nice square, similar to what we have at home. There are lots of cute little shops and restaruants. We put Daisy on the leash and she and Robert walked and window shopped while I browsed inside the stores. I didn’t buy much. I found a blown glass firetruck Christmas ornament so I had to get it. We have several fire fighters, fire helmets and even fire boots, but no firetrucks so obviously it needed to come home with us! The other place I had to do a little shopping was Pass Time Fabrics, a quilt shop. I found a few cute little bits of fabric in the clearance area, a Texas print I’ve been looking for and the most tiny English Paper Piecing hexagons. They are extremely cute and very tiny. Awesome!

A little trail near our campsite

A little trail near our campsite

After our wanderings we went back to the campground to just relax. Robert needed some serious decompression time and he got it so that was very very good. We took Daisy on a little bit of a hike down to the lake, which she was scared of (what kind of Lab is scared of water?!) and Robert made some delicious chicken and rice in the dutch oven for dinner. We went to bed early and slept late both days – Robert because he was worn out and me, well, I’m a champion sleeper. I could sleep 10 hours every night with no problem and feel pretty good about it!

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It was the inagural trip for the camping quilt I made on my quilting retreat in Indiana. It fit the bed really well, looks good in the camper and was nice and warm and snuggly. It’s also pretty sturdy which is good. Since the best place for Daisy to be out of the way in the camper is for her to lay on the bed, whatever blanket we use gets covered in dog hair. I wanted something I could wash after most of the trips without a problem. The quilt is simply squares of denim and flannel but on the denim squares I am sewing patches that we have gotten from places we have camped or visited on camping trips. The patches are inexpensive souvenirs and the blanket is useful in the camper so it is a nice way to combine functionality with some sentimentality. We had a great weekend and when we came home the garden was looking great so that was even better. I’ll write more about the garden this week because it is really going to town.

Here’s your puppy picture for the day.The focus is less than perfect, but this is Daisy’s little spot in the camper. And she’s wearing her red traveling dress (her harness). Her travel bowls are Fiesta, spoiled dog!

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So much to say, so little time

I’ll be posting lots of various updates this and two Taco Traveler installments. There is a lot to say. But for now, I just want to say that tomorrow, we’re starting this
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