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Peanut Surprise on a Florida Highway

If, my friends, you have never had the pleasure of tasting a steaming, juicy, finger-licking spych popping boiled peanut, then you are missing out on something amazing. Sure, you're wondering if my choice of adjectives and slightly unsettling descriptors was correct.


To say that the boiled peanuts I had during my recent trip to Florida were the best thing I ate there would be 100% accurate. Did the consumption of three buffets in two days in any way cloud my stomach's judgment? Absolutely not. Was there a chance that the specific batch I had was sprinkled with a little crack? No, because I had two separate batches on separate days, and that would be very expensive.


My brother and I were on a highway, driving around in Florida before a performance we were about to attend. We'd been eating and enjoying exploring a never-touristed area of Florida when I noticed food-themed Burma-shave signs. They were for boiled peanuts, and those signs got my heart racing. I'd forgotten that aside from Miami, Key West, the theme parks, and a few other choice destinations, Florida was not a separate entity of senior citizens trying to forge their own colony, but part of the South. I'd had boiled peanuts once from a can, during a Southern cooking Food Network taping with the Lee brothers. The canned variety was good. Unexpectedly purple and wet, though tasty. I was overjoyed to realize that, here in Florida, I'd be able to taste them the way God intended: Freshly made, steaming, just out of the kettle, and sprinkled with a little bit of southern love. Boiling some old-fashioned goodness


We pulled into a small lot right off the highway, where a man had a bunch some steaming pots set up under a small tent. For my $3 I asked for a mix of regular and cajun peanuts, which he poured into a plastic Ziploc bag, then a brown paper bag. We were off.

I broke into those peanuts immediately, which isn't easy when you're driving and trying to break apart something that's still submerged in 180º water. Eventually I succeeded, and tasted the salty, spicy, extremely hot peanuts.


Once you start eating these things, you really can't stop. They're made by dumping "green," or ripe (but not yet dried) peanuts into boiling salt water or flavorings. It's a simple recipe, but one I feel I'd manage to mess up. Buying these gems on the side of the road, though? Quite a treat.


It truly made driving dangerous, because you're burning your fingers in the hot liquid, breaking open shells, and gnawing at the stuck contents/trying to dump the nutmeats into your mouth while keeping your eyes on the road. My brother agreed that they were delicious but urged me to not get him killed. When a friend joined the next day, we bought another batch of Cajun Spice only (even hotter and spicer this time around) and let him feed his new addiction. Also, the peanut boiler remembered me and said, “God bless you for coming back.” A greatful businessman? Definitely only in the south. Spicy hot goodness

What I'm trying to say is that if you're ever driving along and notice boiled peanuts being sold on the side of the road, do yourself a favor and stop to get a bag. Of all the foods I ate on that trip to Florida, none were as addictive or amazingly satisfying as these little morsels of salty goodness. Just do it.


Boiled peanuts:

Sold in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, north/central Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of other states. Looks for small tents or shacks set up on the side of random roads, and indulge.


The Deep-Fried Artichokes of Central California

            Deep-fried artichokes: Intriguing, yes? I simply had to try some while I was out camping up the West Coast. “Stop for deep-fried artichokes in Monterey or we’ll no longer be friends,” the note from an acquaintance said. With this modified death threat hanging over our heads, my friend and I drove through the bay area, the threat becoming more and more a likely reality as we left Monterey Bay behind. But behold, there was a sign on the side of the road! “Deep-fried artichokes-next right!” I shouted. We hooked a louie (translation: made a sharp turn at the last second) and got off at the appropriate exit.

            Though I hadn’t realized it, we’d been driving through the artichoke capital of the world. Castroville, CA is famous for their fresh artichokes (though I don’t imagine there’s a ton of competition), and north of Monterey may be the only place in the world to get deep-fried artichokes. We arrived at Pezzini Farms, walked up to the truck window, and ordered this dish that, just days before, I never knew existed.

            Our battered artichokes looked like, well, slim pieces of zeppole. Doesn’t all deep-fried stuff look and taste the same, anyway? These bits of greasiness were no different. Honestly, if I hadn’t known I was eating an artichoke, I absolutely never would have guessed. There was very little differentiation in the way of color, taste, or texture. They were fairly buttery and nicely chewy, but the only unique part about them was the garlic Dijon dipping sauce. Splitting a small basket of these critters gave me the feeling of having just eaten at a street fair. I really wanted to love these things, but they weren’t as different and amazing as I’d hoped. Next time I’ll give them another try, and I’m hoping for more artichoke and a batter that just brings out the flavor of the unusual goodness inside. And if they’re amazing someplace else, let me know and I’ll give it another whirl the next time I’m out there.


Blue Moon Ice Cream: It's a Bird! It's a Beer-Flavored Ice Cream! No, it's a Deliciously Indescribable, Light-Blue Ice Cream Flavor!

Blue moon is a mysterious flavor of ice cream that is almost exclusively available in the Midwest, and specifically in the Northeast/Central Midwest. Part of the allure of this sweet flavor is not the baby blue color, but the fact is that no one actually knows what’s in it! Proving it’s the stuff of much debate, I wandered across a description years ago: "The flavor apparently originated in or near Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1950s. Still only available... 

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I Really Am Nuts 4 Nuts  

Any NYC dweller or visitor is quite aware of the many nut stands that flank the sidewalks of Manhattan and the other boroughs. Often these stands have orange and white umbrellas with the caption, “Nuts 4 Nuts” on top. The vendors sell peanuts, almonds, cashews, macadamias, coconuts chunks, and mixes of nuts coated in a sugary, crunchy coating. What this coating is, exactly, no one really knows. Most vendors pour in some mystery oil and other such products, stir up a batch of nuts in a small copper pot, and let the lovely smell attract customers. Any...

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Don’t Make War, Make Whoopie Pies

Whoopie Pies (It’s a Maine thing). Ever had one? Those two chocolate cake half-domes filled with a body-stopping dose of sugary, marshmallow fluff whip? If you have, you know how amazing they are, and if you haven’t, once again, you’re missing out. Althought whoopie pies are synonymous with Mainers, they actually hail from Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Perhaps the Amish farmers had a surplus... 

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