Day 216: Tour Tallahassee’s Christmas lights

25 Dec

To continue this recent theme of Christmas-related posts, I give you: Christmas lights tour! Each year the Tallahassee Democrat compiles a list of homes that have particularly good light displays. I will warn you that this list is self-submitted so some of the homes are better than others. In addition, my neighborhood of SouthWood is known for its holiday light displays, such as this one bedazzled and patriotic house that has blinking lights timed to music and generates a long line of cars the closer it gets to Christmas. The house is so popular the owners had to bring in an off-duty police officer to direct traffic. This year my husband and I decided to tackle the Democrat’s list of light displays. We started with a few on the list and found them pretty impressive – yards overtaken with jolly red-suited Santas and reindeer and Frostys, roofs and doorways coated in twinkling lights. But there were way too many homes on the list to hit every one. Eventually we headed toward Killearn Estates, Killearn Acres, Summerbrooke and Ox Bottom and simply drove around without a list to guide us. We saw a fair number of decent light displays in these suburban ‘hoods. Fair warning that it is easy to get lost in the northeast side of town if you don’t live there. Thankfully my husband is pretty Tallahassee savvy. We packed a few holiday snacks to take along with us, making the light tour all the more festive. I will categorize this one as “free,” though you will definitely burn through gas if you do it right. (The house in the photo is on 7th Ave. in Midtown.)

Address: All over Tallahassee – look in the Democrat for more specifics.

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Day 215: Shop at Market Days

5 Dec

Each year, a few weeks before Christmas, the North Florida Fairgrounds is transformed into a bustling shopping market of handmade wares, from candles and Christmas ornaments to fudge; Florida-esque art; and clothing. Called “Market Days,” this two-weekend shopping extravaganza is definitely the sort of thing worth visiting at least once. It is a little pricey – I had to pay $9 just for admission and parking. My honest impression of the wares for purchase is that they just aren’t my style or in my price range. I’m not into corny signs that hang in the kitchen, tacky Christmas sweaters or photographs/art of Florida landscapes. After wandering in and out of several “markets,” I wondered if I had just wasted $9. But then I stumbled upon a booth where sturdy wooden kitchen utensils were being sold. They were beautifully crafted and unlike anything you can buy at a Wal-Mart or Target. I bought a “mixing paddle” that I was assured would work really well with dough. Then I was lured into tasting fudge samples at another booth and bought $6 worth of different fudge flavors. I probably could have done more damage to my wallet if I had more cash with me. And that reminds me – definitely hit up the ATM and bring lots of cash. The food vendors at Market Days are also better than average. There is the typical festival food of corn dogs, french fries and kettle corn, but there was also a great smattering of local restaurants represented, including local sushi/Chinese food restaurant Azu. All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Address: North Florida Fairgrounds at 441 Paul Russell Road (entrance is off Monroe)

Day 214: Cut down your own Christmas tree

27 Nov

After writing a story in 850 Business Magazine about tree farms in Northwest Florida, I vowed to try my hand at cutting down my own Christmas tree. Luckily, there is one tree farm in Havana, a 20-minute drive from Tallahassee. My husband and I arrived on a Saturday evening about an hour before the farm closed for the day. Turning onto the farm from Highway 27, we glimpsed row upon row of Christmas trees in all shapes and sizes, a veritable factory of Christmas trees. After parking near a red Christmas store, we were encouraged to grab a golf cart, handsaw, and a long pole for measuring. We then weaved our way through the trees in search of our perfect match. We bounced around the farm eyeing Leyland Cypress trees that ranged from two feet to eight feet before settling on a Scotch Pine Tree that had been newly trimmed. I left the sawing to my husband and was surprised that it only took a minute or two to completely cut. It costs $6.50 a foot and coupled with some “tree food” we paid $55. There is also a charming Christmas store that sells ornaments and other Christmas knick-knacks. Having gotten trees from shopping center drab parking lots before, I definitely think cutting your own tree adds a little something extra to the tree-buying experience.

Address: 2867 Highway 27, Havana, Florida. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Christmas season.

Day 213: Gyros, Baklava and Opa!

18 Nov

Gyros, Spanakopita, and Baklava. Say that three times fast and you’ll get a sense of the tongue-tying treats featured at Tallahassee’s Greek Food Festival that was held at the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church on a perfect-weather Nov. 4 & 5. If nothing else, the food choices are heavily vowel-laden. Consider some of the features: Pastitsio, a ground beef and macaroni-style casserole; Souvlaki, marinated and skewered pork cubes; Tiropita, a feta-filled puff pastry; and Fassolakia, a.k.a. green beans and a roll. As I’ve come to expect from this culture-focused festival, there were the usual long-but-fast-moving lines of locals waiting for buttery and syrupy desserts, Greek wines and beers, and spiced Greek fries. This year, I arrived with just my teen-aged daughter. I left a few calories heavier. We shared two $3 baklava variations, and I also gobbled down in a few quick seconds a $7 gyro as she stared at me in disgust of my manly appetite.   It took us only a few minutes to mill through a few small artisan tents and we enjoyed our pastries watching young costumed dancers on a small stage. We’re eager to return for more of the same genuine Greek hospitality that’s made this festival a Tallahassee tradition. Opa!
— Mark Hollis

LOCATION: 1645 Phillips Road

Day 212: Crack open a stone crab at St. Mark’s

6 Nov

Every year in October, the small town of St. Marks hosts the Stone Crab Festival. We have noted St. Mark’s popularity before as a place to eat fresh seafood and gaze at the St. Mark’s River. The Stone Crab Festival puts on display the rustic atmosphere and country charm that you can pretty much almost always find at this tiny hamlet. Most definitely, it features all the typical North Florida festival wares – tents filled with candles, soaps, knick-knacks and FSU memorabilia. But it’s really great for some very entertaining people watching. We saw long-haired Harley riders, young moms toting babies on their hips, and some folks wearing fashions that I thought had disappeared 20 years ago. Guess we were wrong. No matter what, if you love seafood, this is the festival for you. Besides stone crab, you can get blue crab, boiled shrimp, oysters and more. It seemed that most people chose to purchase buckets or plates of stone crab, and to my surprise, they spent a good bit of time whacking at the crabs with blocks of wood to crack open the tough shell. The activities produced quite a cacophony: hammer-like bangs that sounded like a house under construction. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much more to see or do beyond the stone crab. Our travel time there and back from Tallahassee was longer than our stay. I think if you had kids to entertain, you might stay longer given that there were stands with cotton candy, sno cones and other kid-friendly entertainment, such as moon bounces.

Address: Downtown St. Mark’s

Day 211: Eat and laugh at Bird’s Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack

22 Oct

This week was my first stop at Bird’s Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack, which sits in a rustic space near the Greyhound station in downtown Tallahassee. It was Wednesday night — Comedy Night! I chuckled, a few times. But frankly, the comedians weren’t quite ready for prime time and my table of friends was more interested in our own conversations than what the stand-up rookies had to say. We were a little rude, I’m sure. But I’ll be back – and probably again on a Wednesday night because the food was good, the price wasn’t bad, and the entertainment was worthy considering that there wasn’t a cover charge. I ordered a dozen steamed oysters, and they were pretty tasty and nicely sized. Still hungry later, I shamed myself and took in a burger. It’s a build-your-own burger-the-way-you-like-it kinda place. At request, mine came piled high with a plain treatment of lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion, along with some fries. The walls at Bird’s are covered in pictures, posters, album covers and signs, and the bar looked to be a restive place to hang out with a few TV screens nearby. Some nights there’s karaoke. Other nights they have bands. So don’t be fooled by the name, Bird’s is far more than an oyster shack. Beware that the menu is limited though it’s slightly broader than just seafood. And this isn’t a shack. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, and obviously on the right nights, a fun-filled group of patrons and friendly staff. –Mark Hollis

Address: 325 N. Bronough Street

Day 210: Go pumpkin shopping at the Pumpkin Patch

16 Oct

A longtime Tallahassee tradition, each fall the yard of the Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church is transformed into a pumpkin patch on steroids. Situated at the busy corner of Mahan and Capital Circle, the church takes advantage of this prime location to transform its lot every October into a pumpkin haven. There are pumpkins of all colors, shapes and sizes splayed out on the church’s grassy yard. Naturally, it is popular with families that have young children. Kids really delight in picking out a pumpkin to take home and carve or paint. The church has wisely set up several photo-worthy spots, the most popular being sitting on some bales of hay underneath the church’s sign surrounded by pumpkins. One of the neat things about this pumpkin patch is its anti-capitalist bent. The church does not provide any sales staff and relies upon the honor system for payment. You pay by size, so the bigger the pumpkin the more money you owe. I paid $10 for my tiny mini-pumpkin and medium-sized one that I brought home to carve. Don’t let October go by without a visit to the patch.

Address: Corner of Mahan and Capital Circle