March 17, 2009

Napping in Venice, FL {Naptime on the Road}

When I travel it is not a glamorous affair. There are no private jets, personal stewardesses or footmen to trot behind me with trunks of long swishy gowns. Instead, like the majority of us, I am forced to experience airport hell, silently cursing my way through terminals, each and every time I want to leave the northeast. At this point, though a luxurious private jet sounds wonderful, I would happily settle for a helpful flight attendant and on-time flight. Why do I feel like even this is asking too much? There is simply no doubt that public air travel with a toddler is nobody’s idea of fun, especially mine. I can’t stand the fact that they always test my daughter’s shoes for “flammable substances” as if they are miniature Robeez bombs, and it drives me insane that we aren’t allowed to stand up in the aisles when I need to get a cranky toddler to sleep. By the end of each flight, when I am waiting for inevitably “lost” luggage and car seats, I often question why exactly I decided to put myself through that experience in the first place. However, I get my answer when I finally leave the vicinity of the airport and catch my first glimpse of palm trees. It is then that I remember the initial purpose of my trip: vacation.

Last week I braved the burden of air travel, unhelpful stewardesses and all, and had the good fortune of spending seven days in Venice, Florida with my husband, daughter, and in-law’s (who we were visiting). Venice may not be a devastatingly fabulous vacation locale like, say, St. Barth’s or Ibiza, but it was perfect for us. The change of scenery did wonders for my state of mind, and, it seems, my daughter’s and husband’s as well. After a week we all left feeling refreshed and revitalized, most likely because the sun had adequately raised our winter-depleted vitamin D levels. It was our first time visiting Venice and we fell in love with it for many reasons, not the least of which was that the thermometer looked like this for our entire stay:

It is a standard travel rule of mine that vacation is not a time for dieting and is, in fact, an excuse to eat with abandon. I believe that new destinations brings new tastes and cuisines, all of which are meant to be enjoyed. Even though visiting Florida is not exactly like visiting a new country, the food culture is entirely different than that in the northeast. We were thrilled to discover that the surrounding area of Venice is an active agricultural community, producing copious amounts of fresh produce all of which is harvested and moved immediately to nearby stores for sale. I can’t even begin to tell you all of the fresh fruits and vegetables we ate, just the strawberries and oranges alone were worth changing my plane ticket for. We ate tomatoes by the dozen, serving them freshly roasted on crackers with slivers of hard cheese. My mother-in-law became a one-person guacamole machine, whipping up at least three batches of Ina Garten’s Homemade Guacamole with all of the gorgeous fresh, local avocados.

We were all sad when our Venice adventure came to an end. There was still so much more enjoy. However, at least I can take comfort in knowing that we will be visiting again very soon. In the mean time, I have documented some of my favorite foodie activities for you, in case you find yourself in the area.

The Naptime Chef’s picks of what to do in Venice, Fla
(in no particular order):

1) Indian River Orange Juice: “Oranges” go with “Florida” like “corn” goes with “Iowa.” Seriously, there is no better place to find fresh oranges in the US than in this state. I am a sucker for oranges and was pleased to discover Indian River Orange Juice. It is fresh-squeezed juice (with pulp) made from valencia oranges and is definitely the best juice I have ever tasted. The next time you visit Florida run to Publix and buy yourself a bottle, a big cold glass is the best way to start the morning.

2) Captain Eddie’s: When I visit a coastal town I like to eat seafood. Captain Eddie’s is the epitome of a greasy, roll-up-your-sleeves seafood shack. The fish is fresh, the beer is cold and it is all served in plastic baskets lined with wax paper. It doesn’t get more authentic than this. Even my daughter loved the crab cakes and fish ‘n’ chips.

3) The Island Gourmet, Venice Wine & Coffee Company: Though the restaurants in Venice are great we didn’t want to eat out every night. So, when it came time to get appetizers, wine and a bottle opener we headed straight to The Island Gourmet and Venice Wine & Coffee Company. The stores are side-by-side on the street and are actually connected inside. This is a great place for wines, cheeses and hostess gifts. I found several sets of napkins, cheese knives and platters that I would like to add to my own kitchen someday. Also, the coffee bar is excellent when you need your morning boost, there is no Starbucks in this town.

Visiting Venice Florida

4) Kilwin’s: Dieter’s beware, this chocolate and ice cream shop makes all of their own sugary treats and they are irresistible. I am lucky that I escaped with only a bag of malt balls (very fresh, btw) and cashew brittle. Had I had a chance to go back I would most definitely have enjoyed some of their homemade ice cream, peanut brittle and handmade chocolates. I could easily fill four Easter baskets the egg and bunny shaped treats they already had on display for the holiday next month, they look that amazing. Kilwin’s is a chain around Florida, so be sure to make a stop when you see one.

5) Upper Crust Bakery & Cafe: Heaven is a fresh baked bun on a warm morning when you are strolling along with your toddler. This bakery is amazing, the only crime here is that they are only open for breakfast and lunch. Be sure to get there early, it is jam packed at meal times and the good stuff sells out early.

6) Cassariano: Lucky for us, my in-law’s are excellent babysitters. One night my husband and I left the little angel with her doting grandparents and we headed straight to Cassariano for date night. Our meals at this main street italian eatery were outstanding. I enjoyed a delicious spinach salad followed by rigatoni with eggplant, and my husband had the most incredible stack of chicken and polenta with a gorgonzola sauce. We ate al fresco with a bottle of perfectly chilled white wine, capping off a wonderfully relaxed evening. Take note that it is advised that you make reservations, if you don’t have any try to get in for lunch which is equally as good.

7) The Soda Fountain: I am not sure what it is about Venetian’s but, man, they love their ice cream shops. There are four (!) ice cream shops on main street and, after sampling each one, I have decided that this one is my favorite. One evening I had a chocolate malt milkshake, which I’m pretty sure is the best I’ve ever had. Later in the week I enjoyed a homemade chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream which was equally as decadent and delicious. Kids and adults alike enjoy this spot, I saw many families sitting in the booths for dinner, simple fare like hot dogs and grilled cheeses, prior to their ice cream dessert.

8) Midwestern Meats: We are a family of carnivores so it is no surprise that a place called “Midwestern Meats” suits us perfectly. On our second night we stopped by on our way home from the beach and picked up a feast of pulled pork with homemade buns, ribs, scalloped potatoes and rhubarb pie. I know that pie sounds incongruous with meat, but it is the best rhubarb pie I have ever tasted. The owner of the store told me that he learned to make pie “at my grandmother’s knee in North Carolina. We use shortenin’ in our crust.” Yes, it is that good. The whole meal is best when paired with a cold beer.

9) Venice Art Festival: We were so lucky that our vacation overlapped with the Venice Art Festival. It only takes place two days a year, but if you like art festivals this one is worth a visit. The vendors were wonderful with many beautiful forms of artwork including sculpture, oil paintings, pottery and jewelry. All handmade by talented artisans. I was pleased to pick up a new piece for our living room.

10) Aveeno Baby Sunscreen: Last, but not least, when on a beach vacation it is important to protect your skin from the sun. I usually use at least SPF 45 on myself and I was not going to risk anything less on my daughter. Upon the recommendation of a friend I picked up two bottles of Aveeno Baby Sunscreen prior to my trip. My friend was right, it is amazing. I slathered it on her every time we were at the beach, or anywhere outdoors, and she did not get one hint of a sunburn. I love it and will definitely use it again.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy your vacations this year. In the mean time, stay tuned for a new recipe this Thursday. Bon voyage!

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