This week starts a journey…

…that’s been quite a while in the making.

Somewhere, right after we moved to St Petersburg we heard someone from church talking about participating in the Smart Ride. Smart Ride is the southernmost AIDS Ride, in its 14th year that raises money for service organizations across the state of Florida.

Since 2003 they have raised over 8 million dollars and 100% of the money raised is distributed to organizations who provide services like:

  • Pharmaceutical Care
  • Residential Assistance
  • Psycho Social Services
  • Dental Care
  • Holistic Care
  • Housing
  • Medical Care
  • Prenatal and Child Care
  • Prevention & Education

All costs of the ride are covered by the riders and many, many sponsors:  everything from food, to lodging, medical, pit stops, etc..

The ride is from Miami to Key West, 165 miles over two days with 100 miles the first day and 65 the second with a group procession of all 400+ riders and 300+ volunteers through the streets of Key West, ending at the White Street Pier AIDS Memorial.

Chuck had been training pretty diligently, through really hot Florida summer.  He was side tracked a little with some family issues and then Hurricane Irma came to visit.  But he was back on track in November ready for the adventure ahead.

Rhodes Studios - Mission Inn Weddings - wedding ghost - blogger - freelance writer
Photo by Rhodes Studios

Unfortunately, the race originally scheduled for the weekend before Thanksgiving had to be pushed out into 2018 because of some of the severe damage in Marathon Key, the first night’s stay; as well as in Key West.

I’ll be tagging along driving from St Petersburg to Miami and then continuing on my own to key West stopping along the way to sightsee, try some great food and hopefully capture some images of the ride, cheering on riders along the way. Chuck and I will get to enjoy some time with the riders on Saturday and then head back the next day.

Here is a video with areal footage from a previous ride:

If you are able we’d really appreciate it if you could support Chuck and the ride – here is a link to Chuck’s Fundraising page with information on the local charities he chose. Any donation would be greatly appreciated.  If you are unable to make a donation, just keep him and the other riders and volunteers in your thoughts and prayers.

 

Stay tuned for more pictures and updates from the Keys!

Slightly Art Obsessed

When we moved to St Petersburg Florida earlier this year we knew that it had an amazing arts community.

What I didn’t expect is that I’d find myself hanging out in parking lots and alleyways along Central Avenue, the areas encompassing the Edge District / Warehouse Arts District / Grand Central District… honestly, it’s not like it sounds.

St Pete has an AMAZING and growing collection of public art; there are murals all over the district. On the sides of stores themed to go with their products, on amazing new restaurants, tattoo parlors, The State Theater, in alleys and parking lots.

They are easily accessible to everyone and walking this past week I encountered countless people: couples, small groups, people walking and on bikes all enjoying and photographing these awesome pieces of one of a kind artwork.

mural - St Petersburg Florida - Authentically Mark - blogger - freelance writer - public art - moron art center

The styles vary greatly from almost graffiti like, to geometric, cartoony and very realistic. Every style, color and design you can imagine.

One of my favorites is by Latin Pop Artist John Gascot; his mural of the Statue of Liberty is on the wall of a local club.

St Petersburg - Florida - Murals - John Gascot - Latin Pop Artist - Mark Kingsdorf - blogger - freelance writer - authentically Mark - wedding ghost

Not only is it a beautiful representation but I’ve known John personally for a very long time; and admire his work and dedication to making art accessible, showcasing local artists and encouraging LGBTQ youth to express themselves through art.

This beautiful piece adorns the side of NuMex, a recently opened restaurant featuring twists on New Mexico cuisine that is getting rave reviews.

St Petersburg - Florida - murals- NuMex - Authentically Mark

Down the block, a restaurant with an Old Key West vibe has a mural showcasing sunsets, funky wooden directional signs, crabs and shuttered windows.

St Petersburg - Florida - murals - Old Key West Bar and Grill - Authentically Mark

An almost photographic looking mural lines the side wall of a local tattoo shop, a colorful geometric pattern fills the wall along an office space and a fun cartoon representation sits across from a church.

I’ve found this amazing art form in doorways, flowing from walls onto trash dumpsters and across drainpipes, building arches and uniquely shaped facades…it’s everywhere!

While you can enjoy a lot of these beautiful pieces of artwork driving along Central Avenue or 1st Avenue North and South, or taking the Central Avenue Trolley; I highly recommend finding a place to park and enjoying a walk, some shopping, the Morean Arts Center, Chihuly Collection, and try one of the great local restaurants or breweries.

One visit might not be enough; you might just become as obsessed as I am.

There’s No Place Like Home

I’m a foodie, I fully admit it… when we travel we experience a new destination through its food; we LOVE food tours and eating where the locals eat.

Many of you know me as a Master Wedding Planner; but prior to that I worked a number of years as a chef and in food and beverage. I’m actually a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York.

When I got out of kitchens, professionally, I really started to enjoy cooking, entertaining and exploring food again. In wedding planning my love of food really helped me attract couples who were also foodies and wanted to incorporate food that reflected them in their wedding. My journey into my new blogging business, Wedding Ghost, has also attracted wedding venues, caterers and bakers as clients as well.

My wedding planning company was just a few years old when my husband and I met; we lived right at the edge of Philadelphia’s Italian Market. The market is filled with amazing butcher shops, cheese stores, fresh pasta shops, coffee roasters, bakers and produce shops. Some are new startups; others have been there several generations, but all offered AMAZING artisan foods… all within walking distance of our house.

When we moved to Orlando, nothing like this existed… Italian ingredients were few and far between. I found one location but everything was prepackaged and it smelled like a strip mall, and not of aged provolone, olives or fresh bread.

Then a friend introduced me to Mazzaro’s Market (thanks Shannon!) in St Petersburg… the skies opened and the angels sang. It was just a few weeks before Christmas and I made the pilgrimage from Clermont, about an hour and a half drive, and stocked up for the holidays.

What took up several city blocks of small store front row houses in Philadelphia’s Italian Market is condensed into two large buildings here in Florida. The first is mostly teas, coffee and kitchen wares… but the main attraction in all under one roof in the second building.

You enter the building through gardens with marble statues, classic Italian murals, fun quirky photo ops and into nirvana.

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg - statues

Mazzaro's Murals

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg - murals

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg - murals

You are greeted by a small produce area with things you don’t often find in supermarkets, an olive bar with both oil and salt cured olives, an awesome selection of mushrooms, things like fresh fennel bulbs, whole fresh artichokes, fresh herbs and seasonal things like chestnuts in the shell.

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg - Produce

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger- St Petersburg - Olive Bar

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Florida Chestnuts

Just beyond that is a butcher and seafood counter with homemade sausage, braccole and beautiful cuts of meat not found in your average supermarket. They have refrigerated counters filled with premade homemade meals, soups and salads.

I typically cut a path to the wine and cheese room! Wines from all over Italy fill this cavernous room, to get there you pass by counters of cheeses, pate and condiments from all over the world with a huge assortment from Italy including fresh mozzarella, aged provolone, dozens of others and on my last visit there were three kinds of fresh truffles!

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Italian WinesMazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Cheeses - TrufflesMazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Imported Cheeses

The main space of the building is almost overwhelming… premade foods to take home, fresh made sandwiches, imported oils, vinegars and specialty foods. A counter with imported meats and sausages, fresh made pasta with dozens of varieties daily, a bakery with fresh breads, pastry, cookies and gelato, a coffee bar and roaster!

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Breads

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Fresh Baked Breads

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Italian Pastry

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Fresh Pasta

It even has a taste of home with di Bruno Brother’s cheese spreads!

Mazzaro's - Authentically Mark - Blogger - St Petersburg - Philadelphia - Di Bruno Bros.

While nothing in St Petersburg is very far; having Marraro’s about 10 minutes away makes it feel like home. All the ingredients and food I grew up with helps me keep the feeling of family close, especially at the holidays.

Authentically Us!

Today’s post goes beyond Authentically Mark into Authentically US; the us being me and my husband Chuck.

When we moved to our house in St Petersburg we decided that all of our Disney memorabilia would be condensed into one guest room; ‘the kids room’. Truthfully, not a lot of kids stay there… just a few big kids who deal with the twin beds.

Chuck would decorate our master bedroom. We had selected a bedroom set made with reclaimed wood and some of the vintage citrus labels we framed in Clermont really worked well there; beyond that it was all him.

Our second guest room got our old, dark wood bedroom set and my goal was decorating it in something that was REALLY reflective of the two of us; I decided on capturing the two of us and our love of travel.

Authentically Mark - Blogging - Amsterdam - Travel
Authentically Mark, Herring, Amsterdam, Hungry Bird Food Tour

We had a ton of pictures from past vacations; many we had never done anything with other than posting to social media. We set out to pick out fun, interesting and unique images of us from every vacation.

The first thing you learn is that you have lots of pictures of STUFF; neat architecture, random doors, interesting people, food landscapes, and historic locations. The second thing we learned is that we tend to have images of each of us individually, taken by each other. LOL

When we travel, we are all about experiences; rather than stuff. However, we always buy one Christmas ornament (that’s a story for another post); and we love to buy some local art. The local art makes a great addition to the photos.

The biggest rule for the guest room is no rules – all of the frames are miss matched, we hung them in more of a collage style than a gallery as we’re filling the entire room, and mixing in the local art is pretty random too.

This gallery will continue to grow… we’ve already added some carved masks from Africa (thank you Disney Animal Kingdom), in preparation for a bucket list trip.

Anyone who stays in this guest room will know it is #AuthenticallyMark (and Chuck)!

 

 

Hate Thanksgiving Leftovers?

There are parts of Thanksgiving dinner that I LOVE, and others that I eat because its tradition and they’re ok once a year.

But what happens when you have lots of leftovers?

Authentically Mark - Thanksgiving Leftover - Turkey

Growing up, we ate mid-day and after dessert, a nap, and some football on TV. It was turkey sandwiches on white bread with mayo and sliced tomato sometime after football and before bed.  While I don’t eat much white bread these days I did sneak one about 9 o’clock on multigrain bread.

I’m always looking for something new and different to do with Thanksgiving leftovers… here are a few.

Authentically Mark - Wild Turkey - Maple - Rosemary

This is a favorite that uses turkey, rosemary and maple…

1½ oz. Wild Turkey

¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

⅓ oz. maple syrup (or more, to taste)

1 small sprig fresh rosemary

Lightly bruise the rosemary between the palm of your hands and place in shaker. Add remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into an ice-filled glass.

LOL, I had to sneak in one because you know a good cocktail idea goes a long way!

But one of the best ideas I saw was a waffle made with leftover stuffing, turkey and cranberry sauce…

Authentically Mark - Thanksgiving Leftovers - Stuffing Waffles

2c.       Stuffing (leftover or fresh)

1c.       Cooked Chopped Turkey (cook ground turkey if you make this another time)

1/2c.    Cranberry Sauce (any kind works)

2          Whole Eggs (beaten)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well, place a large spoonful of mixture into a hot waffle iron and grill for 7-8 minutes until crunchy.

I’ve seen great variations of this that included leftover green bean casserole, or even serve it with a poached or sunny side up egg on top with some maple syrup; all of which sound like a great way to use everything up.

Here’s another that’s a lot of fun too; Empanadas!

Authentically Mark - Thanksgiving leftovers - empanadas

The best part about this recipe is you can literally use anything as the filling. Chopping up some turkey with any leftover vegetables is probably my favorite; add a little seasoning and make them as spicy or flavorful as you want. Leftover mashed or roasted potatoes with some veggies works well too and even using sweet potatoes or leftover pie makes a nice treat.

If your local grocery’s Latin food section doesn’t carry empanada wrappers, pie crust works and I’ve even seen tips that use crescent rolls.

The biggest thing is that there are quick, easy and flavorful ways to use up your holiday leftovers…enjoy!

Lighten Up!

This is the week we all start to prep for Thanksgiving dinner; whether we are hosting and cooking or bringing a dish to someone else’s house, we begin our preparations.

Tonight, we’re headed to church for a Thanksgiving potluck dinner, Thursday is Thanksgiving and we’re hosting Chuck’s father and some of their old family friends.

I know that gives us at least two nights off of the healthier eating band wagon; so, last night we lightened up a little with some healthy options.

Tomato Soup, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and a Salad… comfort food, but with a lighter twist.

IMG_6099

For starters, regular condensed tomato soup can be very high in sodium and if you add the recommended amount of milk it’s also now high in fat. I lightened this up by adding low sodium vegetable broth instead of milk, a little fresh ground black pepper, garlic and fresh basil from my herb garden.

For the grilled cheese sandwich, we used whole grain bread… we’ve pretty much eliminated bleached white flour and really focus on whole grains. I really like Dave’s Killer Bread with 21 Grain and Seeds. (If you are buying this at your local organic market you might want to check out Sam’s Club, ours carries a two pack for about the same price you pay for one at other stores, and it freezes really well.)

On the inside of the sandwich; sharp cheddar for flavor and low fat, low moisture mozzarella cheese for that great stringy texture and to cut some of the fat. For the outside, a quick spritz of light extra virgin olive oil from the pump sprayer and a nonstick griddle.

Paring that with a salad of dark leafy greens, shaved carrots, mushrooms and tomatoes; a light vinaigrette dressing and we’ve got a great lightened up dinner in about 20 minutes.

We saved time so we could prep for tonight’s dinner, Thanksgiving and made sure not to over eat when we know the week will be filled with meals that might side track us.