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Puff, Puff? Passed!

The last two governors of Florida were Charlie Crist and Rick Scott. Both were extremely divisive, controversial figures–and that is putting it mildly. The 12 years they spent in office from 2007-2019 did a lot to help define Florida as the “50/50” state we are today. Of course, neither would ever own the fact publicly, but even their strongest advocates (namely, themselves) would probably admit it off the record. The beneficiary of all this turned out to be the current governor, Ron DeSantis, who defeated some very strong competition and claimed a fairly surprising win in 2018 against the best Democratic candidate our state has seen since Lawton Chiles, back in 1994.

Whereas his Republican predecessors opened their terms in obnoxiously partisan fashion, DeSantis went in a moderate direction, albeit after an obnoxiously partisan campaign. Why? He’s acceding to the will of the people. And, in the process, he’s starting to consolidate his position in advance of a 2022 re-election battle, in which he may or may not have Donald Trump’s rump to jump that hump.

Since taking office, DeSantis has vastly outperformed even the most optimistic expectations, spending his first days taking bold steps that have already calmed a lot of the vitriol that both parties rolled out in the run up to last year’s election. He won on a margin so narrow that some folks still say it never existed at all, but his opponent, Andrew Gillum, is not complaining, and neither is anyone else.

DeSantis has picked up a good 5 percent toward his re-election by co-opting bits and pieces of the opposition. He’s making substantial concessions toward the left on matters related to education, the environment and, more to the point, medical marijuana. DeSantis prioritized ending Florida’s ban on the whole flower for medical use, and took the initiative of pushing the legislature to do his bidding. It was done quickly, too. The state senate approved SB 182 by a 34-to-4 margin on March 6, and the house followed suit exactly a week later, voting 101 to 11. Republicans hold 23 of 40 seats in the Florida Senate and 71 of 120 seats in the Florida House of Representatives; almost all of them sided with medical marijuana advocates. That is almost unprecedented in recent history. DeSantis wanted it done by March 15, and the GOP delivered two days early, in defiance of the speaker and other party spokespeople. DeSantis signed the bill into law on March 18.

SB 182 carries a multi-million dollar price tag, so now he’s basically an investor himself. Many would call it a half-measure toward full legalization. Baby steps. But the baby is stepping lively, and Ron DeSantis is the new-school Papi Chulo. Further steps are being taken to streamline operations and maximum the profitability of the state’s cannabis market, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is just getting started, and “Reefer Ron” is here for all of it. He’s not just reaching across the aisle–the man is doing the Fargo Strut across the aisle, sitting down on the other side and engaging them on their terms. DeSantis took a sizeable risk in doing this, but the risk is paying off bigly. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

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Fighting the Big C

My friend Rosie was recently diagnosed with cancer. When asked what else she has, I answered: “She has a joyful spirit, a friendly disposition, and an appetite for adventure.” I may not be an expert, but I know that pets, like people, are more than a diagnosis and oh-so-much-more than a set of symptoms.

Nobody wants to hear the “c-word,” but unfortunately, cancer is the second leading cause of death in older animals. One in four dogs is diagnosed with canine cancer.

First Coast News Anchor Jeannie Blaylock understands and has launched an early detection effort aimed at helping people find cancer in their pets so it can be caught early. It’s called Doggy Check and it could save the pet you love.



Davi: What drove you to start Doggy Check?

Jeannie Blaylock: Doggy Check started because I absolutely adore our dog, Riley. When Riley got cancer and we found it early, I thought, “I just have to share this with everyone on the news!”


How did Doggy Check save your dog’s life?

One night my daughter was petting Riley’s ears and noticed a hard lump. My internal alarms went off. We asked the veterinarian to test the lump and the lab report came back that it was indeed cancer. But here’s the great news—it was caught early! Riley lost part of his ear, but that’s OK. His pathology report was good, and he doesn’t need any cancer treatment.


How do you know if a dog or cat might have cancer?

You don’t know, unless a veterinarian runs tests, typically a biopsy or needle aspiration. Scans for internal organs can help vets with their search for cancer, as well.


How can regular doggy check-ups help detect cancer?

Dr. LaDue at Sevo-Med says the trick is to check for lumps and bumps and swellings while petting your pet. It’s good to be aware of what you’re feeling.


How do you check for tumors?

Here’s the Doggy Check FURRY method:

F is for Feet: Spread your dog’s toes apart and check under his paws.

U is for Under: Look under his belly and rub under his neck.

R is for Raise the Tail: Look for swelling or lumps or anything different in the rump area.

R is for Raise the Ears: Lift his ears and look inside. Check outside, too.

Y is for the Yapper: Lift his lips and check inside his mouth for lumps or bleeding or a bad smell.


If you find a bump or lump, what’s next?

Contact your veterinarian—the earlier the better! I’ve learned that pet owners tend to notice when something isn’t normal. If cancer is internal and there’s no swelling or bump, you might notice lethargy, loss of appetite or changes in habits.


Cancer is scary, but you don’t have to live in fear of it. Remember, just because your pet has been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean he’s been given an instant death sentence. The fact that dogs live beyond age 10 is a great indication of how far veterinary medicine has advanced. So, track your pet’s health, and see the vet if you notice something. The rest of the time should be spent tail-wagging to the fullest with your four-legged friend.

If you catch cancer early in your pet, please let me know. You can also email Jeannie at


Davi the Dachshund is glad his mom knows the FURRY Method and he wants to spread the word to all pets and their families.

A Feast for the Senses

There are food people and then there are food people. Erin Thursby, executive director of GastroJax, falls under the latter category. As a writer and editor, Thursby has covered the local food scene since 2005. In 2014, she leveraged that experience and helped launch GastroJax, a nonprofit whose mission is to showcase and preserve the talent she was writing about.

“I was in a unique position to see how quickly our food scene was changing here in town,” Thursby told Folio Weekly.

Before long, GastroJax begat GastroFest. It’s a free outdoor festival and, quite frankly, it’s more than a food fest. GastroFest is several festivals rolled into one. Jam out to a full lineup of local musicians including Borromakat and Guy & the Yehudas. Peruse the marketplace, where you can purchase locally made products from vendors like Cam. Lee Crafted Co., Hopcloth, Eat Your Yard Jax and more. Check out the cooking demos or get tickets to the educational workshops happening in the neighboring Museum of Science & History. Mom and Dad, you’ll be pleased to know there’s something for the kids, too: hands-on art projects, kid-geared activities and even live chickens, courtesy of River City Chicks.

Then, of course, comes the best part. Stroll through the tasting tents, where it all goes down. GastroFest regulars like Ibex Ethiopian Kitchen, Orsay/Black Sheep and Nomi’s Cheese Bar will be joined by newcomers like Abstrakt Filipino Essence, Crane Ramen and Well Oiled Events. Those seeking vegan options will be delighted to know that Hotdog Party’s vegan hot-dog cart will be making an appearance (and you don’t even have to be tipsy in Five Points on a Friday night!) as will the Girls Gone Green vegan nacho bar—a true nacho bar with all the fixins’.

The fest’s fifth anniversary edition unfolds around Southbank’s iconic Friendship Fountain.

“It’s right on the river,” said Thursby, “so it showcases Jacksonville! And MOSH has been a terrific partner.” Nothing gets much better than good food and good views, and the weather is shaping up to be beautiful.

Turning GastroFest into reality is a giant undertaking, and while Thursby does an incredible amount of work to make it happen, it isn’t a one-person show. Some really talented people sit on GastroJax’s board of directors. They donate their time to manage key parts of the festival.

“The fest is a lot of hard work, but we love sharing the awesome things to eat and drink here on the First Coast.”

Rachel Best Henley Price is creative director of GastroFest. Her husband, Nate Price, helps with design, and he’s a great person to have on the ground at events. (“We really couldn’t have GastroFest without him,” Thursby said.) Kamron Perry helps coordinate events. Remember that local music lineup? That’s Perry’s pièce de résistance. She works hard to make sure the day is filled with sounds from original local musicians. Jessica Fields helps with festival events. You can generally find her onsite helping out. Thursby added that it takes a village to put on an event like GastroFest: “There are many, many other volunteers that make the fest a great one.”

A major point of pride for the team is its Green Action Committee, which “focuses on making the festival as eco-conscious as possible.” This year’s committee is led by Tiffany Bess of Apple Rabbit Compost. Bess helps the festival cut down on waste. Whether it’s food scraps that can be turned to compost or items that can be recycled, the team will be on the ground working toward making GastroFest that much more sustainable.

GastroFest is free to attend, but cash is king in the tasting area. All participating restaurants are required to offer samples at an enticing price point between $1 and $3. The goal is to allow folks to try miniature versions of signature dishes—without breaking the bank. Thursby and co. hope that you’ll discover a Jax restaurant you’ve never been to, a dish you never would have thought to try, or meet a chef who doesn’t usually get the chance to sneak out from the kitchen.

In the tasting tent and marketplace zones, Slow Food First Coast is bound to be a big draw. Slow Food is an international organization that puts the focus back on farmers and producers. The local delegation’s tent will feature some amazing Snail Approved (its version of a seal of approval) restaurants.

Of all the things to see and do at this year’s edition, Thursby said there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss: the chocolate-covered Datil pepper eating contest (3 p.m. at the Gas Demo Stage).

When it comes to getting to GastroFest, there are several nontraditional ways to arrive in style. You can take a boat, ride your bike (Zen Cog will have a bike drop-off area) or take the Skyway. All of these carless options are part of the festival’s green initiative. If you show your support and go social with your contribution to environmental awareness (make sure you use the hashtag #greeninggastrofest), you might just win a prize.

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Round & Flat

The other evening I was scrolling through a few old pics. As you might’ve guessed, these were pictures of food, specifically of dishes I had created and served from my restaurant at the culinary school where I used to teach. One of the plates that caught my attention was an appetizer: preserved lemon falafel in mini pita pockets. Wow! What a cool dish! (I gave you the falafel recipe last week, so you can guess where I’m headed.)

Back in those days, my most difficult chore was finding enough projects to keep my students fully engaged. Imagine running a restaurant that averaged only 30 to 40 covers a day and was only open for lunch two days a week. I usually had a class of 8-12 students, so I designed menus in which everything was produced in-house from scratch. I’m sure this doesn’t sound like much for most people who aren’t industry veterans, since many restaurants—especially chains—toss around the claim “made from scratch daily” like so many dirty napkins. Meanwhile, their prep guy opens two more No. 10 cans of their “made from scratch” product.

My students actually did produce everything in-house. They fabricated meats from subprimal parts. They emulsified eggs and oil to make mayonnaise. They produced all breads required for lunch service. There were no idle hands in my kitchen.

Producing yeast breads in most working restaurant kitchens is a nearly impossible task for two main reasons: lack of space and lack of skilled labor. As a result, bread is much cheaper to purchase than produce. My current restaurant is no different. For example, the volume of pita bread I go through daily is almost overwhelming. While pushing through a big rush, I might use 8 to 10 dozen in an hour.

This shouldn’t dissuade you, an intrepid adventurous home cook, from experiencing the joy of producing homemade (i.e., made in your home) pita or any other yeast bread.

Pita is a typical yeast-risen flatbread with origins in the Middle East and Mediterranean, enjoyed in many ways. It can be a wrapper, like a tortilla; it can be a container holding ingredients within its pouch like a kangaroo; or it can be a scoop for savory dips. At its core, pita consists of wheat flour, yeast, water and salt. These are simply mixed, kneaded and allowed to rise.

The main difference between a pita with a pocket and one without is the cooking method. The trick to creating a pocket is steam. The best way to create steam is to use high temperatures in a hot oven. The other method is to cook the pita on a hot griddle. Either way, the result is fabulous. Give this dough a try and use last week’s falafel recipe to find a little nirvana in your own home.




• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 tsp. instant yeast

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• 2 tsp. sugar

• 1-1/2 tsp. salt

• 1 cup warm water (90˚F)

• 2 Tbsp. olive oil



1. In a large mixing bowl, combine ingredients, mix with a wooden spoon to form a shaggy/rough dough. Turn out on a floured surface.

2. Knead the dough for about five minutes.

3. Put dough in lightly greased bowl, let rest 1 hour; it’ll become quite puffy, though it may not double in bulk.

4. Turn dough onto lightly oiled work surface; divide into 12 pieces.

5. Roll 2 to 4 pieces into 3- to 4-inch circles.

6. Put circles on lightly greased baking sheet; let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 500°F.

7. Place baking sheet on oven’s lowest rack; bake for 5 minutes; they should puff up.

8. Transfer baking sheet to oven’s middle-to-top rack, bake for an additional 2 minutes or until pitas have browned.

It's No Sacrifice

The Catholic season of Lent is a period of introspection that symbolizes the 40 days Jesus Christ wandered the wilderness before his persecution and crucifixion on Good Friday. For some, it is also a time for fasting and denial to emulate Christ’s suffering. What does all this have to do with beer? As it happens, plenty.

It seems that the German Paulaner monks at Munich’s Cloister Neudeck ob der Au took their fasting seriously during Lent. Indeed, they ate no solid food whatsoever during the Holy time. Instead of making bread with their grain, they brewed beer. They called it “liquid bread,” as it sustained them through the long season. The style of beer they brewed has gone by several names including Fastenbier or Starkbier. It is more commonly known as Doppelbock. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, this brew should be very rich and malty with a touch of chocolate but still crisp and smooth. Doppelbock, literally “double bock,” is generally high in alcohol (between 7 and 12 percent).

This classic Bavarian style has a long and checkered history. Depending on which documents you believe, it was born between 1630 and 1670. Being men of the cloth, the monks were not sure that they should drink such an intoxicating and delicious brew during Lent, which is, after all, typically a time of denial. So they sought clarification from their earthly leader, the Holy Father himself, in Rome.

The monks dispatched a keg of their brew to the Vatican, but since the journey was long and wound through first the Alps and then the hot plains of Italy, the beer got shaken up and warmed in the sun over a period of several weeks. By the time it arrived in Rome, it had been through quite an ordeal and was less than ideal for consumption. The Pope took one taste of the spoiled brew and decided that such a vile concoction was pure liquid hair shirt, a most fitting drink for any sad penitent who sought to eschew earthly pleasure.

Recently, an Ohio man announced that he was observing Lent in the traditional fashion. Del Hall works at Fifty West Brewing Company in Cincinnati and is going the way of monks by abstaining from all food and drink except beer and water for this year’s Lenten season.

“Just like the monks used to do it back in the 1600s, I’m going to do the same thing,” Hall said in a YouTube video. “It’s not necessarily about the weight loss as it is the challenge of replicating what the monks did.”

Hall plans to document his journey on social media and keep in close contact with his doctor. (After just one week, Hall has reported losing 15 pounds.)

To return to our medieval master brewers, the monks eventually named their beer Salvator after the savior. In deference to that original brew, when imitators began making their own versions, most were named with the –ator ending to the appellation. Commercial versions that are currently available include Spaten Optimator and Ayinger Celebrator.

While depriving yourself of food is not necessarily suggested, would a true beer-lover consider a 40-day binge as sacrifice? We’ll see on Good Friday, when Hall ends his fast.