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When the Vendée Came to Captiva

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 The Vendée is a department of France that has a few things in common with Sanibel and Captiva; the most obvious is beautiful sandy beaches.  Tourists from everywhere visit these beaches.  Birds nest in nearby mangroves along the coast of the Vendée, just like they do on our islands. However, the Vendée produces fine chicken, duck, lamb, brioche, a well-known raw cured ham, corn, wheat, and sunflowers – ah, those beautiful fields of sunflowers!   As you would expect for a coastal area, oysters and mussels are exported from the Vendée, too.   Ham with white beans is a famous dish from the Vendée, as is a garlic bread called préfou .   And of course, the Vendée produces wine. While Sanibel and Captiva long ago lost their agricultural economies, the islands did experience, for a couple glorious years, the talents of Chef Jean Grondin, another product of the Vendée.   From 1985 until his untimely death in 1987 at age 37, Chef Grondin lived on Sanibel and ruled the kitchen of a restaura

Life, full of flavor

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When I was little – too little to know about cake possibilities – I always got angel food cake for my birthday.  It was good – sticky, mild and sweet – and I suppose in all my blonde fairness, the adults thought that angel food cake seemed to be a good match for me. But then I grew up.   My skin is darker, my blonde hair is more like brown with a few highlights – both silver and gold.   My taste in cake and all other foods is broad and intense.   I love strong flavors, spicy and exotic foods, and chocolate – the darker and richer, the better.   I am what is called an adventurous eater. The most chocolate cake possible is a dark chocolate flourless torte that the French call La Bete Noire – the Black Beast.    It is so named because of its flavorful intensity.   I am the baker in this house, so yesterday I made my own Bete Noire, topped by a rich, dark chocolate ganache, for my birthday today. So now, at age 65, I am one of the adults.   I choose the birthday cake that I like best

RBG and Gentle Persuasion

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Many people have noted the strength and effectiveness of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Her gentleness was also noteworthy.  She learned about this quality from others.  From her mother-in-law, she learned that “in every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little bit deaf.”  Ruth applied this advice in her interactions at work, not just in her marriage.  Her reason was practical; she said, “When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out.  Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”  She believed that collegiality was essential to the mission of the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Photographer: Steve Petteway / Public domain She learned about gentleness from some of her professors.   At Harvard Law School, Professor Benjamin Kaplan used the Socratic method in class “always to stimulate,” she said.   “Never to wound.” On the Supreme Court, despite their differences, Justice Scal

Harissa and happy memories

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The summer of splendid isolation is what I call this time, in a deliberate effort to keep my spirits up.  In this year of horrors, my husband Tom and I are doing our part by staying home, not allowing the virus to find us.  The previous 22 summers of our lives we took ourselves and our computers to Paris, where we summered in the city. Even if we never return to Paris, that city has changed us in what seems like a thousand little ways.   We didn’t drive for those months in Paris, so not driving anywhere much now isn’t so strange for us.   In Paris, we learned how to live comfortably enough without air conditioning even when summer turns wickedly hot.   Tom loves the French bakery breads so much that I’ve now learned how to make a boule [1] that we’d be pleased to find in a Parisian bakery.   We experienced the full range of French cuisine, as well as so many other ethnic cuisines that can be found in the big city. In Paris, we came to love certain aspects of North African and Midd

Sanibel Voters Must Meet the Challenge: Keep Sanibel Special

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Sunset at Sunset Bay, Sanibel Sanibel voters will be electing three new city council members in March.  Since there are only five members of council, this will be the majority of members – newly elected.  That is a rare occurrence, and it is a great opportunity for residents to ensure that their interests will be represented on council.  Rumors abound about who may be running for election to these positions.  At least it seems that this time candidates will probably not be running unopposed, as has happened at times in the past. The Sanibel Plan , the document that has guided us in ensuring that Sanibel remains special, states clearly by way of background for the Sanibel Vision Statement that we have a challenge before us: “The specter of rampant development has diminished as the community has matured. Nevertheless, unwanted changes are occurring; visitation increases as new ‘attractions’ are developed; beaches and refuge areas are becoming stressed by overuse; traffic congestion is

The Plan

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Sanibel Island has about 18.1 square miles of land – similar in size to Manhattan, which has 22.8 square miles.  Two-thirds of Sanibel’s land is designated as conservation land, owned by the City of Sanibel, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Federal government, or the State of Florida. The island’s biggest landowner and land manager is the Federal government, with 8 of those 18 square miles.   The land use of the remaining 10 square miles is strictly regulated by the City of Sanibel.   The guiding document for that control of land use and development is Sanibel’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, better known simply as the Sanibel Plan. Sunrise on Dinkins Bayou, on Sanibel Island (photo by Barbara Joy Cooley) From its beginning in 1976 [1] , the Sanibel Plan has recognized that “unlimited future population growth would be hazardous to health, safety, and welfare of the public.”   The plan also notes that restriction of development is needed for “adequate delivery of servi

Red Horse Bread

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During the pandemic, I cook all of our meals at home.  I try to keep as much variety in the fare as possible; I’m always trying something new, or reaching back to re-discover traditional southern foods that we love.  I cook French, Italian, other European, North African, Thai, Indian, and of course, southern American soul food. I just put away the deep fryer for a while, in the interest of cardiovascular health, after having made some fried chicken and red horse bread this week. Red horse bread is a form of hush puppy, but the history of red horse bread pre-dates hush puppies.   The earliest recorded use of the term “hush puppy” dates to 1899 [1] .    But those puppies were inspired by red horse bread, which dates back to pre-Civil War times in the Carolinas.   Some even trace the roots back to creative cooking by 18 th Century nuns in Louisiana. My husband’s father, whose name was also Tom Cooley, made red horse bread, which he called red hoss bread, and served it with fish.