I was out having lunch recently during the first week of May, and the weather was in one word: glorious. I am, of course, fully aware that the heat, humidity and monsoons of summer are about to descend upon us. However, these past few weeks have been wonderful.

The mornings are still cool, and the evenings after sunset are just lovely. For work (and pleasure), I am often out and about town. I had two recent experiences that I found particularly pleasing. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with negativity and sadness, I wanted to share that there is still quite a bit of kindness out there.

My husband and I were on our lunch hour and decided to have lunch at Chicas Cuban Cafe. Side note: I adore their food, and Wednesday, the day they open back up for business after being closed for a couple of days, is my favorite day of the week.

When we walked in, they were slammed, and we were told that it would be a few minutes till our table was ready. We decided to wait outside and check our emails and so on during that time.

While we were sitting there, a woman came up to us and said, “I don’t know how private you are, but if you’d like, you can share a table with my mother and I. That way you don’t have to wait.”

While I was telling this friendly stranger what a very kind gesture that was, our table became available and we did not end up sharing a table.

Yet, I was completely in awe of her willingness to help out two people she had never met. Perhaps restaurants could encourage and assist with this amicable act. Five percent off your bill if you share a table with a stranger during a busy lunch hour? Food for thought, quite literally.

The other situation happened to us at The Elusive Grape, where we had gone to watch the Kentucky Derby. We were all dressed up in our Derby best and so was almost everyone there. The mood was vibrant and jovial, and a good time was being had by all. In the far back of the restaurant, we heard the familiar tune of “Happy Birthday to You” being sung. Shortly after, the “birthday girl,” a lovely lady dressed in red and sporting a charming fascinator, went around giving everyone in the restaurant slices of her birthday cake. She could have taken the leftover cake home and frozen it or whatnot, but instead she decided to share it with complete strangers.

I was born and raised in Florida. Growing up in Miami, I recall when what is now the Costco and T.J. Maxx behind my parents’ old house was nothing but you-pick-it fields and forest. I remember when Miami Beach was anything but cool or trendy. When my family moved to Homestead in the early ’90s, most of the houses around our farm had no air conditioning, and homeowners would safely leave their windows open day and night.

Growth and change are inevitable. While the surroundings around us will evolve and look different, small-town kindness, generosity and hospitality are a constant we can hold on to. And so, with that in mind, this month’s recipes are items that are meant to be shared. As my late grandmother used to always say, “Smile and the world is yours.”

Peanut brittle

First up is a recipe for peanut brittle. Now that we are getting into ice cream-sundae weather, I like to make a batch of this and keep it on hand. I use Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts for this. Since they’re seasoned, they give the brittle a unique depth of flavor people usually can’t seem to pinpoint.

If kept in a jar, this candy stays fresh for a few weeks, and it makes the perfect thank-you or hostess gift.


• 1 cup white sugar
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1 cup Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts
• 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
• 1 tsp baking soda

Directions: This recipe moves very quickly, and you are dealing with extremely hot candy. It’s about as hot as molten lava. Be very careful, and have all your ingredients measured out before starting.
A candy thermometer is necessary for this recipe. You can buy one online for about $20, and it can be used for many things. It is a great investment for the avid home chef.
Let’s begin: Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Over medium heat, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt in a heavy saucepan.
With a wooden spoon, stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil, about five minutes. Stir in the peanuts, and set your candy thermometer in place.
Continue cooking, stirring softly every one to two minutes, until the temperature reaches 300 to 310 degrees. Do not let it go past this temperature or it will burn and be ruined. I will admit, candy can be tricky until you get the hang of it.
Quickly remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the butter and baking soda. The mixture will foam up a bit. Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet.
Working quickly, use your wooden spoon to smooth the mixture out into a large rectangle. Let cool until completely firm, about one hour. Use a mallet or small hammer to break the peanut brittle into pieces.
I like to store this in glass jars.

Strawberry Muffins

With strawberries in full swing this time of year, these strawberry muffins are perfect for Sunday brunch and also great with your afternoon coffee or tea.


• 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tsp more for tossing with strawberries
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 3/4 tsp salt
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1/2 cup buttermilk
• 2 1/4 cups diced fresh strawberries
• 2 tbsp sugar

Directions: Preheat your oven to 375° F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners, and spray the liners with cooking spray. The strawberries can make these rather sticky.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl for about two minutes. Add your eggs, one at a time, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.
Place your mixer on low, and add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk.
Toss your strawberries with 2 teaspoons of flour (this will keep them from sinking to the bottom). Set aside 1/2 cup of the strawberries.
Add the rest of the strawberries to the batter, and fold them in carefully; do not overmix the batter.
With a spoon, scoop the batter into your prepared muffin tin. Place the strawberries that you previously set aside over the tops of the muffins, then sprinkle them with sugar in the center of each muffin.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden, and a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool for a couple of minutes, and run a sharp knife around the very edge of each muffin to free it from the pan (if necessary). Let the muffins cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.
These are best eaten the day they are made, although they freeze well. They are wonderful when served with a bit of ice cream.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

The last recipe is my take on the original chocolate chip cookie made famous in 1938 by Ruth Wakefield of Toll House fame.

I stray from the original recipe by adding a bit of cinnamon. It really brings out the chocolate. I also use chopped pecans because, well, I adore pecans. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better chocolate chip cookie.


1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups of Toll House semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla

Directions: Preheat your oven to 375. In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, cream the butter and add the sugars. Beat until smooth, add the eggs, mix well, and add the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, combine the baking soda, flour, salt and cinnamon. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet, and add the nuts and chocolate chips; mix well.
Using a teaspoon, drop by rounded spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for eight minutes; do not overbake.
The cookies may look underdone, but they will firm up as they cool. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for three to five minutes, and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
These cookies make the most amazing ice cream sandwiches!

— Santi Gabino Jr. lives in DeLand with his husband, Oscar, and their two crazy dogs, Hope and Athena. Santi is a self-taught chef who has been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years.


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