A dragonfly landed on my toe as we floated down the river at Ginnie Springs. Its body was brilliantly blue and it hung out for what must have been at least two minutes. I guess neither of us really had anywhere to be except on the cool water watching floats and turtles go by. We saw a small alligator, too, sunning itself on a log.
This was the last weekend of June, which we spent in High Springs, just a couple hours north of home and near Gainesville. For a few days, this gem was our home. The house overlooked the river, and it was really peaceful to watch the rain from the balcony. Everything outside was green and lush in a way that made me feel like I was even further from home.
Floating in a tube down the river is just as much fun as I remembered from college. Tubing is a little more relaxed than a day at the beach, if you can believe it. Just get in your tube and go. Preferably one with a cupholder. And a float for the beer cooler.
Ginnie can get kind of interesting. You’ll see a dozen people looped together around an already enormous 10-person float. The smell of grilled burgers and steak will creep up as you move by a campsite. On one of these larger floats, I spotted a guy wearing a hair hat (which looked a lot like this). They sounded a little jealous of our Heineken, but their Natty Light reminded me of freshman year at UF. It seemed appropriate.
After a hard day of floating, the home where we stayed was fully equipped to carry us through the rest of the night. Calphalon skillets and a Dutch oven in the kitchen. A long couch and blankets to seat many. A deck with strings of lights and a table for flip cup. A lower deck near the water for watching the stars and writing my name with sparklers. Friends thankfully brought board games, pizza rolls, and the stuff to make daiquiris.
As there were 15 of us, we split up the meals and beer/snack duty. Danny and I were in charge of Saturday breakfast. I immediately thought to do a kind of savory bread pudding and landed on a poblano and chorizo strata. Also, clustery granola for my vegetarian friend.
I sliced all the vegetables and cubed the bread the night before we left. On Friday, during the nap hour after the first float, I sautéed and assembled the stratas. They went into the fridge until the following morning when they baked for about an hour. The center is more custardy and the edges are more crisp. Choose your piece! It was a solid breakfast that held us over for a while.
This strata/bread pudding is really easy to throw together and just the thing when you’re on vacation and don’t want to cook too much. You can still have a good breakfast without being stuck at the stove serving up one egg order after another.
poblano and chorizo strata
This is a great make-ahead breakfast. Slice, cook, and assemble everything the night before, and in the morning all you really have to do is take the prepared dish out of the fridge and bake it. It’s slightly spiced, fresh, and a very tasty way to kick off a weekend vacation.
1/2 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, removed from the casing
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 fresh poblano chile peppers, seeded and thinly sliced into strips
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into strips
8 cups of crusty Italian bread in 1-inch cubes
2 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup queso fresco, crumbled
a handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Cook chorizo over medium heat in a large skillet until browned. After the first few minutes, use a wooden spoon to break up the chorizo into small pieces. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chorizo to a bowl, leaving behind about 1 tablespoon of its grease in the skillet. Stir the onions into the skillet and cooker over medium heat just until they’re tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sliced poblano and bell pepper; cook until the peppers are tender, about 5 minutes. Take the skillet off the heat and stir in the chorizo.
Grease a large (about 3-quart) baking dish. Spread out half of the bread cubes across the bottom of the dish. Spoon half of the chorizo mixture over the bread. Repeat the layers once.
Whisk the eggs, milk, oregano, and paprika in a large bowl. Pour the mixture evenly over the chorizo and bread mixture in the baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
Heat oven to 325°F. Bake the strata covered for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the egg has set or the center reaches a temperature of 170°F, another 30 to 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the crumbled queso fresco in the last 5 minutes of baking time. Let the strata stand for a few minutes before serving. Season with salt and pepper and finish it with cilantro.
Serves 8 to 10. Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens.