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Here & Now

Girl scouts of Gulfcoast Florida, you have no shame. This is the month when I, like all respectable Americans, engage in a cruel suppression of my God-given gustatory senses in that most sacred ritual, New Year’s Resolutions. I’m trying to focus on 16 Delicious Alfalfa Sprout Entrées, and here you come to assault my resolve with your diabolical January scheme, the Girl Scout Cookie-Off. I’m sorry to be the one to out you—it’s like maligning the American Pie Council. Which they also deserve, actually, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

So every January, the Girl Scouts challenge prominent local chefs to concoct outrageously sinful desserts using their cookies, and they need our votes. I took a peek at last year’s entries, and frankly, any recipe that calls for four pounds of Thin Mints and 1,200 grams of dark chocolate has my attention. No surprise that Katie Codney of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, took top prize with her Thin Mint Ice Cream Cake.

At press time, 2009 participants weren’t finalized, but I do know that Chef/partner David Gossett of Fleming’s and Executive Chef Brian Roland of the new M Waterfront Grille are signed up for the Naples event Jan. 18, as are Executive Chef Michael Griffith from Worthington Country Club and Sous Chef Melissa Akin from Bistro 41 for the Fort Myers event Jan. 25. The Punta Gorda Cookie-Off at the Isles Yacht Club is much more sensitively scheduled for Feb. 22, long after New Year’s resolutions are forgotten.

Weighing (if you’ll excuse the term) the pros and cons, I figure the gym and the alfalfa sprouts will still be there tomorrow. But if I miss the Cookie-Off, I’ll be waiting till February for my first Thin Mints of 2009. That’s 5 p.m. Feb. 7, and not a minute sooner, at a cookie booth near you. This simply is not acceptable.

Besides—and here’s where the evil American Pie Council comes in—on Jan. 23, I plan to redeem myself by ignoring their subversive National Pie Day. A little January pie indulgence is fine Up North, where it’s easy to hide one’s sins under a fleecy something or other. But who wants that extra little wedge, so to speak, showing through their beachwear? Since I do adore pie, here’s my plan: Anytime the p-word comes up, I’ll simply visualize a 12th century English pye. The crust was called the coffyn, for the obvious reason that the filling consisted of a completely intact deceased fowl. The legs were conveniently left sticking out the side of the dish to use as handles. Decided: Girl Scout Cookie-Off, yes. Pie Day, no. Balance is good.

So, speaking of fowl, did you hear that the old crow turned 41 and finally got a facelift? Sorry, no secrets revealed here. That would be CROW—Sanibel Island’s Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. Established in 1968, that wonderful organization rescues 3,400 injured, sick and orphaned native tropical and migratory creatures each year. Already one of the top wildlife rehab centers in the country, CROW opens its brand new, state-of-the-art education center Jan. 25. Visitors can watch as vets care for injured patients through live camera feeds and even suggest treatments through the interactive "You be the Vet" feature. In February, CROW’s new hospital opens.

Ok, here’s an inside tip for you. A hospital of the people kind—The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida—is the beneficiary of Jazz on the Green, Southwest Florida’s premier jazz event. Though entering its 13th year, until now this positively seductive two-day concert was held each October, remaining one of those guilty secrets enjoyed by year-round residents. This year the secret’s out, because Jazz on the Green takes place on the FGCU campus Friday, Jan. 16 and Saturday, Jan. 17. The lineup includes world-class smooth jazz greats like Grammy winner Arturo Sandoval, and jazz/funk/R&B bassist (and former Olympic and NBA basketball star) Wayman Tisdale.

Once winter residents get a taste of this, jazz lovers predict, there’s little chance of it ever going back to October. I’m just kidding about the guilty secrets, really. I mean, it’s hard for our little slice of paradise to stay under the radar when Condé Nast Traveler keeps rudely splashing our name all over the world. Sanibel, for example, was just named—for the fifth year running—one of the top 10 islands in North America. With all due respect, Condé Nast: Please stop.

I’m thinking we should measure our life here as they do in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan: by Gross National Happiness. I will volunteer to head up the research team. There’d be a lot of sophisticated math, of course, involving many hours spent on or near the water, studying complicated closed toes-to-sandals ratios, and qualitative analysis of our outdoor music, art, social and sporting events. I’d have to do some concentrated stone crab tastings, as the season is already nearly half over; and exhaustive comparisons of local grouper sandwiches, excellent wine bars and, yes, pie menus.

I don’t know about you, but (despite some fluctuations in the economic sector) the quantifiable surge I feel stepping outside on a January morning to warm sunshine and blue skies, and the indisputable fact that the opportunities for fitness and wellness here easily compensate for a few Girl Scout cookies, put my GNH at near-perfect.

Now, only you know the formula for your own contribution to the GNH, but I submit that there’s hardly anyplace on earth where it can better be achieved than here along the Gulfshore. So forgive the Girl Scouts and have a Thin Mint. Slip into your sandals and enjoy our semitropical sunshine and moonlight. And always, savor the moment.

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