Dressed Up Bait…..

I consider man learning to cook with fire an advancement in civilization, not to mention a culinary achievement, and therefore have long held that carpaccio and steak tartar are still raw meat, and no matter how prettily you present sushi, it is still raw seafood. On the other hand, as long as there are other options on the menu, I’m fine with that.

My husband is the one who suggested we make the drive down to Islamorada to the Kaiyo Grill, the sister restaurant to the Green Turtle Inn. We did so and I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure how the blend of Asian and Keys décor would look. It is a delightful place unless you simply must have a view of the water or a martini, and the food selections did in fact include far more than sushi. My husband had his “dressed up bait” as an appetizer before he tackled the rack of lamb, and I started with the lobster and artichoke chowder as a prelude to hog fish roasted with a lovely citrus and scallion butter. It was my birthday after all and we indulged in a piece of the white chocolate macadamia nut pie that was topped with a sparkler to help celebrate. The coffee served in a French Press was an unexpected touch.

Although I am not one of those women who dread birthdays, we are fairly low-key about it and a pleasant dinner out is the usual way we mark the passage, followed by champagne at home. I had forgotten to pick up a bottle of champagne during the great Total Wine store excursion on Friday though, so we’ll have to save that part for later. Next year’s birthday – who knows? The only thing I am certain of is that I will not have changed my mind about sushi.


Total Wine Comes Closer…..

“I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.” This is a refrigerator magnet that my sister found for me and while we do frequently add wine to our dishes, the quotation does properly convey our love of the vine. We make no claim to being wine experts much less in the class of oenologists, and despite my husband’s chiding, refusing to drink red with poached fish in a dill sauce does not make me a wine snob. Like many Americans, we embrace wine as a staple in our house and on those occasions when a lingering lunch out is feasible, a glass or two of wine in often a part of it. In fact, there continues to be a wonderful memory of a lovely harbor in St Martin that involved lobster salad, a crisp white wine, and fresh french bread, but that is the stuff of another post.

Anyway, yesterday we went to the newly opened Total Wine store that is a mere 30 minute drive. When we lived in Northern Virginia we had easy access to a Total Wine and while we enjoy much about South Florida, there’s just something about being able to walk into a store that carries more than 5,000 wines, 2,500 beers, and spirits in the case of Florida. Don’t get me wrong, our local supermarkets have decent wine choices and the nearby Sailfish Liquors has a lovely selection with a knowledge wine expert, but it just isn’t the same. You step inside Total Wines and almost go into visual overload at the sheer magnitude of offerings. It is a place meant for meandering, for taking your time. If you are in a hurry, you can find a staff member who will direct you to the exact spot you need and of course provide advice. Representatives from various distributors tend to be around with different tastings and naturally there are newsletters and alerts that you can sign up for. It’s not that we don’t appreciate that aspect, it is rather that our reason to go to the store is for the experience. As we wandered the aisles and exressed our pleasure at their opening, one of the staff said they were continuing to expand and a store was planned even closer to us within the next year or two. We were delighted at the idea, but don’t worry Sailfish, we won’t desert you.

If you have a favorite wine story, do share it.

Befuddled by Bougainville…..

I know, I should post a photo. Here is my situation and hopefully some of you can empathize. I’ve been known to endanger all plants, although occasionally I can manage to not kill cacti. Rock gardens tend to be the only safe type in my care. However, when we moved to South Florida, I did want to become at least somewhat proficient with plants. I mean, it’s not like they don’t grow well here. (Oh, as an aside, my husband is quite good with plants.)

Anyway, the point is that I haven’t given up on learning about plants, but I haven’t progressed too much in this area either and I am utterly befuddled by our two bougainville that are in containers. They do quite well and then suddenly, the wind strips them bare or like now, the leaves have grown back after the last battering and we have no blossoms. They get lots of full sun and the leaves seem to be quite healthy, so if there is anyone who has a clue as to what the problem is, do chime in.

A Mother Who Wouldn’t Give Up, a Child, and a Dolphin….

There are often situations where we face what seem to be insurmountable odds, unable to break through obstacles, and in truth, that does happen. At times, however, whether you want to call it perseverance, stubbornness, tenacity, faith, or another word, we find a way to beat those odds, to achieve a goal that others may in fact have told you was impossible.

Deena Hoagland is an amazing woman that I had the privilege to recently meet.  Deena and her husband, Peter, head the small staff of Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, Florida, but their facility is not the place to simply go and frolic with dolphins. Recreational/educational swims with dolphins are available in Key Largo at Dolphins Plus and Dolphin Cove, but Island Dolphin Care provides extraordinary therapy that focuses on special needs children, wounded veterans, and selected other special needs adults.

This remarkable story is provided on their site at www.islandfdolphincare.org, but in essence Deena and Peter’s son, Joe, was born with a heart defect and required multiple surgeries as an infant and toddler. At age three, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Docotors recommended the family move from the high altitude of Colorado and therapists did what they could for the young boy with minimal results. The medical community basically told the Hoaglands that their son wasn’t likely to ever see much progress. It was their second move in Florida to Key Largo when Deena thought that perhaps aquatic therapy could help, yet even that option didn’t seem available. She contacted everyone she could think of and finally one day, she and Joe were able to come in for a swim at Dolphins Plus after the day’s activities had ended. There was no intent for a dolphin interaction, yet Fonzie, one of the Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins, couldn’t resist at least a little play. Their son’s response to Fonzie gave Deena hope that she could use this initial spark to encourage Joe to achieve small, then greater movements in order to “play” with the dolphin.

Within a year Joe had made remarkable progress, enough to bring attention to Deena’s efforts. By now Deena was convinced of the value of dolphin interaction therapy, but she did not stop with the satisfaction of their son achieving what therapists had said was impossible. She began to tirelessly promote the concept, overcoming skeptcism and the inevitable financial hurdles to initiate therapies in a small way that showed consistent success. Not with every child, of course, but with many. Within a few years, Peter was able to join with her and fully establish the not-for-profit organization as it is today. They have now helped thousands of families as children with autism, cancer, developmental delays, and other needs have experienced breakthroughs in the man-made lagoon where the staff works with the six dolphins. It is an inspiring story that is well worth reading about.

Some Awesome Women and a Cool Green Turtle….

I had the great pleasure of joining Kim Chesure of FM 103.1 and Terry Albury of the Green Turtle Inn in Islamorada for Tuesday’s Girls’ Night Out. The weekly show is live from the Green Turtle Inn and as a plus to just having a good time with several guests, it was our first experience at the iconic restaurant that was opened in 1947. When you consider how often restaurants come and go being in business for more than sixty years says something, even with changing hands upon occasion. This is one of those places where you have laid-back Keys combined with white tablecloths and an atmosphere that draws you in when you step through the door onto the plank flooring. The U-shaped bar is a focal point of the main room and it was easy to see why people filled it for both drinking and dining.

The menu is selective and if what we had is typical, I know we’ll be back for more. And by the way, I admit that I had never considered the idea of “tater bites for grownup”, but if you take those little goodies, flavor them up with garlic, parmesan cheese, and I’m not sure which other spices, you do get a taste that is not like when you were a kid. As tempted as we were by the concept of lobster lasagna, my husband hadn’t had veal Osso Bucco in ages and he couldn’t pass that up. I decided on the “Flight” of three dishes paired with three wines; a special that they have during Girls’ Night Out. We didn’t indulge in dessert, although the description of the Chocolate Decadence Mousse Cake was intriguing and I’m sure their Key Lime Pie is excellent.

Now about those awesome women – in addition to Kim and Terry, I mean.  On the way down to the Green Turtle Inn, my husband and I ran by Island Dolphin Care, an incredible facility in Key Largo that provides therapy for children, wounded veterans, and others. This unique dolphin-human interaction is a result of the determination of Deena Hoagland, supported by her husband, Peter, after they had attempted numerous traditional therapies for their young son Joe who was partially paralyzed. Deena’s remarkable vision has now helped thousands of people and I’ll talk more about her and Island Dolphin Care in my next post.

Denise Nedimyer, one of the Directors for the Coral Restoration Foundation, was another guest on the show and we chattered away before and after our times with the headphones and mike. I’ll also explain more about Denise and their program in another post.

There were other guests as well, but I got rather caught up in the hub-bub as I often do, and missed some segments of the show. And that was even before I had a glass of wine! It was a terrific night and I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it.

Birds in Flight on a Sunday Afternoon…


It was one of those moments that make you smile – a flock of ibis passing over the tops of palm trees, followed not long after by a pair of green parrots that came from the opposite direction. The ibis (hmm, is ibis singular and plural?) are more graceful in flight and certainly don’t squawk, but the parrots have been in the neighborhood longer. In fact, the ibis took up nearby residency only a few months ago, or at least that’s when we first noticed them in this part of the neighborhood. We see them almost daily now either poking their long, slender beaks in the grassy areas or flying from one spot to the next. I don’t know much about ibis, although learning about birds is on my to-do list and I have a couple of books that I keep handy. I am often not close to the book though and by the time I do take a peek, I tend to find myself asking if it looked like this bird, or was it more that one? Trying to snap a photo with my Iphone is definitely not a solution since I’m not exactly speedy when it comes to using my Iphone (or proficient for that matter, but that’s for another post).

At any rate, while being underwater diving is still a favorite Sunday pastime, relaxing around the pool with a chilled glass of wine, the hibiscus in bloom, lemons ripening on the tree, and tropical birds decorating the sky isn’t a shabby way to spend an afternoon. What are some of the things you enjoy when you have one of those weekend days at home?

Sangria for Summer (Or Anytime)

The Secret to Sangria

Since it’s summer, sangria is a refreshing drink that can go beyond the basic. Sangria is wine punch, but serving it in a wine or tall glass with cracked ice makes it less like the punch bowl variety. Using ¼ cup of orange juice and making the sangria ahead of time, but not adding the club soda until right before you serve it is my preference for smooth taste. The simple recipe below is the traditional red sangria, but white is easy too.

1 Bottle dry red wine (can be really inexpensive)

¼ to ½ cup superfine sugar (can use sugar substitute). Start with ¼ cup and add up to ½ cup depending on taste

1 bottle club soda, chilled (16 ounce)

¼ cup orange juice

½ lemon cut into slices

½ lime cut into slices

½ orange cut into slices

½ apple cut into slices (optional)

Put the sliced fruit in a pitcher, sprinkle sugar on top of fruit, add orange juice, add wine. Stir, taste, add more sugar if desired. If making ahead of time (can actually be done 4-5 hours prior) cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator. Add club soda and stir before serving. Use fruit from pitcher or other sliced fruit as garnish.

We have the Schnebly Winery nearby that makes exotic fruit wines, so a local variation is Mango Sangria. For the liquids, that’s a bottle of Mango Wine, 16 ounces of Light V-8 Tropical Fruit blend (or something similar), the 1/4 cup orange juice, and 8-12 ounces of club soda.

If you’re up in the Northeast, there is Cranberry Sangria as well. Use red or wine white, 16 ounces of cranberry juice (or light cranberry juice cocktail), the 1/4 cup orange juice, and 8-12 ounces club soda.

Serve it up and enjoy!