LOTTE market in Orlando!

Man! This is an amazing place. Thanks to one of the Chefs at Epcot for telling me about this market. We added it to our list of errands one Monday and we were glad we did. Eric has since visited several times and it’s definitely worth a stop when in Orlando. Did a bit of digging and found this info about the market:

  • Founded in 1976, their early stores were in Maryland and Virginia. They’ve expanded into Florida.
  • Their goal is to be the premier source of Asian groceries, popular Korean items, Japanese, Vietnamese, Philippine and Thai products to name a few of their focuses.
  • They import product from farmers all over the world to assure fresh, in-season produce.
  • Their guiding principles are to Lead, Listen, Loyalty and Pride.

Upon entering once of the first things you come across is their produce department. WOW! It was nothing short of amazing. I’ve got to share a few of the many photos I took. Literally, right inside the door was a pallet of Jakfruit. I included a few ‘fun’ facts after the strangest fruits.

  • Cultivated widely throughout tropical regions of the world and is the national fruit of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
  • The jakfruit tree bears the largest fruit from all fruit-producing trees, with a mature tree producing some 200 fruits per year.
  • The ripe fruit is sweet and often used for desserts with an aroma resembling pineapple and banana.
  • In some cultures the jakfruit is boiled and used in curries.

Another interesting item was the Tindora. I had seen something similar – chinese bitter melon – but this was a bit different and smaller than that. Pictured below are the small immature fruits commonly used in India. When I took a closer look at my photos, there is a shot of the chinese bitter melon with the eggplant – further down.

  • It is a tropical vine, which can easily become an invasive species, growing up to 4″ per day.
  • They are best when cooked and commonly eaten in Indian cuisine by deep-frying it along with local spices
  • It has a bitter flavor so the addition of vinegar and sugar can reduce any bitter aftertaste.

I had never heard of this next item. I thought it was a sugarcane stalk until I read the tag – Gobo. Internet search also called it Burdock root.

  • Typically used in Japanese cooking and it can be used boiled & seasoned in Miso soup, salads and other Asian dishes.
  • Said to have a taste similar to a bitter carrot. Several recipes use it for Gobo Sushi.
  • Another source said it has a crispy, earthy sweet taste to it. Seems like the only way to know is to try it yourself.

The last one I’m calling out is the banana flower. While not entirely unknown in Florida, I had never seen it locally available.

  • Can be eaten raw or cooked, common in South-East Asian cuisine.
  • The flower clusters hang at the end of banana clusters.
  • One source said the blossoms are soft with just a bit of crunch, more like an artichoke when it comes to flavor.
  • Typically found in salads, curries or soups.

There was sooooooo many things available, a good deal I knew, other things I did not. I could spend an hour+ in this section. And just because I took so many photos, here are a few more. Look at all of those potatoes!

But then we came across the Seafood section of the market.

This definitely reminded me of the Carrefore that I shopped in Shanghai. Fish were lined up on ice and workers were available to assist once you made your selection.

These crabs were alive, just kept cool to slow their movement and not escape their bin. Use the tongs to pick the ones you want, put them in a paper sack and you’re good to go.

They had lots of pre-packaged seafood items. These two photos do not do this section justice. There was just too many things to take photos of.

And the soy sauce(s)…………………..oh my. There were more than my photo indicates. Practically one aisle is just bottles of soy sauce.

Can you have too much sriracha sauce on hand?

On the other side of the store was the bulk items. Wow – rice was from a number of different countries.

This bakery was exactly like where I shopped in Shanghai. Notice the loaves of bread on the top of the display case (right photo)? That’s how my bread came. The pieces of bread were thick and (almost) perfectly square and probably were 8 pieces of bread inside each package.

They also had a small food court in one section of the market with 8 stalls selling different asian foods. We stopped at this one and ordered things to share.

As I said in the beginning, this was an a.m.a.z.i.n.g. market! Eric has since made repeat visits and his purchases have turned into delicious dinners.


Crystal River – Fall 2020

Yes, we do get Fall in Florida! It’s very subtle. You just kind of know when it’s here. It’s a feeling you get when you walk outside. It takes a few years to develop this ‘sense’, but it’s possible.

I had a chance to tag an extra day onto my weekend for 3 day break from work. We headed west to Crystal River. Love the bay, love the blue sky, love the white puffy crowds and love the water. Yep, it felt great to get away.

We have a new process for getting the boat in the water………..

  • >Drive to Pete’s Pier.
  • >Eric backs the trailer & boat down the ramp.
  • >Ginny (me!) backs the boat off the trailer.
  • >Ginny (me again!) motors the boat to King’s Bay Lodge.
  • >Eric parks the trailer at pre-determined storage.
  • >Eric drives the truck to King’s Bay Lodge and I pick him up to go fishing!

After loading up on drinks, shrimp and ice we motor out to the Gulf. But not before running into these……………paddle boards. Seems like they are taking over in popularity here. You know, I tried it once and I just wasn’t very good at it. Granted I wasn’t sitting down…….

Man! Got to keep an eye on the weather. We saw this before heading out. We had some open blue skies for a bit. Looked like we could get in several hours fishing before it got dicey.

And fish we did! We came in with a m.e.s.s. of fish. Look at those beauties! Eric makes fun when I ‘frame’ the fish with greenery. I think it adds something – so there!

Top to Bottom: Black sea bass, mangrove snapper, seatrout (4), mackarel and grunts(2).

I caught this snapper, a mighty tasty fish.

But let’s see what Adrienne did. Yep, she herself got the majority of the fish. She beat the Dardens!

Supper that night was a mix of fish. Eric grilled the mangrove snapper whole, while I got the black seabass and grunt filets, also grilled. Cubic fries were added to the meal. Not truly a ‘balanced’ meal, but hey we were on vacation.

And just to be sure we were full…………ice cream filled in the cracks. 🙂

The second day we got on the water much earlier and first thing we saw was this boat, looking for manatees. I believe I’ve talked about this before, but if not… numerous tour companies advertise ‘Swim with manatee’ trips in the fresh-water springs. Which also means you have to be careful when motoring through the water to ensure no manatees are hit by your boat propeller. Notice how still the water is? There wasn’t a bit of breeze – yet.

Can I say it? We had a great day! Look at these beauties. The cloud cover was a nice bonus, keeping the temps (relatively) cool.

Eric hooked this redfish early in the morning.

We came back with another great catch for a morning/early afternoon of fishing. A little spanish moss helped the edges of the photo. 🙂

Top to Bottom: Seatrout (2), redfish, mackarel, redfish and seatrout (2).

Eric had numerous ‘friends’ waiting for the spoils after filleting our fishing.

He drew quite a crowd.

He got tired of cleaning fish and asked for a break from cooking. After all, it was such hard work catching all of those fish. We always enjoy Peck’s so off we went for an early dinner.

Eric ordered his dozen steamed crabs preceded by clam chowder while I ordered the ‘fish of the day’ (grouper) with cajun seasoning. Got to have the special onion straws or ‘fish net onions’ as they are called on the menu.

Right behind King’s Bay Lodge is a crab facility and they had thousands (literally, 15K+) of crab traps ready to be dropped into the Gulf. I had a chance to talk with one of their workers and got a mini education. I couldn’t resist a few extra photos. I’m sure they thought I was crazy for taking photos of old traps and buoys.

Our last day of fishing continued to be a day full of fun. That big redfish at the bottom was caught by Eric.

Definitely needed to measure the redfish to be sure it was ‘in the slot’, using the yardstick fish ruler sticker along the side of the boat, instead of the top of the cooler. Rich?

As you can probably guess, there’s a story there. A friend was using our boat earlier in the summer, got stopped by the FWC officer who measured their fish………..and it was short.

We’re coming home with numerous baggies of fish. Eric used his foodsaver to divide up the filets and freeze them for future dinners. We kept a few fillets out and had trout almondine for dinner later in the week. You caould almost see the fish under the almonds.

I couldn’t resist this last photo. This guy had a ‘bad day’. Probably was the storm that hit the coast a few months ago, high water pushing the boat where it ordinarily shouldn’t go.

Always, always, always enjoy our time spent at Crystal River.


German Food Again…………Yes x 2!

One Monday with nothing specific planned we both had a craving for German food. Where do you go in Central Florida when this hits?

Hollerbach’s! For us, this is not a place you casually head towards – it is a destination being 47 miles and a 52 minute drive. The plan was a leisurely drive that would include a bit of eating and a bit of shopping, with a few errands thrown in.

Let’s start with the eating (and drinking). Covid-19 is still a concern and when possible we like to eat outside when (1) covered and/or protected from the sun (2) air movement or fans keeps the temps enjoyable and (3) safe distances between patrons. All of these conditions were easily met.

Hollerbach’s Willow Tree now has a beer on draft that is being made locally (at least in the states).

Always have to start with the pretzel before our sausages and accompanying sides arrived.

The restaurant has been remodeling for a number of years and (unfortunately) opened the weekend the state was shut down for Covid. With the social distancing required, this extra room has allowed their patrons to still enjoy their food. Here is one of their new areas.

Some of their numerous awards are now able to be displayed.

They have most of the city block and on one corner is their German market. After a few food purchases, we finished our errands and headed home.

The title mentions German food x 2. Our second meal was one that Eric prepared at home. The following week we made good use of our recent purchases. Let’s start with the sides.

One important German side dish is red cabbage. After cutting 1/2 head of red cabbage, throwing in a few spices (cloves, allspice) slipping in a key ingredient (apple slices for sweetness) you get the end result………a nice tasty, colorful red cabbage side dish.

Add a nice refreshing chilled gherkin (cucumber & red onion) salad seasoned with dill in a sour cream & vinegar sauce.

Something new in our household was the potato pancakes. Eric grated potatoes – squeezing out all the water possible – threw in some onion and bound the ingredients together with an egg. A tasty fried potato pancake, topped with apple sauce and sour cream (if desired – and I do!) was a nice accompaniment.

Now, one of the key parts of any German meal………….the sausages. We grilled two types: metwurst (3) and nuremburger (6) sausages. Hard to decide which I liked best. I had leftovers for lunch the coming week – always a plus. Man – I can almost hear the sizzling of the sausages.

What goes best with German food? German beer. One item I could not take to work. Ha!

One more new food item in the Darden household was this German dessert. I picked up this dessert mix at their German deli and prepared it after our meal. It was okay. Full disclosure – mine looked nothing like theirs. 😦 The one that likes dessert best (me) was the least impressed. Both Adrienne and Eric enjoyed it. It was a little better the following day. I probably don’t need to purchase this again.

I love German food, Eric not quite so much. When we visited Germany several years ago, tasting their sausages was a big plus for me. If we can’t fly to Germany (and we can’t right now) at least I can enjoy a taste of German food at home.


Back at Work

It’s been 9+ weeks since ‘I got the call’ and went back to work. Can I just say, these are interesting times. I’ve got some photos to share since I’ve been back and a few thoughts.

This first shot is literally, the first day that Epcot opened to guests on July 15, 2020 after a +17 week closure. Kind of odd wearing a face mask (and photographing it) but it is my current world.

Most guests missed Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival this Spring due to the closure – less than 3 weeks after opening. It usually ends the first week of June.

Epcot’s big draw is our festivals – I don’t think that’s a secret (and we have some r.e.a.l.l.y cool ones)! Covid-19 has turned that up-side down. We’re kind of doing a ‘festival blend’ at this moment in time. We have Flower & Garden merchandise, but the theme is ‘Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2020′. Notice the ’25’ near the bottom of the right photo? This year was the 25th anniversary.

Like a normal (Epcot) festival, there are a number of food booths, situated mostly around the lake. Although it is super hot, muggy, sunny, hot, muggy, sunny – you get the picture – a girl’s got to eat. Adrienne met me for lunch one day to sample some food offerings. First stop was the Hawaii kiosk, choosing the pork slider with pineapple chutney. Definitely sounds weird, but it works.

Next stop was World Showplace – great idea since it’s covered, it’s inside and there was seating!

Remember, hot, muggy, hot, muggy……oops forgot the sunny. We found a few selections that gained our interest. I got the charcuterie plate with Adrianne bringing back a pierogi dish and a seafood shepherd’s pie. There was plenty to share.

Stopping in here was a nice chance to cool down. After a bit of noshing, we braved the heat and continued walking around the lake. One more booth drew us in – the kiosk at Germany. We couldn’t resist the bratwurst on a pretzel roll and the apple strudel. Man – just seeing this photo makes me want to go back for another (both!).

Okay, okay. Enough about food – for the moment.

There’s another thing different going on this summer – Character Calvalades. Mickey and Minnie are escorted around the lake with Goofy leading the way.

There is also a princess calvalade with the footman leading the way.

You know, it’s a little bit different but it works for the time we are in.

I heard someone say ‘Embrace this moment. Things will change and get better.’ I’m still learning how to embrace this. I absolutely believe we will find new ways to showcase the Disney brand and be better for it. I absolutely believe the Safety measures we’re going through are making an impact. We’re forging new paths for this challenge.

However, there’s something that hasn’t changed……………..Disney’s colorful landscape! Summer in Central Florida is a tough season to grow flowers. Caladiums make great colorful addition to flower beds. Did you know that Lake Placid, Florida is the Caladium Capital of the World, growing 95% of the world’s caladiums? They grow from a bulb and come up a number of years, until something eats the bulb or it finally degrades. There are a number of flower beds planted with these bulbs and they bring a shot of color. There are hundreds and hundreds of varieties, types & sizes.

Every day I walk the park and eventually pass by this pair of flower beds, it makes me smile. Love the colors, love the flowers. Check out the bee in one of the photos.

Just when I thought I was done talking about food, I came across this shot. One way to combat those hot, muggy, sunny days (besides finding A/C) is ice cream! Throughout the year this food booth will offer different flavors. At the present, it is a strawberry soft-serve ice cream. Full disclosure……….it usually comes with a waffle cone, dipped and embellished with sprinkles, but after the first time, I only needed the ice cream.

Since I didn’t want the waffle cone, the cast member offered to add some sprinkles to my dish – guess I’m not the first one to request this.

So, how is life back at work?

It’s good.

It’s different.

It’s interesting.

It’s occasionally frustrating.

It is the place where I’ve spent the majority of my adult life. My last shot is where my life at Disney started, The Land.


Quick Crytal River trip!

We got a call from a friend mid-week and quickly made plans for a weekend of scalloping & fishing. The only unfortunate thing is we don’t get to stay at King’s Bay Lodge – they’re full. We stayed at another local favorite Plantation on Crystal River.

They don’t have kitchenettes so every meal has to be eaten out and it doesn’t give us the opportunity to cook our day’s catch. Regardless, we like the rooms and the ability to secure our boat right outside of the room along the seawall is a bonus.

This visit their ‘new’ fountain is working.

It’s not a ‘fan favorite’ with us. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with it, but I’m not sure it really fits in. Driving in, this was a nice shot with the trees providing a pretty canopy.

Once you get closer, you can see how they tried to incorporate local flavor………… adding manatees. Maybe that’s the reason I’m not a fan. They’re just kind of a big blob. Ok, enough about the fountain.

Rich and Connor stopped by our house Friday night and headed over (taking our boat) Saturday morning. Adrienne drove over mid-afternoon Saturday to join us. Eric and I arrived in time to find our room, freshen up and gather up the gang before heading over to Peck’s Old Port Cove Seafood Restaurant for our 7pm reservation.

Notice the very bottom section of the sign? ‘Blue Crab Farm’ At the back of their place, you can see some of their holding tanks. This guy was not shy. Guy? Girl? I’m not going to pick the crab up to find out!

Ultimately we ended up sitting outside (which did not require a reservation) but allowed us plenty of physical distancing and the added benefit of open-air seating. Service was a bit hap-hazard and we ended up bussing the table before the waitress stopped by. She did bring our drinks fairly quickly and then it was time for a photo.

Although everyone – but me – started with clam chowder, I (somewhat patiently) waited for the fish net onions appetizer – super yummy and crunchy!

Four of us got the catch of the day – surprisingly all different (1-fried, 1-broiled, 1-blackened) with my choice being the ‘cajun’ seasoning. It had a red pepper kick in the seasoning

Eric came for the crabs. When he placed his order…………….they were out and he had to reluctantly find something else to eat from the menu. We went in, understanding service would be slow and that really worked in Eric’s favor. Low and behold, as our appetizer arrived a boat came up to their back dock and dropped off more crabs. Eric found our waitress and was quickly able to modify his order. His crabs arrived, steamed & sauted with garlic.

He was happy.

This made me happy…………………key lime pie. There was enough to share for those that wanted a spoonful, or two.

This weather screenshot greeted us Sunday morning. It’s all north of us, coming straight onto land, shouldn’t really impact us. Right?

By the time we got everything packed in the boat, clouds had moved in. Notice that ‘spot’ in my photo below? Rain. it was barely sprinkling when we left our hotel, but that changed.

After picking up some shrimp from Pete’s Pier, rain was coming down harder, but there was a break in the clouds. It should be enough for us to motor out to the Gulf to fish. Let’s just say it was a ‘bear’ getting to the break in the clouds. Adrienne and I were sitting in the front of the boat, covered by a beach towel (soaking wet by now) to break the stinging rain. Yes, rain hurts.

The original intent of the quick weekend trip was to ‘scallop’. The (1) rainy weather, combined with (2) murky, churned up water, (3) local reports the scallops were deeper than normal, (4) along with not being plentiful, ultimately decided scalloping was out and that we were only going to fish.

We all caught some fish that day. At one point, Rich showed us one small little seatrout that he commented was his smallest seatrout ever caught (it got thrown back)…………until Eric hooked this guy. Yep, that is one tiny trout. I think the shrimp on the hook was almost the same size.

Adrienne had a great day. Here’s an action shot while she was bringing in her fish.

The fish was netted and added to the growing catch in the cooler. It’s her biggest fish yet – 23″. Hang tight, another shot is coming. We don’t want to lose the fish for a better photo.

Here’s a shot with everyone’s catch.

L to R. Eric – mangrove snapper and seatrout, Rich – seatrout, Connor – spanish mackerel, Adrienne – spanish mackerel.

Notice who’s missing? Me. 😦 I caught no keepers. After fishing almost 20 years, I can honestly say seeing Connor and Adrienne catch fish made the day a good day even for me. Some might say have a history of competiveness…………even with fishing.

The guys enjoyed the fish-cleaning table at this place. It is a step (or two) up from a lot of places. Dual cutting surfaces, water hoses nearby and another really nice feature…………….it was covered giving ample shade.

They had some friends eagerly waiting for the fish trimmings.

Since we (and I really mean Eric) can’t cook our catch, after cleaning up we headed our for dinner. Truly, it was not a typical choice for us.

Our first option was probably going to be a 1+hour wait and it was only 5:30pm. And we were hungry. Someone mentioned Chili’s and we headed that way. All it took was the words ‘chips & salsa’.

I love their hamburgers while Eric settled for a bowl of chili.

Naturally, you have to ‘fill in the cracks’ and ice cream does that nicely.

With Rich and Connor departing early the next morning, it was the three of us.

We probably fished 25 minutes in good weather – warm, sunny with a breeze. The fish were biting! In a matter of a few minutes, the wind picked up, waves started rolling, white caps could be seen and the air temp dropped noticeably. It was time to head in. Thank goodness we found a shortcut yesterday and using the GPS could safely traverse it.

I couldn’t watch and kept my gaze towards land. Eric had to do some ‘tacking’ to get us into the channel. He later told me some of his maneuvers had water pouring over the back gunnel. This trip back became an E-Ticket ride. If you’re not familiar with the term – Google it.

Since we were pushed off the water and leaving earlier than expected, we needed lunch. We found a seafood spot on the way home – Cedar River Seafood.

They had very tasty fried pickles. And I was told the clam chowder was very good.

My broiled flounder filets and Eric’s fried fisherman’s platter was filling enough that no supper was needed.

During the short time on the water, it was productive – for me. I finally ‘got on the board’ catching this 16″ seatrout.

Which turned into dinner the next night Greek-style: lemon-rice pilaf, Greek cucumber & tomato salad and seatrout sauted with herbs, topped with a squeeze of lemon.

Oh yeah, we saw one ‘interesting’ thing at our hotel. Our first night at the hotel we experienced a fairly fierce storm. This greeted the owner in the morning. You could consider this unlucky, or incredible good luck.

Stay tuned for the next post. I’ll share some photos from work.


Eating Out & Dining In

Going out to eat is a novel experience these days. While we seek interesting culinary adventures, Covid-19 has definitely made us more cautious – a lot more cautious. It hasn’t totally stopped us, but we pick and choose locales wisely. Let me show you some recent stops.

We initially stopped here 1+ year ago due to hearing they offered Shanghai-style dumplings………weekends only. Unfortunately, they are currently using an abbreviated menu and alas, dumplings are not an option. But we found plenty of other Asian street fare to eat, such as these fried wontons & fried pork belly. Followed by noodles and fried rice – yum. Almost makes up for not having dumplings………..but not quite.

We have ventured further out of our immediate dining circle and stopped at this eatery in Mt. Dora. Excuse me, ‘Streatery’ and yes it’s located on Fifth Avenue – which is the primary street through historic downtown Mt. Dora.

As you might possibly guess, it was on a corner (an old gas station I think) and all seating is outside. The heaters seen in the photo below are not really needed at this time of year, but the misting nozzles coming off the overhang was much appreciated.

We started with some pretzel knots before my meal of spicey fried shrimp arrived. Eric’s meal was fish & chips. Yep, I noshed on some of his fries!

We have gone even further afield from our Central Florida dining circle and stopped at the Ybor City Columbia’s Restaurant (near Tampa) one afternoon.

Starting the meal with their home-made Sangria is always a hit. (Sorry Eric – Adrienne and I shared, which meant you got iced tea and the drive home.) Pre-Covid, it was made at the table with the ingredients laid out, pretty much a ‘production’. Post-Covid it comes to the table in this pitcher. It was still excellent, but lost some of its ‘panache’.

New rules, new selection. I’ve always (and I do mean 100% of the time) ordered the combo platter which gives me plenty leftovers for work, usually two meals. This time it was the roast pork (whaaaat, only one meat!), accompanied by yucca with black beans & rice. Eric selected a dish with beef and spanish rice.

We shared desserts, having two between the three of us: chocolate bread pudding and a guava tart. Lots of vanilla sauce accompanied each dessert and both were very yummy! We wanted to lick the plate afterwards – just saying.

A little closer to home was The Tiki Bar & Grill along Lake Minneola. Eating outside in a Florida summer is always dicey – but not too bad this day. The clouds definitely helped with the temps.

Tables (distantly spaced) underneath large oak trees was the perfect spot to enjoy some local craft brews.

Eric loved his burger. My order of chicken fingers wasn’t a fan favorite – he won.

Oh yeah and our mode of transportation getting there…………..boat, which took the whole experience up an extra notch.

These were all tasty outings, but I am e.x.t.r.e.m.e.l.y lucky that Eric’s hobby is cooking. Having the time to search the internet for recipes has added additional flavors and dinners not usually seen in this household. He’s made an amazing amount of diverse meals. Now, let’s see what he’s been creating.

Ramen. Bet you never thought I’d lead with that! Eric’s been missing ramen ever since our Lucky’s grocery store left the area (they had a counter for ordering in house). Being home gave him the time to research and create an authentic version.

Let’s just say that authentic ramen takes days to make – no kidding. His bone stock (pork & chicken) needed 18 hours to complete and deepen in flavor. The day prior to eating, he roasted the pork belly and marinated the soft-boiled eggs in a soy-based sauce. The day ‘of’ he made his soy-based Tare. Once I got home that evening, he pulled it all together and here you go.

I know, I know, only one photo captures the final product after such a build-up. He’s going to have to work on ‘progress‘ photos as he builds his meals. There were a few other items that could be added individually such as scallions, chili sauce, seaweed and other assorted spices. To go along with the meal he made a bean sprout salad. It had a nice ‘kick’ to it and complemented the ramen well.

This next photo kind of looks like dessert – it’s not. We had some (delicious) red cherries in the fridge and he googled ‘recipes with cherries’. After sorting through all of the sweet recipes, he found this. He quick-pickled the cherries and the red onions. The fish was seatrout from one of our earlier fishing trips, pan-fried. He added some red pepper flakes to give it a kick – and it did, almost too much.

Another night the recipes favored Peru. We started off munching on peruvian dried corn that he roasted and salted. OMG – they were addictive! The yellow pepper dipping sauce was good, but they were fine on their own.

Which was the precursor to the seafood cerviche’, using our fresh-caught snapper. Hominy, red onions and more roasted corn added flavor and texture.

Did we really need anything else? No, but there was more. He made fried yucca and a dipping sauce (nope – he can’t remember what was in the sauce). They were excellent! Nice and crispy and salty – yum.

We were (and by that I mean me) hankering for another hot pot meal at home. Eric obliged, but we all agreed that summer in Florida is not the right time. That won’t happen again until the weather gets cooler – say December, ha! First up, our hot pot cooking liquid and the sauces.

Then we had our veggies: cubed daikon radish, bok choy pieces and chayote. Two types of mushrooms rounded out the options.

Then came the meat: shrimp, mahi fish & scallops along with the chicken, pork belly and beef.

Not all of his dishes were so intense and involved. Grilled shrimp, sliced tomatoes and pan-fried snapper (we caught it!) topped with capers greeted me one evening when I got home.

Another night it was pork tenderloin, scalloped potatoes (best he’s ever made) and more sliced tomatoes.

Recently I had another hankering this time for Bang Bang shrimp – a dish created at Bonefish Grill. It was one recipe that Eric helped me feel comfortable making before I went to China – so I could make it for myself (and I did!). The shrimp are coated with corn starch, fried then covered with the ‘bang bang’ coating.

Eric’s version of Bang Bang shrimp accompanied with a cooling (but spicy) cucumber salad.

There you have it! While we’ve been selective in our world-wide eating sojourns (Spain, Japan, Peru, China, US Mid-west and Gulf coast seafood) eating at home is okay with me.


June 2020 Birthday 3.0

HOLY COW – I forgot to post this! Instead of a birthday week, maybe I should call it a birthday month or a birthday summer. Regardless, here you go. Man – I’m wishing we had the freedom to go fishing whenever we felt like it – like we did this Spring.

We made a quick middle-of-the-week trip to Crystal River. Why? Because we can (!) since (at the time) we’re still furloughed.

At first glance, the photo below just looks like me posed in front of our boat. What is really represented was…………..(1) the first time I drove the boat without Eric – solo, and (2) first time I docked the boat, tied it up and put out the bumpers by myself – solo, waiting for Eric to show up. Okay, so that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but while I’ve driven the boat numerous times, there was always someone more experienced on the boat with me. Not this day.

First time docking.
King’s Bay Lodge

We can no longer keep the trailer at our lodging so Eric’s arranged to park it at the place we bought out boat – Crystal River Marine. Our plan was to launch the boat at Pete’s Pier, Eric drives away to drop off the trailer, then parks the truck at our motel as I drive via water.

My only problem was kayakers – 30+ of them. I was getting ready to motor around a corner and here they come. They had varying degrees of experience and were spread out, so I waited and waited until the last one passed by me. BTW – she was cutting corners since she was so far behind the others.

Waiting for Eric at the motel, I glanced over the side and saw this group of mullet swimming by. They don’t take a hook and are caught using a net. They are good eating when offered on a menu. Wish I had a net – just saying.

Heading out to the Gulf, we only had the one spot of rain to watch.

Three hours later, that spot turned into this.

Which doesn’t look very close or menacing, until you see this. Yep – it’s time to go in, quickly.

Regardless, we had a good day of fishing.

Top & Center – 2 mackeral, Bottom & Center – 2 seatrout with the fish on the sides being Grunts.

Well, I guess I should say that I had a good day of fishing………….. The mackeral was 22″ and they are fuuuuunnn to catch! Once they take your hook, the line starts ‘zinging’ and there is no guarantee you are bringing them into the boat. They can bite off the line and leave you with nothing. That was not the case this day.


This was also a (very) nice seatrout caught the same day. They don’t pull as hard as a mack, but the bigger ones still give you a nice fight.

21″ Seatrout

The mack fillets were our evening meal, along with some conk peas and cubed potatoes – tasty!

We were out early the next morning, hitting the water. It seems like Eric is getting really good at hooking sharks (and also unhooking them).

We had another good day on the water, bringing home this catch.

Top to bottom: 1 mackerel, 2 seatrout, 1 bluefish and another seatrout.

HAD to take a photo with (my) biggest seatrout. It was a nice hefty size, perfect for filleting and eating. In the background is King’s Bay.

22″ Seatrout

Eric is getting very efficient at filleting our catches.

This day he had some help with the leftover trimmings. These birds were anxiously eye-balling his work.

Being it’s the middle of the week, one of our favorite restaurants was open AND it’s walking distance from our lodging, yeah!

We both devoured their hot, garliky herb- buttered bread, while sharing a bottle of wine throughout the meal.

They are known for their she-crab soup which Eric said did not disappoint. I had the fried green tomatoes, topped with bacon pieces and crumbled goat cheese as my starter.

We both ordered additional appetizers for our entres with Eric having braised pork belly and I had the Aji Tuna appetizer, very artfully arranged on the plate I must say.

And………….this is the reason we kept to the appetizer plates as we both wanted dessert. Eric really enjoyed his chocolate sundae while I loved my carrot cake & coffee.

It was a nice meal, followed by a leisurely walk back to our motel, truly feeling special for my birthday (month). 🙂

We were able to extend our stay for an additional night, thus getting in 3 days of fishing before heading home. Once again, Eric hooked a shark – a bonnet head shark this time.

This day we brought home 5 seatrout.

Going to Crystal River was an ‘escape’ for us while also allowing us to indulge in our hobby of fishing. For many, this is their livelihood. I was reminded of that several times on our last day. First was saw the shrimp trawl at Pete’s Pier.

Immediately to my right was one of the crabbing boats pulling their traps.

That bluefish we caught a few days ago turned into this VERY tasty fish dip once we got home. It was some of the best that Eric has made.

I drove the boat after we launched it at the beginning of our get-away and now drove it back to Pete’s Pier to pick up Eric. I’ve yet to drive the boat onto the trailer – but that’s coming soon.


Nature Calls!

It was time to go out and enjoy the Natural Florida.

Work is definitely interfering with my blog writing! It was much easier to write (okay, type) when I was furloughed versus working 9+ hours daily, which doesn’t include the 40+minute drive to and and the 40+ minute drive from work. I am thankful I have a job and was called back. But…………I can’t wait until retirement! This little taste of staying home whetted my appetite for the next leg of life’s journey.

Florida is more than theme parks and beaches – I know, I know, hard to believe. We have a lot of ‘nature’ to observe in this state. The north shore of Lake Apopka was 21 miles or almost a 35 minute drive on a Sunday morning from our home.

It had been written up in the local paper over the weekend, so we weren’t the only ones that had this idea.

This is a one-way, 11 mile drive around the north shore of Lake Apopka, Florida’s 4th largest lake at 50,000 acres. It is a restoration project from when in 1941, 20,000 acres were separated by a levee and the land drained for muck farming. In 1996 the Florida Legislature began to fund buying back the agriculture lands and restoring the lake.

They have an audio tour, along with a paper guide to share highlights as you’re traveling -safely- in your air-conditioned vehicle.

The levee mentioned above was the road we followed. The shot below gives you an idea of the vastness of the land.

Really, the first animal we saw was one from the dinosaur age – an alligator.

Then we saw another alligator.

Yep, the gators were definitely putting on a show. This one was slowly swimming through the plant life looking for his next meal.

It was kind of a game – who could spot them first.

There may have possibly been direction given to ‘back up’ if we thought we spotted one.

This guy ducked under the water before I could get a photo. You can see him along the edge of the water, near the cattails. He was one of the smaller ones.

Very important to stay inside your vehicle.

There was other wildlife seen during our drive – like these Great Blue Herons.

Odd, I always seemed to get the same head angle in my shots.

This structure used to be a pump house draining excess water from the farmlands.

I don’t know who would want to fish, but apparently some have tried, hence the signs.

We came across these weather instruments gathering data on the other side of the pump house. This view of Lake Apopka is part of the original 50,000 acres.

And, I couldn’t resist a shot of this flowering Mallow bush.

Just in case people would forget…………………big brother was watching.

You could spend 1-2 hours, slowly driving the road, searching for gators and gathering a few photos. I read that the ‘birders’ LOVE this place in the winter for spotting species and taking counts. That’s not my ‘thing’ but we did enjoy the drive.

We’ll be back a different time of the year when having the windows down provides a nice cooling breeze, instead of a desire to turn up the AC.


I got the call………

Yes, I got the call to come back to work and end my furlough, effective Sunday June 28, 2020.

However, this time being at home could be interpreted as a ‘preview’ or test for retirement – before it happens. So…… well did that work?

Let’s see, what did I accomplish?

Sewing. Haven’t done this in QUITE a while, even though we have two sewing machines in this house (not including the two antique sewing machines that run on your pedal power). Projects completed thus far are cloth napkins, kitchen towels, five scarf make-overs and most recently hair scrunchies.

Yardwork. I’ve always enjoyed puttering around in the yard and this gave me the time to work on details I’ve thought about but didn’t make (or have) the time. Things like brick borders, new plant beds, starting plants from cuttings and of course our backyard.

Wildlife. Being outside daily, gave us the chance to clean up existing bird feeders, create new habitats, take the time to observe happenings and (spoiler alert) certify our backyard as a ‘Wildlife Habitat’. Waiting on the paperwork and signage before I was going to share, but ‘I got the call’.

Did not realize how unique this photo was, until I’ve waited for it to happen again, and it has not.

Mated pair of Red-shoulder Hawks.

Painting. Finally had the time to repaint & create these ladybugs, finished staining my wooden wine boxes & others and painted a few frames along with various other items.

Created Organization. Took the time to focus on items we use daily and things we don’t, created a sitting area outside that we actually use and brought together items to signify seasonality.

Eric’s Creative Cooking………….never would have grilled pizza & street corn or created our own Hot Pot meal or made French Curd JUST to name a few of my new favorites.

Going back to work I’m definitely going to miss some things……………

Markets……..picking up bread at a French bakery, locally-grown eggs at small markets and visiting this family farm in an adjoining county – weekly.

Last minute fishing trips………….we missed out on one week of St. George Island, but substituted visits to Crystal River. Finally have some fish in the freezer.

Non-Disney hair highlights.

To answer the question posed at the top, we will enjoy the time together when we retire! We didn’t really doubt that, but if we can enjoy this time during a world-wide pandemic, we can enjoy the ‘official’ retirement when that comes.

The sign came! I literally was getting ready to send off this blog post and Eric picked up the mail. Our Wildlife Habitat sign had arrived.

There were a series of questions asked – no inspection needed – and I can honestly say we faithfully met all the items asked, with the recent time spent working in the yard.

So to end this post……….I got the call.


June 2020 Birthday 2.0

The last post mentioned it was going to rain and rain and rain while we were at Crystal River celebrating my birthday. Upon checking into our motel, we walked out to the dock – where the boat should have been – and saw the results of tropical depression rain + high tide = coastal flooding. Yikes!

King’s Bay Lodge floating docks June 2020

That just doesn’t look like a safe place to dock a boat. As I was surveying the flooding, I saw the owners were trying to grow some tomatoes and didn’t remove them before the water encroached. It’s more like hydroponics now!

King’s Bay Lodge tomatoes June 2020

Eric thought it would be fun to swim in the ‘natural’ springs and jumped into the water. Nope, no way was I going to do that, nada.

King’s Bay Springs June 2020

And then he jumped into the motel’s pool, which is filled by a nearby diverted spring. Look at that form! The water is the same temp year around 72 degrees F – that’s cold for some of us (mostly me, ha!).

The high water also made it easier to spot manatees. Lots of people pay money for an excursion in the springs for this to happen. Here I could look over the edge of the floating dock.

The ducks seemed to like the area around the floating docks also. These guys hung around quite a bit.

King’s Bay Lodge ducks June 2020

We were never in any immediate danger from the flooding. The following morning when the tide changed (and the rain stopped and the tropical depression moved further north) the docks were back to normal.

King’s Bay Lodge tomato plants June 2020

Right behind our room (literally out the back door) is the King’s Bay River Walk. While I’ve mentioned it in previous posts, the city leaders continue to expand and enhance the walkway.

Crystal River June 2020

Naturally, along the way they showcase the manatees of which this area is known.

Crystal River June 2020

They have also done a good job with adding some flowering plants along the way.

But they have these amazing totem poles which kept drawing your back to find more animals. I’ll tell you right now, while I’ve seen them before, they never really drew more than a glance from me. But with Eric along, he could help identify 99.99% of the carved animals and it became a contest – he won.

And yes, the ones that have some paint/stain defining the animal life made a difference for me. They could be a scavenger hunt!

Behind the Kings Bag Lodge is a crab trap operation and restaurant. Hundreds upon hundreds of crab traps are sitting in a nearby lot. Here you see old crab traps (still in use) along with the newer coated-metal traps.

Totally didn’t see the artistry in this shot, until we got home and I was culling the extra photos. I like it.

Although Adrienne departed early Monday morning to head back, it looked like there could be a ‘window’ for fishing the next several days. Eureka! We stayed two more nights.

Eric also got up (somewhat) early on Monday and went home to pick up the boat. Ultimately the weather Monday afternoon did not cooperate, so we found a new place to pick up some seafood. Eric got to use his culinary talents again. Poached local shrimp and grilled Grunt with bread crumbs was very delicious!

FINALLY……………Tuesday morning we could take the boat out into the Gulf. There was a bit of green (rain) we needed to keep an eye on, but it was worth the chance.

Gulf Coast June 2020

Man – there is no one on the water. Plus, no wind, the water is like a sheet of glass – smooth boating.

We had a good day catching fish. Eric caught this nice trout while apparently I had the knack for catching mangrove snapper. Fish caught (top to bottom): two sand perch, six mangrove snapper with Eric’s seatrout holding the bottom spot.

The snapper made a good meal that evening, along with rice. Lately, Eric has been cooking fish whole (for himself) while ensuring I had boneless fillets for my meals.

Day’s catch: grilled mangrove snapper. June 2020

Yeah! we are able to have another day of being on the water fishing until chased off by this storm mid-afternoon. Even though north of us, it was getting too close for comfort. Don’t want to ruin a birthday getting struck by lightening!

It didn’t prevent us from bringing in a nice haul of fish that day.

Five mangrove snapper and one sea perch.

When making birthday plans months ago, we had no inkling of the state of our world that was to come. However, you make the most of what you’re dealt. Take lemons and make lemonade.


Found on the dock of Pete’s Pier.