Celebrating 36 Years

I stepped out of the shower this morning with wet hair to the smell of bacon and was met by my wonderful husband on bended knee to a proposal that we spend the next 36 years together. What a wonderful way to start the day in celebration of our 36th anniversary.

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Not long after we met at Western Carolina University, this guy (not a breakfast eater) started joining me for breakfast every morning at Dodd Cafeteria because he knew breakfast was my favorite meal of the day and no matter how early my classes, I never missed my bacon, eggs, toast and juice.

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And one of the things he promised me when we married was a lifetime of breakfasts. A promise he’s kept by faithfully preparing bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, french toast, eggs and other specialties.

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So, of course, this morning was no exception with his version of an Egg McMuffin…something we refer to as an Egg McCollum and a glass of OJ.

Tonight we celebrate at Mom and Dad’s Italian Restaurant, a place we’ve enjoyed since my first visit to Ocklawaha. Happy anniversary to the best husband ever…yes, I’m ready for the next 36!

Van Fleet and Red Wing

We’ve started getting in a routine of going on a longer bike ride at least one day each week. Most of our rides have been on trails that can only be described as old favorites…ones we’ve ridden on several occasions and return to for the comfort of a familiar ride. However, we don’t want to get in a rut so we also look for opportunities to ride new trails and visit different places.

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Last summer we rode the General James A. Van Fleet Trail from the Mabel trailhead to the trailhead at Bay Lake, a twenty mile round trip, on what can only be described as a near perfect trail since it was flat, straight and shady. Last week we rode a second section of the trail from the Green Pond trailhead to Bay Lake, another 20 mile round trip. Like the portion we rode last year, this trail is equally flat, straight and shady, but since it travels through the Green Swamp, it’s wilder and more isolated.

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Through the early section of the trail we were serenaded by alligators as we crossed the three bridges over the protected wetlands. Many riders report seeing not only alligators but deer, armadillo, rabbits, tortoises, snakes and even otters. On the day we rode, we spotted one gator and numerous gopher tortoises, not bad for a hot summer day, but a trip in the fall may be needed for better wildlife viewing and so we can complete the final leg of the trail from Green Pond to Polk City.

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The trail’s well maintained and marked every half mile so it’s easy to know how far you’ve ridden and determine when it’s time to turn around, and while water and restroom facilities are available every 10 miles, it’s important to take plenty of water, especially on a summer ride. You also want to be self sufficient since there are few other riders and cell phone service is not available on all portions of the trail. However, with a little planning, the Van Fleet trail is a perfect way to spend a day in “wild” Florida.

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Speaking of “wild” Florida, on our way home, we found a restaurant in Groveland that fits that description. Upon entering Red Wing Restaurant, diners are met by an antler chandelier, and walls lines with mounted deer, turkey, a rooster and even a jackalope. The sign in the parking lot announced all you can eat quail, but that’s a Wednesday night special. In fact, many of the wild dishes like gator tail, frog legs, venison and game sausage are reserved for the dinner menu, but we enjoyed the milder hamburgers, steak sandwiches and peach cobbler.

Finding a new, good restaurant is always an ideal way to end a bike ride.

 

 

It’s National Ice Cream Day!

Since today’s National Ice Cream Day, I thought it would be fun to find some new recipes for homemade ice cream. Family get-togethers in the summer usually include pulling out the ice cream maker and whipping up a batch of vanilla ice cream, but maybe it’s time to try something a little different. These recipes should keep us busy for awhile.

I can’t think of anything that sound more refreshing than Lemonade Ice Cream. Click here for the recipe from Your Home Based Mom.

Lemonade Ice Cream

Cookies and Cream Ice Cream made without an ice cream maker? This looks super simple and sounds delicious. Click here for the recipe from Cincyshopper.

Cookies and Cream

Even though this recipe looks like it may be more difficult, Salted Caramel is one of my favorites so it may be worth a try. Click here for the recipe from The Kitchen McCabe.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

While it’s too late to celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday (July 8th) with this recipe, maybe Hogwarts fans can start perfecting this recipe for Butterbeer Ice Cream for next sumer. Click here for the recipe from Food in Literature.

Butterbeer Ice Cream

This recipe for Peppermint Ice Cream may make it possible for John to have one of his favorite flavors of ice cream year round since it’s only sold in stores as a “seasonal” item. Click here for Your Home Based Mom’s recipe.

Peppermint Ice Cream

A no cook, no egg recipe for Butterfinger Ice Cream…yum! Click here for the recipe from Livin’ Life Loud.

Butterfinger Ice Cream

Another no cook recipe! This time for Peach Ice Cream from Southern Living. I don’t think there’s a more perfect time of year for Peach Ice Cream. Click here for the recipe.

Peach Ice Cream

Or maybe baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies and making a Hot Fudge Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich would be a better way to celebrate National Ice Cream Day…in any case…let’s eat some ice cream.

Hot Fudge Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Why I Love to Eat Out

The web is loaded with articles about why you should stop eating out with titles like:

  • 6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Dining Out
  • Top 10 Reasons Not to Eat Fast Food
  • 5 Reasons To Stop Eating Out
  • Top 9 Reasons To Stop Eating Out
  • 6 Reasons To Forgo Eating Out
  • Why I Don’t Eat Out
  • 10 Reasons to Not Eat at (Most) Restaurants

While I found dozens of articles encouraging readers to eat at home, I didn’t read any of them. I don’t want to read something that makes me think about our habit of eating out more than we eat at home.

So why do I love to eat out? Well, here goes:

  • No shopping for food. A time saver. No lists. No shopping.
  • No cooking. I’ve never been a good cook so any excuse not to cook is a good excuse.
  • No dishes to wash. Cooking’s no fun, but doing dishes is even worse.
  • No kitchen to clean up.  And I don’t miss cleaning counters, stove tops, tables, and the spills on the floor.
  • Service. Who doesn’t like to have someone wait on them? Serve drinks, food, refill my drink, and then clean the table. Good deal.
  • Take as long as we want. It’s great to take time sitting together, talking, unwinding without worrying about dinner preparation.
  • Convenience. What can be more convenient. No planning. Just jump in the car and let someone else do all the work.
  • See friends and acquaintances. It’s pretty rare that we go out and don’t see someone we know. This is a great chance to catch up with others.

I know. I know. Eat at home and save money. Eat at home and eat healthy. Eat at home and enjoy your home. Eat at home and relax. All good advice, but I prefer to eat out.

Order. Eat. Pay. Leave. The way to go!

 

Too Many Choices

What is it with these crazy new Freestyle Coke machines at restaurants? It’s bad enough that when you order a drink, you’re handed a cup and told to get it yourself, but these new machines make the process of getting a drink much too time consuming.

Not only are there 23 choices on the main screen, but once you make the initial selection another screen appears so more flavors can be selected: Coke, Cherry Coke, Raspberry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Cherry Vanilla Coke, Lime Coke, Orange Coke

IMG_6046Really? Who needs that many choices?

And of course, every child has to create his or her own drink. A squirt of cherry coke, two squirts of Fanta orange, another squirt of Sprite, a little Root Beer, and Dr. Pepper. I can’t imagine they really drink this concoction. And while they have fun creating a unique drink, there has to be a better way for kids to have fun without creating a backup at the soda machine.

Did you know there’s even an app for the Freestyle machine so consumers can create, name, and share their creations? Do we really need to encourage seven-year-olds to become mixologists?

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Unfortunately, even water’s dispensed in the Freestyle machine so there’s no way around it. Please, can you just hand me a can of soda or a bottle of water?

10 Delicious Strawberry Recipes

I can’t help but notice the roadside strawberry stands that have popped up the last couple of weeks. It’s one of my favorite things about winter in Florida, fresh strawberries! Since I can’t resist buying berries by the flat, I need to find some new recipes so that not even one berry goes to waste.

Oreo cookies, cream cheese, and strawberry pudding mix, this looks super simple: Cookies ‘n Cream Strawberry Cheesecake Bars from creme de la crumb.

Cookies-n-cream Strawberry Cheesecake Bars

Frozen strawberries provide the basis for this quick dessert. Check out Just a Taste for the recipe for this 5-Minute Healthy Strawberry Frozen Yogurt.

5-Minute Healthy Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

An oldie but goodie that needs to be revisited: Strawberry Pretzel Salad found on Stuff by Ash.

Bruschetta…with strawberries? That’s a different combination. From Lemons for Lulu Strawberry Tomato Bruschetta.

Now this recipe for Strawberry Freezer Jam from Here Comes the Sun looks like something that even I could make.

From Taste of Home, Strawberry Vinaigrette, perfect for a spinach salad!

Strawberries + pineapple + coconut = delicious It’s time to try a Strawberry Pina Colada Dessert from A Pinch of Joy.

Oatmeal in a smoothie? That’s a surprise, but this Strawberry Oatmeal Smoothie, from allrecipes.com, looks yummy, even if it is healthy.

A new salsa recipe just in time for the Super Bowl! Strawberry Mango Salsa from Fresh Tastes.

Strawberry Mango Salsa

Guess what’s on the menu this week?

 

It’s Big Cheese Time

IMG_2938The first weekend of college football season…that brings to mind not only the image of cheering fans, pacing coaches, white smoke, and booming cannons; it also evokes memories of favorite college hangouts.

While The Big Cheese didn’t exist until five years after John’s graduation from the University of Miami, it’s become our go to restaurant following a big game.

After all, what’s better than a hot, cheesy pizza in the company of liked-minded fans all dressed in orange and green basking in the glory of a win or even commiserating with one another after a loss.

According to the dictionary, the definition of Big Cheese is someone knowledgeable and of importance and high standing in an area or field. The Big Cheese certainly lives up to its name…a restaurant of importance and high standing to pizza loving Hurricane fans.

What’s your college sports go to place?

Grouper Sandwich Quest

A trip to the beach just isn’t complete without lots of delicious seafood so while spending a few days enjoying Stump Pass State Park on Manasota Key we set out to find the island’s best grouper sandwich.

First, we tried Flounders, a place recommended by a woman at our hotel. She described Flounders as a fun place to eat, and I think she’s probably right about that. When we arrived at 3:30 a live band was playing music in the outside bar area.

Unfortunately, the staff at Flounders was preoccupied with the set up of the stage for a dueling piano show later in the evening. That could have been overlooked if the food was outstanding, but that was not the case. The grouper sandwich was average, and while the mango salsa was tasty, the fish tacos were dry. Unfortunately, we were looking for good food instead of fun.

On day two, we headed to Lock ‘n Key, located across the street from Flounders, it received a rating of ‘4’ on Yelp so it seemed like a good place to try. Again we ordered a grouper sandwich to split as well as a prime rib sandwich.

We were a little surprised to find that the prime rib sandwich was a hunk of meat on a slice of bread instead of an actual sandwich with sliced meat, a lesson to read the menu more carefully. And as for our grouper sandwich…it was large and the taste was alright, but again, nothing special. We did splurge on a unique dessert. Banana split pie with several flavors of ice cream with bananas and cherries frozen in the pie topped with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. Yummy, but way too many calories!

Our final attempt to find a delicious grouper sandwich was at the Gulf View Grill, a restaurant with numerous awards plastered on the wall for everything from “Most Romantic” to “Best Dinner”. Gulf View Grill certainly deserves the award for best sunset view, but I hope there’s someplace else on the island with a better dinner. The grouper sandwich was about the same as the fish at the previous two restaurants, but the shrimp dinner came with only 4 fried shrimp and not nearly tasty enough to justify their $20 price.

I could go back to any of these restaurants for another meal, but I’ll need to try something other than the grouper sandwich I craved. Next trip, we’ll have to continue the great grouper quest…or drive another hour to Sanibel Island where I know I can sink my teeth into the World’s Best Grouper Sandwich.

Fresh from The Freezer

IMG_6406I’m not sure why you’d call a restaurant that serves fresh seafood The Freezer, but that’s the name of the place we ate in Homosassa.

A sign greeting diners highlights their specialty, steamed shrimp; but it also reminds diners that The Freezer is a cash only establishment.

We sat on the porch overlooking the dock and started with chips and salsa which were not impressive. Tasted like store bought salsa, not homemade.

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However, the steamed shrimp made up for the salsa disappointment. Fresh, with perfect seasoning, the full order was more than enough for two. And from the way the woman at the next table attacked the crabs, they must have been tasty, too.

Another trip to Homosassa’s on our calendar so that may mean another trip to The Freezer as well.

 

It’s Pickin’ Time

This week I spent a morning picking blueberries…something I had never done before, and in little more than an hour, I’d collected a bucket full of berries.

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Lisa, Jody, and I picked about 20 pounds of blueberries at Abshier Blueberry Farm in Belleview. We wandered from row to row picking a variety of berries with names like star, jewel, and emerald tasting and evaluating the berries as if we were knowledgeable berry connoisseurs. I’m not sure about the others, but as for me, I looked for the largest berries. After all, more berry equals more flavor.

U-pick farms can be found throughout north central Florida and while Abshier Blueberry Farm ends its season on June 1st, many others are open throughout June and a few in July. A list of additional U-pick farms as well as tips for picking, cooking, and freezing blueberries is available at the Florida Blueberry Growers Association website.

Florida expects to produce 25 million pounds of blueberries this year so I’ll be checking out the Florida Blueberry Growers Association recipes for drinks, salads, sauces, entrees, and of course, desserts. With nearly five pounds of berries in the refrigerator, I need to get busy.