life’s a beach

It’s been a busy last few.  Lots of fires to put out and people to make happy.

Times like these make me think of Blake Shelton’s song, Some Beach.  So, as an ode to that theme, here are some beach pics from my past travels to inspire your future travels, or just give you a few minutes in a happy place!

St. Lucia

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Tobago

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Guadalupe

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Dominican Republic

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California Coast

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And, of course Hawaii

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dinner in crystal river

After my most amazing experience at Rainbow Springs, I drove about 30 minutes south to the town of Crystal River.  Crystal River is well known for droves of manatees which populate the seaside waters in the winter.  There are several underwater springs in the bays of the Crystal River which the manatees flock to in order to keep warm when the temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops below 68°.

South Florida has had a warm (i.e. HOT) winter in December and January.  In December it was a frequent occurrence that temps hovered around the mid-to-upper 80s (about 10-15° above normal), and January was very similar.  Thus the manatees were few and far between during the start of our winter, since the gulf waters were warm enough for them to hang out in.

I was hoping that manatees would be more abundant in March, since the temps had been dropping somewhat.  Weeelllll…I was mistaken.  Trying to see manatees in March in Crystal River was a non-existent-event.

A big tourist attraction in this area is actually getting on a wetsuit and swimming with manatees.  I had signed up for a snorkel trip to swim with these amazing, gentle creatures, and was GREATLY disappointing.  Not the tour group’s fault….more my fault for coming when the water was too warm for the sea cows to be near the warm springs.  We managed to see two of the lovelies, but they were sleeping and not active.

Here are a few snaps of my day in Crystal River.

BE WARNED. These pictures are not impressive.

If you look really closely, you can just barely make out the outline of a manatee tail in the middle of the image (near the top are snorkeler toes).

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See…not impressive photos.  But proof to Mom that I did see them!!!

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We went looking for more manatees at the Three Sisters Springs area (where manatees typically hang out when they need warmth.)  The springs underwater and foliage above water were so gorgeous!  The pictures I snapped do no justice whatsoever.  I could have spent all morning swimming around the springs area, the water was THAT clear, and the place THAT impressive.

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Nonetheless, still no manatees in this sanctuary space, so all of us snorkelers hopped back on the boat and went back to doc with not much to show for ourselves.

Crystal River does not have much to do other than a visiting a few nature parks, and the manatee viewing/swimming. With the manatee viewing exhausted, I decided to check out somewhere interesting for dinner.

Trip Advisor’s 600+ reviewers recommended I try Pecks Old Port Cove for great seafood.  I tell you what…getting to Pecks is half the fun!  It was a leisurely 25 minute drive from the main area of town to get to this restaurant.  The restaurant is located at the end of a very twisty, turney, windey road.  Save for a few houses here and there, unless you’re headed to dinner, you’re not on this road, which added to the ambiance of a nice drive in the wild.

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I sat down early (I was afraid there would be a crowd) around 5:30pm.  I mostly had the place to myself at that hour, but the place rapidly filled up.

My server recommended the crab rolls (kinda like egg rolls, but with crab inside), which were topped with a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce.  (The sauce probably was the best part of the appetizer.)

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For my main course, it had to be blackened grouper.  I love blackened fish, and grouper is a great fish if you can get it.  This did not disappoint.

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Served with typical uninteresting sides (hush puppies, fries, baked potato, cole slaw….I opted to forgo the fried sides for a lettuce salad.)  They send over the salad, but still included a set of hush puppies.  As you can see, this made me happy!  🙂

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I wouldn’t say the food was AM-azing.  But getting to the restaurant was a fun adventure, and the sunset view made it all worth while.

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They had a small dock out back with a few pub tables so you could take in the view.  I’d say it was a nice place to rest for a few beats before making the trek onto the next adventure.

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crystal clear water at rainbow springs

When you think of Florida, you probably dream of three things: Disney, palm trees and water.  Whether it’s the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, or the calm seas that make up the Gulf of Mexico, so many people come to Florida for sun, sand and the sea between their toes.  However, if you do some research, and travel a little ways off the beaten path, you’ll come to a lesser known State Park near central-west Florida.  Welcome to Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, FL!

Rainbow Springs State Park has some interesting history, being several times over the years a privately owned tourist road-side attraction, complete with waterfalls, glass bottom boat tours and even a zoo!?!  Today, it is managed by the State Park Service, and for a mere $2 entrance fee, you too can enjoy the beauty of this place.

Mother Nature installed the first (and in my opinion best) attraction that this place has to offer.  A crystal clear, turquoise swimming hole that is out of this world beautiful!

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I mean, come on….LOOK at how clear that water is!

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The water is a constant 72 degrees, which is a bit chilly for this lady, who likes her swimming water to be the temperature of warm bath water…..but that didn’t stop lots of people from jumping in for a nice swim under the sunny sky.

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Because water is constantly flowing from the natural underwater spring, the color and clarity of the water at the headsprings area has this amazing turquoise color, and is soo clear you can see everything under the surface (including little fishies swimming around!)

In the summer, the State Park offers inner tube “rides”, in which you slowly float down the beautiful river, and get whisked back to your car by a tram when you arrive downriver.  This was closed when I visited earlier this month, but will open up as an attraction in the summer.  I do hope to be back to experience it!

For rent on site are kayaks and canoes, giving everyone a chance to glide along the calm waters.

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The park has picnic benches, a pavilion for large gatherings, large grassy hills that you can play frisbee on, and even a concession station, complete with hot dogs, ice-cream bars and nachos (the diet of all who wish to don a bathing suit 😉

On my visit, throughout the park, the azalea bushes were in full bloom, only adding to the beauty of the area.

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The other part that makes this park so interesting to visit, is the historic side.  As I mentioned, it used to be a tourist road-side attraction, at one point having a zoo and rodeo.  You can see remains of some of the zoo enclosures, and posted signs describe to visitors how the area was used.

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The enclosures were a bit rundown and spooky, having been around for several decades.

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Some of the sidewalks even were stamped concrete to look like wood planks!

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And the last thing to see, but definitely not least, are the WATERFALLS!!!!!!  When this place was designed in the 20s, 30s, and updated in the 60s and 70s, several waterfalls were created to add to the allure of the attraction.  These waterfalls are so beautiful!

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The falls are positioned along meandering paths that wind through the park.  The native plants around them are lush, green and full, making this seem like paradise!

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Signs make sure swimmers stay where they belong…..;-)

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I could have stayed forever, walking among the trees, hearing the water crash down on the rocks, and looking at the water everywhere!  If you are traveling through Florida and can take the time to visit, it is well worth your while!  I can’t wait to go back!

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Success!!!

Today’s blogpost is a little different that the last two posts in subject matter.  But it is something I am SO excited about and I wanted to share!

I finally bit the bullet and purchased a food processor.  Well, let me clarify.  I finally purchased a “mini” food processor.  I HAD a large Cuisinart food processor, and have lovingly cared for it for many years.  (By “lovingly cared for it”, I mean to say, I have kept the huge, heavy, awkward to use, pain-to-clean-piece-of-junk in the cabinet for five years!)  Soo many recipes call for using a food processor to pulse, puree, mix or otherwise combine ingredients into fantastic dishes.  Every time I went to use it, I had to unpack half of my cabinet to get at the darn thing.  Then, lug it out (its heavy!!!), and unpack all the blade attachments only to be unable to mix the ingredients properly, thus making a HUGE mess, and ultimately, no fantastic dish at the end.

Enter…the Mini Food Processor.  (Yes, it deserves capitol letters.)

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I couldn’t give you a good reason as to why I haven’t purchased one of these before now.  I wanted one for such a long time.  My rationale is that I cook in small batches, so never needed the bulk of the full size processor.  And I figured, smaller == easier to clean!  Lastly, these mini processors are not that expensive.  Mine costs just under $40 MSRP, which ISN’T that much $$.  It’s win-win all around.

I finally decided to get mine at Target last week.  Guess what…..It was ON SALE!!!  So I got this beauty for only $32!!  (#SCORE!)

Side Note: I didn’t realize when I purchased mine in the store, but it comes in a TON of great and fun colors!  Check it out online!

Unlike my big momma machine, the mini has only four moving parts.  The base that plugs into the wall, the container you put the food into, the blade, and the top!  And they all lock/unlock with EASE!  I could do it with my pinkie finger if I needed to.

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Another reason I was so happy to get this was Homemade Hummus.  I have unsuccessfully tried to make hummus at home with the Big Processor and also a blender.  Both HUGE disasters.  I was starting to think it wasn’t worth it to DIY hummus.

You know whats coming…. Enter the “little wonder”.  I tried my hummus recipe on it, and BLAM-O!  Wonderful, amazing, PERFECT homemade hummus!

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And to top it all off, the clean up is a breeze (very important, because I am a messy chef!)!  I am SOLD on this little miracle worker.  I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone and everyone.  Oh, and did I mention it could fit in a shoe box?  (small) And it’s soo light weight, a baby could lift it with a single finger (slight exaggeration).

Check it out for yourself.  You won’t be disappointed!  And with all the left over time you have from not de-cluttering your kitchen cupboard to get your big food processor, or all the clean up you have to do….you can enjoy a nice glass of wine with your delicious food!  I know I did 😉

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