Surprise Trip to Florida Beaches before Covid

It is now the beginning of July and the pandemic is still very much a part of our lives, and unfortunately will continue for many months to come. It is a new normal here, but we have adjusted, and feel very fortunate to have a wonderful home and neighbourhood, and especially each other. The days are flying by and it is a lovely warm /hot summer.

Of course when you are home you notice all the things that need doing, so the gardens are getting a lot of attention. I have added flower beds in our back garden, but I have a little struggle going on with some critter in one of my beds. He keeps pushing through the earth from somewhere below the stone work of our patio, and I keep covering it. At this point I think he will win. It is always interesting in the morning when I check and water the bed, where he has wriggled. Speaking of critters, I just did some arm weights in an upstairs room and noted out the window a baby raccoon sleeping soundly on my neighbour’s roof. A few days ago I saw a large hawk on the grass a few doors south of us stalking a squirrel. He must have been a juvenile as the squirrel eventually scampered away and the hawk flew off. I think because so many of us are home and there is not a great deal of traffic around, the wildlife has returned.

The interior of our house is getting a great deal of attention as well, because when you are in it most of the time you start to notice things that need repair. I have never done as much cleaning and re-arranging of cupboards, and I have hired a wonderful young woman, who started a business called Leave it to Jill. I know her from golf and she is just terrific and we are cleaning the basement, well she is doing the cleaning and I am doing the directing. I am throwing out stuff, giving away lots and it just feels so good.

104472388_184842096315659_7488443593576468793_nJill ready for work

We also have a great handyman who has worked for us for nearly 30 years and is fixing our garden shed, re-cementing our stone porch and replacing broken stones, ( this house dates to 1937), and the list continues. Robert is an old friend, and a delight. So things around here are being done, and we still move each day toward our dinners in the garden and I get to create new dishes.

We have our round table set for four which means we can be socially distant. Charles has been spraying for mosquitoes, and we have citronella candles and some incense. It has been fine so far. There are candles placed around the perimeter for when it is dark to add some charm. I have been having these little guest dinners now for over a month. It is a refreshing change from our Zoom dinners and it is simply great to be with people and enjoy live conversation, good food and wine. Some of the evenings it has been chilly and we sat with blankets wrapped around us. Now it is very warm and the evenings lovely. Tonight I am experimenting with my neighbour’s sous vide machine to see if I like it. The plan is to cook pork chops with the bone, in the sous vide, and then later on to grill on the barbecue. I will marinate with Ketjapmanis and sesame oil. I plan to serve a  wild mushroom cream less soup, iced cold, with some yogurt on top, in a cappuccino cup, and then with the chops, potato salad and a south western corn salad. Salads are nice in the summer. For dessert I bought a strawberry tart at Ma Maison, a local patisserie. Now it is the day after the dinner, and it was delicious, but I am not won over to doing food in the sous vide manner. It takes lots of time and I don’t really like the colour of the meat on the outside, although it was meltingly tender.  It was a fun time with music on our outdoor speakers, and a warm, almost mosquito-less evening.

Quiches

pastry from Ma Maison

When I look at the sun and feel the overwhelming heat of this summer, I remember vividly our wonderful trip to two Florida beaches last winter. Of course these beaches are not what we see on television with the crazy sun worshipers hanging out, not social distancing, and helping Covid spread at an alarming rate. It is truly sad and disappointing, but I digress.

We had to change our plans for a little Florida break at the last minute, and I thought it would be delightful to go back to one of our favourite spots; New  Smyrna Beach, about an hour and 15 minutes away from our home in Howey in the Hills. Now we often would do a day trip there, and take Oscar to walk along the glorious beach at Smyrna Dunes Park. We always plan to arrive in the area around 11:30 am so that we can eat at a fave waterfront restaurant called J&B’s Fish Camp and find a table outside where our doggie can enjoy lunch with us. This trip was without Oscar, but we went to the Fish Camp and ate outside, really the only place to be with a view of the fishermen and boats. I had a grouper sandwich which was freshly caught, well the grouper was, and yummy, and Charles, a rock shrimp cake.

at the fish camp

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all the above at Symrna Dunes Park

After lunch we headed to the Black Dolphin, a B& B that I had booked online, and although the pictures weren’t wonderful, I decided to try the best room available and see what we got. Turns out it was terrific. We were put in a suite at the top of the building with a charming terrace looking out to the inland coastal waterway. The room was beautifully decorated with ultra modern furniture and a gorgeous bathroom with separate tub and shower. All very new and fresh. We walked across a small street to a dock owned by the hotel and watched the boat world go by. We then needed a nap as is our afternoon desire most days.

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relaxing at The Black Dolphin outside
many views of The Black Dolphin

Before dinner we had drinks in the lounge/living-room, and then headed out to a restaurant called Sonapa Grill which turned out to be tremendously good and we over ordered because everything on the menu looked super. You know how it is when you are hungry. We shared devilled eggs with lobster, avocado and chipotle which was fantastic. Then I had a Kobe beef burger with tons of mushrooms and scalloped potatoes, and Charles had barbecue ribs with onion strings. Portions were huge, but we had a refrigerator in the room so we could carry out the food. Turns out Charles couldn’t find his wallet. Good thing I had mine because my nails were recently done, and washing dishes wasn’t in my plans.  We left and searched our room and the car, and then phoned the restaurant. Turns out his wallet had dropped out of his tight pants and the server found it on the floor. Whew!

yum at Sonapa Grill

The next  morning we had the breakfast that was on offer for all the guests, and it was huge, but delicious; a grilled cheese with ham. We socialized a bit with the others, and then headed back to the restaurant to pick up Charles’ wallet. Then we headed to our fave beach at Smyrna Dunes Park and walked for well over an hour. The surf, the views, the white sand were simply heavenly and the water fresh. We didn’t swim, just walked and watched, and felt the breeze in our hair, and the beach was pretty empty. It was mid week. We then went to Canal Street to a small bar for lunch, had some ice cream cones and wandered in and out of shops. It was so normal and easy and a contrast to now. We sat on our porch in the afternoon, and read and just absorbed our mini vacation.

In the evening we had arranged to meet my sister’s dear friend, Malcolm, who lives near New Smyrna, at one of his favorite restaurants, The Garlic. We had passed this place many times over the years, but never ate there as we usually went to the beach and home in the same day. Malcolm knew the owner, and we were treated very well. The interior surprised us as it was huge with many different small serving areas, a long bar, and lots of energy. We all shared lamb chops as a starter and then we had Cioppino, a fish stew, which was super.  It was fun to catch up with Malcolm. He planned to come to Charles’ birthday party in late March, but of course we had hit the road back to Toronto by then when Ms. Virus hit.

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whimsical atmosphere at The Garlic

500px-Cioppino

Cioppino

After two nights in this delightful beach town we headed to another one, Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. We were travelling in Charles’ little sports car so we could ride on small roads with the roof down. It is a Honda 2000, and although it dates back to 2002 it is gorgeous and sleek, and it grabs the road. The weather was perfect, not much luggage space in the trunk but enough for a couple of nights, and I am a neat packer. I also like to look attractive in the evenings, so I use my imagination with what I bring. We had ample space and it is fun to drive along the coast in a convertible with the music blaring. Made us feel almost like teenagers in love. Although we did have to drive on a bigger highway (95) after St. Augustine.

But what a discovery Fernandina Beach was for us. I had found what looked like a wonderful Inn right on the beach and it turned out to be exactly that. Elizabeth Pointe looked like a Cape Cod Inn with sea grasses blowing in the wind. Our suite was separate and called Tradewinds and it sat one level up above the beach so that the view from our porch was exquisite toward the ocean. Argh. I miss that. I can almost smell the ocean air and look as far as possible toward the horizon. We could go down our outside stairs and walk to the beach that seemed to go on forever. Sigh. A bottle of wine awaited us in the room, we freshened up, and went out to a disappointing Spanish restaurant that was in downtown Fernandina Beach. It was called Espana, and looked promising on its website, but the wines were awful, the tapas not bad, but nothing was compelling and the atmosphere, although it held promise was so so. But we were happy and looked forward to a fine sleep in the contemporary four poster bed, and also most important to listen to the sea.

views at Elizabeth Pointe

In the morning we walked and walked along the almost deserted beach. Ah, that was what this holiday was all about. Then we ate breakfast at the Inn outside on the porch, and went into Amelia Island’s old town where we wandered and shopped for awhile. We found a fun place for lunch back at the beach called Salt Life Food Shack, sat outside and ate fish tacos. We were very relaxed, and returned to our suite and sat on the porch and read and looked at the ocean. Sigh. After an afternoon nap, we went for another long walk on the beach, had a drink in the tiny reception area of the Inn, chatted with an interesting couple, and then headed downtown to Joe’s Bistro on Second where we had a fine meal of Southern gumbo and stuffed shrimp, good wine, and then after to bed. We  took a short walk on the beach early the next morning, and then headed home after breakfast and felt as if we had been away for a long time, not just 5 days.

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a bar in downtown Amelia Island where Charles could go
happy diner at Joe’s
and some other fine views of Fernandina including Riki at lunch at Salt Life

As I sit here in Toronto reading through this and remembering that lovely January break that seems eons ago, I clicked on my calendar and noticed that we were supposed to head west to Vancouver today to visit our family and then go to Vancouver Island’s famed Tofino, and then the wine areas of Kelowna. Not to be. As Robert Burns said in his poem To a Mouse…  the best laid plans of Mice and Men often go awry. This pandemic has certainly made that statement the truth.

I will write again and bring you up to speed on our Summer in Toronto. Even though it has mostly been spent around home, I have lots to share.

Stay safe. Be healthy.

Riki

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