Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Florida Musings’ Category

Brio Tuscan Grille

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 14, 2014

I love trying new restaurants, especially when they’re right around the corner from where I live. A new Brio Tuscan Grille just opened on the southeast corner of Westfield Mall in Plantation. We had an excellent meal, starting with the tomato and mozzarella Caprese salad. My husband had shrimp and crab cakes and I had grilled salmon. The fish was accompanied by roasted diced sweet potatoes, asparagus and other vegetables. It was delicious and the service was excellent. I can’t wait to go back. We also liked that they served butter instead of olive oil with the crusty bread. Prices are reasonable, and they are open for lunch. And who can resist the mini-desserts for $2.99?

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Contest Alert!

Win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free ebooks from Booklover’s Bench authors, including a copy of my cruise ship mystery Killer Knots, in our December contest: http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, That's Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Flamingo Gardens

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 7, 2014

Yesterday, we revisited Flamingo Gardens where we’d been members years ago. It’s the only botanical gardens in the Fort Lauderdale area. For an $18 admission fee, you can enter the lush grounds through the gift shop. In the back is the entry through an impressive arch of holiday lights.

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Along winding paths, you can admire the tropical greenery and enormous trees like the live oaks that have grown here for 200 years. Who said south Florida didn’t have tall trees? Colorful flowers abound amid trickling waterfalls and spreading plants.

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Next comes the Aviary where birds run free, then a caged section holding owls, eagles and hawks. These birds of prey are all injured and can’t be released into the wild. So they are, in effect, rescue animals.

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We skipped the snakes behind glass cases and the guide-led wildlife encounter to head toward the historic Wray home. I love seeing how people lived in 1930’s Florida.

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After eating hot dogs at the outdoor café, we viewed the zoo area with a bobcat, turtles, alligators, a black bear, and more. We passed on the tram ride, annoyed at the extra cost and that they don’t allow visitors to stroll the expanded acreage because you have to take the ride there. That’s one reason why we dropped our membership. The place isn’t as well maintained as Fairchild in Miami or Leu Gardens in Winter Park. It’s pleasant for visitors but limited for locals due to these reasons.

See the iguana in the picture below on the right? And you do know that flamingo get their color from eating shrimp?

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I am not sure, but I think that might be a breadfruit tree above. The path ends again at the gift shop which always has an appealing array of Florida knickknacks, books, souvenirs, snazzy umbrellas and more. The gardens are certainly worthwhile for visitors who wish to experience our ecological environment. I suggest you go in the cooler months when it isn’t buggy. Yesterday was perfect, in the seventies and sunny.

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Contest Alert!

Win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free ebooks from Booklover’s Bench authors, including a copy of my cruise ship mystery Killer Knots, in our December contest: http://bookloversbench.com/contest/. Unfortunately, if you entered before, you’ll need to enter again. Rafflecopter screwed up and lost all our entries.

Now speaking of flamingos, Freddie the Flamingo is the official mascot of Florida’s MWA chapter. Come join us for SleuthFest 2015 in Deerfield Beach on Feb. 26. Guest speakers include bestselling author James Patterson and humorist Dave Barry. For more info, go to http://www.sleuthfest.com

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Cooking Class

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 2, 2014

My husband and I have always enjoyed taking cooking classes together. This time, we brought our grown children along. They were visiting for Thanksgiving weekend and we thought it would be a fun experience.

Here’s a recap of the weekend up until then: We enjoyed our traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day, followed by an evening of TV viewing wherein the ladies watched the Hallmark Channel and the guys watched sports. Friday morning, we ate breakfast out and then headed to Westfield Mall to shop at Dillards. Lunch followed at the Red Robin. Then we saw The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. It kept your interest although the movie dragged out with too many close-ups. That evening, we ate out at J. Alexander. Saturday, my daughter and I indulged ourselves in nail treatments at the salon. Then we all took a walk at Volunteer Park on Sunrise Blvd.

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Saturday at 6:30 found us at Aprons Cooking School inside our local Publix. If you have one near you, by all means go take a class. But bring an appetite. You’ll come away stuffed from all the delicious dishes you get to taste. You can choose either a Demo class, where you get to watch the chefs; or a Hands-On class where you do the work. I prefer the former at this stage in my life.

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Chefs Maggie and Wes poured us each a welcome drink, a Pinot Grigio. I liked this light white wine. Oh, did I tell you the title for tonight’s adventure? The class was called “Girl’s Night Out.” I called up in advance to make sure guys could attend. I told our family during the drive over. The guys took it in with a sense of humor. No matter; one of the chefs was male, and it was a small class so the title really didn’t matter.

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We began the night with a Walnut and Brie Strudel with Cranberry and Florida Citrus Jam. The strudel pieces looked like egg rolls, but they were lip-smacking good! This was my favorite of the evening and it was served with a Sauvignon Blanc wine.

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Next came crispy fried crab fritters, with the crab on the side for people allergic to seafood. “A slice and a slice equals a dice,” said the chefs as they demonstrated techniques. Served with an avocado remoulade, it hit the spot. Another winner. I liked the Chardonnay served with this dish.

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The entrée was a Caesar roasted swordfish with citrus roasted asparagus and a scoop of an orzo mixture on the side. A parmesan crisp added a decorative touch. Swordfish is a meaty variety with a fishy taste. I was surprised when the chefs said that tilapia, one of my favorites, has little nutritional value compared to other fish. Think I’ll stick with salmon. A different Chardonnay accompanied the seafood.

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Finally, for dessert we had red velvet cupcakes topped with cassis cream cheese. These melted in the mouth and so did the warm frosting. They’re unlike anything you’d buy in the store and are like a dessert from a gourmet restaurant, including the presentation. However, the ruby port wine served with this sweet was too strong for our taste.

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All in all, we had a great time and walked away a few pounds heavier and with a packet of recipes to try at home.

 

 

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Recipes, That's Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

History of Food Sources in SE Florida

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 27, 2014

What did the early peoples of southeast Florida find to eat? Recently, Michelle Williams from the Florida Public Archaeology Network gave a talk about “Weeds and Seeds: Dining on the Riches of Southeast Florida.” Any errors in this report are due to my interpretation.

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She mentioned how the early people build pyramidal shaped mounds as symbols of power. About 2000 years ago, papaya could be found here, although it probably came to these shores via bird poop. Zoo archaeology is examining animal bones to study our history. She is a paleoethnobotanist. This discipline studies plant remains to understand how people lived.

In southeast Florida, we have environmental interfaces where there’s an overlap of more than one type of ecological environment (if I understood this correctly).

The Everglades has tree islands. The trees there have a specific orientation in a teardrop shape based on water flow. Every island has evidence that people used to inhabit the land. Animals lived there, too, and provided food. Plants and trees provided wood and other resources including a type of flour. Among other things, people ate tubers, alligator meat, fish and birds.

Another environment here is the Ocean, including the ocean’s edge and mangrove swamps. There people ate conch, dolphin, seaweed, seagrapes, and cocoplums.

Another system includes Rivers and river banks, with turtles, fish, muscadine grapes and prickly pear cactus.

Lake Okeechobee is another region with snakes and fish. Catfish was popular there and now it’s bass. Elderberries and other plants grow there. The Kissimmee River feeds Lake Okeechobee, and this in turn feeds the Everglades. So Southeast Florida had hunting and gathering but no agriculture. Yet the abundance of plants and animal life supplied enough provisions for these early peoples.

Some of the current problems are Burmese pythons in the Everglades, giant African land snails and green iguanas.

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Research | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Epcot Food Festival, Day 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 25, 2014

Epcot Food Festival, Day 2

Today was overcast and hot so I couldn’t eat much in the heat. Only made it to two places again but the portions were generous and I wasn’t hungry after the hearty dish at France. We started off to the right past Puerto Rico. Next time, we’ll have to go in the other direction as Patagonia is new and a couple of things there sound good.

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Braised beef with rice in vegetable sauce was very tasty and worth the wait in line.

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France
Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese very creamy and delicious. Also rather filling.

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Belgium
Our kids always like the Belgium waffle with strawberries and whipped cream.

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Eddie V’s
Another night on the Magical Dining menu found us ordering Lobster and Shrimp Bisque at Eddie V’s on Restaurant Row. It had chunks of lobster, fishy/salty taste, but I am more used to New England clam chowder.

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Excellent Scottish salmon with a few vegetable garnishes. We ordered a side dish of truffle mac and cheese, very tasty with crispy topping. Beef filet medallions very tender.

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Dessert choices: dark chocolate mousse with whipped cream and fresh berries, Crème Brulé and Bananas Foster cake with butter pecan ice cream. Elegant, modern upbeat interior and excellent service. I would return here.

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What are your favorite restaurants at Magical Dining Month? If you live elsewhere, does your community have something similar with fixed price meals?

Coming Next: Disney’s Fort Wilderness

 

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Epcot Food Festival, Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 24, 2014

Our first day at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, it was hot and stifling out with little breeze. A cloud cover helped shade us from the sun, and for that much we were grateful. But it was still a chore to trudge all the way around World Showcase. It wasn’t too busy yet being a Friday so we didn’t have to wait in any lines  for long.

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We stopped by the Festival Marketplace to see the wares for sale. This building is next to Universe of Energy. A cooking demo was going on at the time. The Festival pavilion also hosts wine tastings and other events. There’s a section with chocolate sculptures hosted by Ghirardelli.

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Starting at the Canadian end on day one, I sampled the smoked salmon with sour cream and chives and potato pancakes from Scotland while my husband had the vegetarian haggis. My dish was oh so yummy that I’d gladly get it again.

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Next stop was France and their braised beef short ribs in cabernet sauce with mashed potatoes, a goodly portion and very tasty.

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Since we’d eaten breakfast earlier at My French Café in Windermere, we got full easily. The food combined with the heat made us lose our appetites. We ducked into the Mexican pavilion and went on the ride to cool off. If you’re not familiar with this site, go inside Mexico and head all the way toward the back to your left. The ride entrance is there. It’s a leisurely boat ride like It’s A Small World with colorful Mexicans figures singing and dancing. Too tired to continue, plus it was raining by now, we headed back to our condo to relax.

Coming Next: Day Two at the Food and Wine Festival

Check out my post today at The Kill Zone on the character I saw at Mall at Milennia.

What are some of the favorite foods you’ve tasted at the Food and Wine Festival?

 

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dining in Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 23, 2014

Our drive via the Florida turnpike north to Orlando this past weekend encountered an unexpected hazard. Lovebugs flew at us from all directions. They splatted onto our windshield and car grill and beset upon us when we stopped for gas. We’d never seen them so thick and omnipresent. In case you’re unfamiliar with this plague of beasts, these tiny mating critters leave a sticky residue that’s difficult to scrub away. When we know it is lovebug season, we’ll spray the car grill with Pam before hitting the highway. We didn’t expect them on this trip and got assaulted.

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For our first night, we headed over to Bahama Breeze for drinks and appetizers to serve as a meal. We had coconut shrimp, chicken quesadillas and grilled salmon salad. A live musician sang Caribbean songs to steel drum music. Sitting outside, we enjoyed the tropical ambiance and the food.

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Our meal the next evening at Ocean Prime took advantage of Orlando’s Magical Dining Month. Held every September, this event heralds fixed price meals at various fancy restaurants where normally an entrée would cost at least the amount of the special pricing. After shopping at Mall at Millenia and Nordstrom Rack earlier in the day, we were ready to relax.

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The atmosphere at this restaurant on “Restaurant Row” at Orlando’s West Sand Lake Drive is modern and pleasant. The bar area is especially decorative and lively. But the hostess tried to seat us in a side section with no other patrons and not as nice a view. After I insisted we be seated in the main dining room, we got a decent table. Service was excellent. The waiter brought warm sourdough bread with butter while we perused the special menu. I had the house salad while the others in our party had the French onion soup. Both portions were quite large, and I was nearly full by the time our entrees arrived. My filet mignon was tender but had a bit of fat. A small amount of mashed potatoes and thin green beans were the accompaniments. We all had carrot cake for dessert and were so full that we took home a portion. This layered cake was too sweet and not as good as others. Overall impression? Lovely atmosphere but too high priced and not as good as The Capital Grille to warrant a return visit.

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Coming Next: Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Marco Island Revisited

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 26, 2014

Marco Island is our favorite beach getaway during the summer months. Located in southwest Florida below Naples, this quiet island holds pristine beaches and tempting seafood restaurants. We stay at the Hilton, enjoying its amenities and the café overlooking the water. I shop at Beachworks for tropical wear in Marco Town Center, a shopping strip with fun gift shops and boutiques. We visit Sunshine Booksellers that has two branches on the island. And we dine in our favorite eateries.

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Our first day, we had lunch at Snook Inn. I like their baked stuffed shrimp with a salad bar.

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That evening, we headed to Café de Marco. I had to get their seafood stuffed mushrooms again. It’s one of the best appetizers ever. We had butterflied shrimp there the last time, so now we tried delicious grouper with mushrooms, shallots, and garlic. Crusty rolls and salads accompanied the meal. We enjoy this restaurant’s elegant atmosphere and excellent service.

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The next day, lunch was at the pool bar as we spent the day at the beach.

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For dinner, we returned to Capri Fish House for grilled salmon while overlooking a sandy stretch at a waterway where kids cast fishing lines and boats bobbed at a marina.

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We’d hoped to take the lunch cruise on the Marco Island Princess the following afternoon, but it was cancelled due to lack of patrons. So we visited the Marco Island Historical Museum instead and learned about the early Calusa Indians and the Spaniard explorers who brought disease that wiped them out.

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Lunch was casual at NeNe’s Kitchen and dinner was coconut crusted tilapia at our hotel’s Paradise Café.

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It was another refreshing weekend at the beach and just what I needed to get away from the computer. Here’s the blazing sunset that’s always a celebration on the west coast of Florida, and just a snippet away, an approaching thunderstorm.

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Orlando Revisited

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 25, 2014

Besides touring the World of Chocolate (see below) on our recent visit to Orlando, we couldn’t be in town without another trip to Disney on our annual passes. We went to Epcot and met fellow mystery author Ann Meier for lunch at Chefs de France. It was a delightful afternoon spent in company of a friend and surrounded by Disney’s lush landscaping.

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Another day, we shopped at The Florida Mall. Our daughter said Nordstrom there is closing so we wanted to get in for their last sale. A lot of construction is happening as the entire mall is undergoing a remodel. The food court is supposed to be revamped and we noticed Saks is gone.

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We still get lost in this place and have to rely on signs to tell us where to go.

Of course, our main purpose in coming was to celebrate our son’s birthday, and we did so at Hannibal’s on the Square in Winter Park. This restaurant is adjacent to Chez Vincent and owned by their chef, so we enjoyed a French menu with excellent service. The dish below is duck a l’orange. Before dinner, we strolled around central park and watched the Amtrak trains go by. Winter Park has its own ambience and we always enjoy people watching and browsing in the stores. Patrons spill from restaurants into the street at sidewalk tables, the aromas from within making you salivate as you walk past.

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Another night we ate at Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine at restaurant row on West Sand Lake Drive. The lamb sis kebab was delish. So was the special bread and hummus appetizer. Our dining out didn’t end here. The following evening, we met cousins at Bahama Breeze for a leisurely seafood dinner. All in all, we had a great time and gained a few pounds.

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Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 20, 2014

View the Photos Here: http://bit.ly/1lzhqPt

Once you leave mainland Florida, it’s about a three hour drive to Key West. Traffic travels at a speed of forty to fifty-five miles per hour through two lane or four-lane roads. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way.

Key Largo is the first big island after you drive a long and boring stretch through swamp territory from the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is a good place to stop, stretch your legs, and use the bathroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack and use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. The Fish House, Snook’s Bayside and Snapper’s Waterfront restaurants are well advertised if you’re looking for a more substantial bite to eat. Or you can take Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s. Resorts here include a Hilton and a Marriot, among others.

On Tavernier are a Winn Dixie, CVS drug store, Dunkin Donuts, Chevron and Shell gas stations.

Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. We stopped by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway to schmooze with owner Cathy Keller and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants hail their claim to fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven Sports Bar, Loralei Cabana Bar, and Shula’s 2. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center here as well.

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Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center. Many of the islands have marine attractions or research facilities for sea creatures like dolphins and turtles. State parks are prevalent if you want to stop and stretch with a water view.

We stopped for lunch at Boondocks. It’s nearly around the corner from Key West.

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When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left or south will take you to a slew of hotels and Southernmost Point. This latter is Mile Marker 0 on our country’s east coast and is 90 miles from Cuba. The opposite direction will take you past strip shopping centers, more hotels, and into downtown.

Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and shops and is liveliest at night. During the day, it’s fun to stroll and soak in the tropical atmosphere. Nearby are a host of tourist attractions. You can visit Hemingway House, salvage museums, the Little Truman White House, and more.

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Or take a trolley ride or the Conch Train Tour. If you wish to ply the waters, various boat tours are available. Or stroll to the end of Front Street for waterfront dining where you’ll find a choice of restaurants. At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset.

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We dined our first night at Louie’s Backyard. This popular restaurant used to be an old house. It sits by the sea near Southernmost Point and is a great place to relax, have a drink, and gaze out at the ripples on the water.

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There’s a wine bar upstairs where you can just get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal.

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The next day, we lunched at Alonso’s Raw Bar at Harborside. We viewed boats at the marina as we ate an excellent coconut-crusted grouper.

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When you’re in the Keys, your worries drift away. The laid-back pace and ocean views sap your energy and bring a sense of tranquility. It’s hard to leave, but the drive north offers more spectacular scenery.

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Relaxing in Key West   Richard and Nancy

Scenes from Doubletree hotel:

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Doesn’t this make you want to visit?

 

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | 2 Comments »

 
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