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

South Florida History Museum

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 11, 2015

Located in downtown Bradenton, Florida, the South Florida History Museum offers two levels of exhibits. Short on time, we bypassed the Bishop Planetarium which is included in the admission price ($19 adults, $17 seniors). Our first stop was the Parker Manatee Aquarium, where a guide demonstrated the qualities of several manatees under their care. These huge, intelligent creatures were impressive. They prefer warm water and can be sensitive to cold temperatures, pollution, and boats that get in their path.

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From here, we moved on to dioramas and displays of native habitats, shell collections, and pine uplands with a pioneer cabin.

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There’s a Spanish house with a chapel that has a lovely stained glass window.

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My favorite was the Medical Gallery with an ancient operating room, dental suite, torturous looking instruments, and an apothecary shop.


You could easily spend a couple of hours here or more. It was an unexpected bonus of our trip to the west coast, and I’m glad we could enjoy this attraction. Note there’s a gift shop but no café on premises.

Contest Alert! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench. Check out our other features, including a weekly Let’s Talk discussion with our authors.

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

Epcot Food and Wine

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 5, 2015

We had a great time as usual at our annual excursion to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. As it’s their twentieth year anniversary, I bought the hardcover cookbook. Here’s the cranberry bog, back again.

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Here is what we tasted this year.

Scotland: Potato Pancake with Smoked Salmon $4.25 (my favorite!)

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Dominican Republic: Grouper $4.75

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Canada: Beef Filet Mignon $7.50


Belgium: Potato Leek Waffle with Beef $4.25 and Fruit Waffle $3.75


Germany: Apple Strudel $3.50

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South Korea: Raspberry Wine $3.50 and South Korea Vegan BBQ $4.75

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Coming Next: Our Trip to Bradenton


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Florida to North Carolina

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 19, 2015

Since I-95 was closed due to flooding in South Carolina, we decided to drive to North Carolina via a western route. The first night we stayed in St. Augustine to once again visit this historic city. We entered Flagler College, which used to be an ornate hotel. You could see the trappings of its luxurious era in the décor. We passed up the chance to pay and see the dining room, but the courtyard and entry hall were impressive enough.

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From here, we strolled down the main shopping street and ate lunch in Columbia, a popular place with Spanish cuisine. I had to get a glass of sangria. We’d been to town before and had already visited the museums, Fountain of Youth, fort, and winery. So this time we headed out toward I-75 and hit the two outlet malls on either side of the highway. We ate dinner at an Asian place and retired early to prepare for our long journey the next day.

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We took I-75 to Atlanta, which is a snarl of traffic. After a brief stint on 285, we veered onto 85 north. We stopped for the night in Buford, Georgia which has The Mall of Georgia and many chain restaurants. It’s a good place to stop and stretch your legs.

The next day, we continued on I-85 to Durham, where we explored the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. You could wander here for hours.

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We drove inside the Duke University campus, impressed by the stately stone buildings and the remarkable chapel that was under renovations, judging from the scaffolding surrounding the tower. The town itself had nothing to draw us so we moved on to Raleigh, where the Bouchercon mystery conference was being held.


Next: The Adventures Continue


Posted in Florida Musings, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

New Smyrna Beach Book Festival

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 16, 2015

This active little town on Florida’s east coast near Daytona holds lots of festivals, fairs, competitions and social events. I was excited to be invited as a speaker for their recent Book Festival. After arriving at the beachside Best Western on Friday (Oct. 2), we joined the event organizers and other authors for drinks and hearty appetizers at Barracudas down the street. A stiff breeze bent the palm fronds as remnants of Hurricane Joaquin blew past the coast. We enjoyed the company and getting to know our weekend group.

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Saturday morning at 10am, a bunch of us authors were on a panel together. Moderating the panel was a fellow from UCF, one of the sponsors. We spoke a bit about our work and answered questions from the audience. Then we each got an hour spot to do a talk. Mine wasn’t until 4pm, so I met my husband for lunch at That’s Amore for Eggplant Parmigiana. Afterward, we strolled down Flagler Avenue, enjoying the seaside ambiance, the shops, and the multitude of cafes.

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Back at the conference center in the middle of town, I hung out in the book room before taking a seat to listen to Patrick Kendrick. Like me, he’s a Florida chapter member of Mystery Writers of America. Patrick spoke about his fascinating thriller, The Savants. Then it was my turn. We had a decent sized audience who asked good questions.

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That night, we all met again for drinks and appetizers at Outriggers Tiki Bar and Grille. They treat their authors well! The book festival was a memorable and pleasant experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet all the persons involved.

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And here is a yummy Key Lime dessert:


For more info on this festival, go to:


Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dining Out Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 11, 2015

September is Magical Dining Month in Orlando. You can visit myriad fancy restaurants for a fixed-price three course meal at $33.00 per person. It’s a fun way to try new places that might normally be too expensive.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

This two-story restaurant on International Drive has been open for a few weeks. The décor is contemporary, with most patrons seated in a cavernous room overlooking the parking lot. A few separate sections are available for private dining. Wine bottles in wall-sized racks add to the décor. An open kitchen is behind a barrier so you can’t see much. The atmosphere is lively but it lacks the cozy intimacy of other steakhouses.

We requested the Magical Dining Month menu. The Caesar salad was tangy and came in a generous portion. The loaf of bread served with butter was soft but unremarkable. The filet mignon at 8 oz was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a good flavor. This was the best part of the meal. The mashed potatoes and thin green beans—not so good. We ordered sautéed mushrooms on the side. These appeared to be Portobello mushrooms with pearl onions. As we’re not fans of green beans, we also got a side order of asparagus with sliced almonds. My companions liked the warm banana bread pudding with whipped cream for dessert. I had the chocolate mousse that came in a chocolate cup with raspberry sauce. The mousse itself was like a light pudding. It didn’t have the froth or airiness of similar dishes I’ve had elsewhere. Out of my entire meal, I’d say the beef was worth the ticket but the rest was fair.

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Service was attentive. Our water glasses were always refilled. However, we waited a long time for the check. When it arrived, we’d been charged full price for one of the meals plus a separate charge for a salad, rather than the fixed price meal. This would have come to $39.50 for the filet plus $9.50 for the salad, or $49 instead of $33. This error didn’t please us, nor did the food enough to pay that much at normal pricing. Would we return? It’s doubtful. My favorite steakhouse is still The Capital Grille, or for a less expensive meal, the Outback.

Hemingway’s at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

I liked the casual but upscale ambiance with an open kitchen, ceiling fans, floor to ceiling windows overlooking lushly landscaped grounds, wood tables, and potted plants. We had to ask for the Magical Dining Month menu. I ordered the Key Wester salad with greens, avocado, bacon, fresh red bell pepper and blue cheese dressing. Crusty puffs of bread like popovers were served with butter.


The butterflied shrimp scampi was very tasty, served with some kind of pasta roll and fried green tomatoes. Crab cakes were another choice. The Key lime tart for dessert was lip-smacking good.


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Despite the delicious meal and the pleasant ambiance, service was poor. Our waiter ran between several tables and rarely stopped by. Another server refilled our water glasses, and she was efficient. We had an unusually long wait for the check. Then as we were waiting out front of the main hotel lobby for the valet (your ticket is validated at the restaurant), our waiter ran out to meet us because he had failed to scan our credit card, believing us to be hotel guests. He took our card and walked all the way back to the restaurant—down a long hotel corridor and outside along a boardwalk to a separate building. After fifteen minutes when he didn’t return, my husband had to retrace our steps to the restaurant to retrieve his credit card. This soured our entire experience. So this place has good food and a nice ambiance but the service needs improvement. Would we return? The normal food prices are reasonable and I enjoyed the meal, but after the credit card shuffle, my husband put this restaurant on the no return list. And note the expensive bottle of wine he ordered, we found online later at Total Wine for about twenty bucks.


Contest Alert!

Enter now at to win a Collectible Handcrafted Porcelain Drummer Doll or one of two runner-up prizes – a pair Arizona crafted earrings and a signed paperback Hanging by a Hair. I bought the doll while in Arizona doing research for Peril by Ponytail. U.S. Residents only please.

Enter Sept. 4-18 to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.  Check out our other features, including a weekly Let’s Talk discussion with our authors.


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A Day at Disney

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 10, 2015

Orlando in the summer can be brutally hot. Early in the morning one day last weekend, we took a walk around the lake at our condo in Windermere, Florida. We saw the resident gator poking his head out, a variety of ducks and birds, and a spider web outlined in the sunshine. It’s a tranquil setting, and the sky was bright with promise for a sunny day.


Before noon, we headed over to the Magic Kingdom. We had lunch in Tomorrowland opposite the race car ride. We’d gotten smart and parked at Epcot, which is the closest theme park to our condo. The monorail ride from there took us to the Transportation Center, where we changed trains for the Magic Kingdom.

Our first stop after lunch was Carousel of Progress. Seated in comfortable theater seats, we listened to the cheerful refrains of the familiar song while viewing the progress of past eras through dioramas with audio-animatronic figures. It’s a good place to escape the heat. Then we hopped on the People Mover that had more folks in line than usual. This zipped around Tomorrowland, and I got some good shots of various attractions. It made me want to see the recent film “Tomorrowland” again.



By the time we hit Fantasyland, we were sweaty and hot, so we dipped into Mickey’s PhilharMagic® for a 3-D theater experience highlighting favorite Disney tunes. Other rides had at least a 20 minute wait, so we strolled along for our walking exercise. The Jungle Cruise has reopened, but we’ll visit it another time when it’s less crowded. Pirates of the Caribbean was closed while they “swab the decks” according to a sign. Autumn decorations with pumpkins were evident throughout the park. The crowds and heat got to us, so we left. That’s the advantage of being a local resident. We can go for lunch and a brisk walk and then depart. I made over ten thousand steps by virtue of my Fitbit One and was glad for a rest.

What’s your favorite ride in the Magic Kingdom?


Contest Alert!

Enter now at to win a Collectible Handcrafted Porcelain Drummer Doll or one of two runner-up prizes – a pair Arizona crafted earrings and a signed paperback Hanging by a Hair. I bought the doll while in Arizona doing research for Peril by Ponytail. U.S. Residents only please.

Enter Sept. 4-18 to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.  Check out our other features, including a weekly Let’s Talk discussion with our authors.


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I’ll be sending out a newsletter next week. Sign up now! Book news, giveaways, recipe:


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Hurricane Prep List

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 27, 2015

With Florida in the cone of uncertainty for Tropical Storm Erika, now is the time to prepare.

hurricane prep

Here is a handy checklist to get you started:

1. Buy bags of ice. Put on lower shelves in freezer, and later in fridge if power is out, so melting ice doesn’t flood the interior. Or freeze water in plastic containers ahead of time to help keep food cool. Turn fridge to colder setting ahead of storm.
2. Buy bottled water, fruit juices, sports drinks, and caffeinated beverages. Fill unused plastic pitchers at home with tap water and refrigerate for drinking.
3. Have enough snack foods in stock. Fruits that keeps well: grapes, apples, bananas. Buy bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Stock up on small wrapped cheeses, canned goods, individual meal portions.
4. Cook and eat perishable foods and items in your freezer. Hard boil your eggs, and make sure you cook dinner early as the storm approaches in case the power goes out.
5. Consider boarding your pet at a kennel or make plans to secure your pet with enough supplies.
6. Back up important computer files. Send an email to yourself at another online address with your most recent files. Back up to a thumb drive that you can carry around.
7. Bring in all loose objects from outside.
8. Do the laundry.
9. Perform personal grooming essentials. It’s hard to shave and wash hair with no lights, and the water might get contaminated.
10. Fill gas tank in car.
11. Get extra cash to have on hand. ATM’s won’t work in a power failure.
12. Pay bills.
13. Charge cell phone, tablet, and other portable electronics.
14. Prepare list of repairmen and tree trimmers who might be needed.
16. Buy hand sanitizer and moist wipes in case the water is contaminated.
17. Have paper plates and cups on hand along with plastic utensils and paper towels.
18. Stock up on trash bags to clear away debris.
19. Place a flashlight or battery-run lantern in each room. Buy extra batteries, cooking fuel if necessary, duct tape, and plastic sheeting. Candles can be a fire hazard, and they don’t provide enough light to read by in the dark.
20. Put insurance papers and other important documents into a plastic bag for quick departure, or store copies in a separate location. Scan them into your computer files and backup to the Cloud.
21. Clean your bathtub and fill it with water. You can use this to wash if the water supply is contaminated.
22. Invest in a battery-run fan and a solar or battery-crank radio (you crank the handle to charge it).
23. Get a good paperback book to read.


Watch the weather reports at:

National Hurricane Center:
Navy Tropical Cyclone Page:
National Weather Service, Miami:
The Weather Channel:
Broward County Hurricane Page:

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

Key West Revisited

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 19, 2015

On our way to Mystery Writers Key West Fest, we took the turnpike extension south toward Homestead. I noted the Mutineer Restaurant at the corner of SW 344th Street. From this junction, you head south. A long, boring stretch of swampland and mangroves follows until you leave mainland Florida. Then it’s about a three hour drive to Key West.

Traffic travels at speeds of forty to fifty-five miles per hour through a series of islands. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way. Allow extra time for pit stops and to fill your stomach. It took us five hours total from Fort Lauderdale. State parks abound if you want to stop for a swim or stretch your legs.


Key Largo is the first big island after you leave the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is a good place to stop and use the restroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack or use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. Full service restaurants include Fish House, Snappers, Skipper’s Dockside, Conch House, Island Grill, and Sundowners. We ate at the latter on our way home. Admiring a lovely view of the Gulf, we sipped creamy clam chowder in a bread bowl. It was a filling meal. Or you can take the scenic Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s, if it still exists. Resorts on Key Largo include a Hilton and a Marriot. If you like snorkeling or diving, check out John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park.

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

Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. Stop by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants claim their fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven, Wahoo’s Bar and Grille, and Shula’s 2. The Postcard Inn and the Chesapeake Resort look like nice hotels. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center if you need a pit stop. Tourist attractions include Theater of the Sea, a marine mammal park, and a History of Diving Museum.

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, and a Turtle Hospital if you’re looking for places to explore. Further along on Grassy Key is a Dolphin Research Center.

We stopped for lunch at Boondocks Grille & Draft House at Ramrod Key on our way south. This restaurant opens for lunch at 11am. They have good clam chowder, sandwiches and salads, and a nicer gift shop than most of the souvenir stores in Key West. Don’t forget to order Key lime pie while in the Keys.

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Pigeon Key has a visitor center and a Sunset Grille and Raw Bar.

When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left will take you to a bunch 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, fast food restaurants, more hotels, and into downtown.

Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and gift shops. During the day, stroll along and soak up the tropical ambiance. Visit Hemingway House, Truman’s Little White House, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and more. Take a ride on the Conch Train. Charter fishing, glass bottom boat rides, and various other boat tours are available. Or stroll along the Historic Seaport District for a number of waterfront restaurants. At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset. Things come alive downtown in the evening, when hordes of visitors ply the cafés and bars where live singers entertain the crowds.

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We dined at our favorite restaurant, Louie’s Backyard. This historic site faces the Atlantic Ocean and is a great place to enjoy fine dining. Prices can be expensive, but if you’re on a budget, just order an appetizer or share a meal. At the Upper Deck on the second level, you can get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal. Here I am with Deni Dietz, my editor from Five Star.

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Come to the Keys to decompress. With its slower pace of life, it’ll help you relax. There’s only one negative. It’s hard to leave this island and return to reality.

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Contest Alert!

Name a Character in my next Bad Hair Day Mystery! Two Runners-Up Prizes: a signed paperback of Hanging by a Hair and a deck of Marco Island Playing Cards, or a signed paperback of Shear Murder and a deck of Tropical Drink Playing Cards. Enter Here

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Greater Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 23, 2015

Winter Park

On Sunday morning, we strolled down Park Avenue in Winter Park. This broad street is lined with shops and restaurants on one side and Central Park on the other side. We chose Paris Bistro at 216 N. Park Avenue for lunch. This gem is hidden in an alcove off the main street. It’s near the Briar Patch, if you’re familiar with that bustling diner-type restaurant. Paris Bistro is a cozy little place that has a European ambiance. The Sunday brunch menu was great, $12.95 for an entrée and dessert, or you could order a la carte. I had a delicious avocado and shrimp salad. This would be an intimate romantic restaurant for dinner, but be aware the acoustics leave something to be desired. Namely, the noise level can overwhelm your conversation.

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Morse Museum

This jewel of a museum is located in a modernistic building in downtown Winter Park. You’d never guess the Morse Museum was so large from its modest exterior. Inside, various rooms wind around and around, showcasing works by Louis Comfort Tiffany and other American artists. Stained glass windows, lamps, pottery, art glass, jewelry, vases, paintings and more are displayed here. The most impressive site is a chapel that’s as beautiful as it is unexpected in this setting. A couple of hours are needed to do this museum justice. Handy printed guidebooks in every room describe each labeled item.

East End Market

The East End Market is a long interior space devoted to several bars/shops/cafes. You won’t find Farmer’s Market style vegetables for sale here. We decided to have a snack at Txokos Kitchen. Located at 3201 Corrine Drive, this restaurant is a trendy or “hipster” place to dine. Drinks were cheap but the food adds up. I had a cheese platter with fig bread for $15.00 and an olive plate for $6.00. My orange juice mimosa was only $2.00 and a Bloody Mary was $3.00. Chorizo corn muffins costs $6.00, and a bowl of gazpacho soup costs $7.00. It’s a pleasant place to come for appetizers and drinks or a full meal.

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Now I’m back home and trying to lose the weight I gained from all this dining out!


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

Dining at Disney

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 22, 2015

Downtown Disney is undergoing a transformation into Disney Springs. One of the new parking garages is open, and driving through this cavernous place is an experience in itself. Numbers lit-up at the start of each row tell you how many parking spaces are available. Then as you drive down the row, a green light overhead marks the empty spots. You don’t have to go searching like in other garages. The aisles are clearly marked and escalators take you to the crosswalk level.

I’ve read that Disney Quest will be replaced by a basketball-themed attraction, but we walked in the opposite direction. Construction is evident everywhere, no more so than the former Pleasure Island. This is long overdue, as family restaurants and shops will attract more crowds than an exclusive evening nightclub venue. After walking all around the Marketplace end, we settled for lunch at the cool new Boatyard restaurant. Guests can rent amphibious vehicles here for a short ride around the lake. These look like something out of a James Bond movie.


The restaurant is decorated in nautical motif. We had a pleasant lunch. The menu has many choices and isn’t unreasonably priced. A couple of indoor bars hosted a lively crowd. This is definitely worth a return visit.

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Coming soon is a themed restaurant next door shaped like an airplane hangar.

Polynesian Resort
Last Saturday evening, we headed over to Disney’s Polynesian Resort. We’d hoped to get into the new themed lounge called Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, but there was an hour and a half wait. We sat outside on their patio instead overlooking a lake and ordered tropical drinks. Mine came with a straw long enough for a giraffe.

Nancy with drink

We passed on the fixed price menu at Ohana to eat dinner at Kona Café. This casual, family-oriented eaterie has reasonable prices, but we didn’t think the food was that great, and the menu choices are limited. We would not dine here again.


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


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