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

Hurricane Prep List

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 6, 2017

Here is a repeat of my annual Hurricane Prep List. You still have time to prepare for Irma.

 

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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. You can use old water bottles instead of discarding them. Turn fridge to coldest setting ahead of storm.
2. Buy bottled water, fruit juices, sports drinks, and caffeinated beverages that you can drink cold or at room temperature. Fill plastic pitchers and other containers with tap water and refrigerate for drinking.
3. Have enough food in stock. Fruits that keeps well: grapes, apples, bananas. Applesauce and other packaged fruits are good buys. Get bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You can buy peanut butter in individual portions. Get snack packs with cheese, crackers, peanut butter, dried fruits, apple slices, or grapes. Canned chicken, baked beans, and nuts are good sources of protein. Canned tuna or salmon tend to smell more if there’s no garbage pickup. Or buy the tuna in water in a pouch.
4. Cook and eat the perishable foods in your freezer and refrigerator. 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 due or coming due.
13. Charge cell phone, tablet, and other portable electronics. Get a portable charger.
14. Prepare a 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. Buy an emergency hand-crank radio that also comes with a light and a cell phone charger
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22. Learn how to open your garage on manual in case power goes out. Keep instructions handy.
23. Get a good paperback book to read.

Watch the weather reports at:
National Hurricane Center:
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
Navy Tropical Cyclone Page: http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/TC.html
National Weather Service, Miami: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/mfl/
The Weather Channel: http://www.weather.com/
Broward County Hurricane Page: http://www.broward.org/hurricane/Pages/Default.aspx

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Shipwrecks and Suspense

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 19, 2017

Research Insights – Shipwrecks and Suspense

I like adding bits of history into my mysteries. In Facials Can Be Fatal, I mined our Florida past concerning shipwrecks. Did you know the waters off Florida teem with sunken vessels? Spanish galleon ships alone may account for up to forty wrecks off our coast. Millions of dollars in silver, gold, and jewels lay at the bottom of the sea, much of it undiscovered. But Spanish treasure ships are not the only ones sunken off our shores. Pirate vessels, slave ships, merchant transports, and Civil War ships plied these waters, too. Storms, shallow water, coral reefs, and pirates were responsible for many of the wrecks.

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Buried treasure has long been exploited in stories, and my book is no exception. An old family journal is recovered that hints at a nefarious past for a couple of characters. How does this relate to the present? That’s the key that my hairstylist sleuth must uncover. Marla and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, travel to Key West to learn more about Florida’s history from a reporter who has an interest in Dalton’s latest case. The victim is society matron Valerie Harper, who expired in the middle of a facial at Marla’s day spa.

Treasure Chest Reveals A Luminous Secret  Notebook

Here’s how the conversation goes with the reporter:

“The waters around Florida have seen ships flounder for decades, starting with Native Americans who used dugout canoes to travel up and down the coast. As civilization increased, ships and boats became vital to our development. Waterways were the most efficient means to transport people and cargo. Florida became a hub for maritime trade routes, but our waters can be treacherous. Hence we have a large number of shipwrecks offshore.”

“What about treasure ships from Spanish fleets?” Marla asked, shifting in her seat.

“My estimate is that maybe thirty to forty Spanish ships, dating from the 1500s to the late 1600s, lay at the sea bottom. The Spaniards would pick up gold, silver, jewels, and rare spices from the Caribbean islands and the South and Central Americas. Sometimes, they’d stop at a mint in Mexico before grouping together to return home. Or they’d gather in Havana and leave from there under convoy.”

“But not all of them made it.”

“That’s right. They’d get grounded on our reefs or floundered during hurricanes. For example, the Tierra Firme fleet set sail in 1622 from South America. Twenty-eight ships headed home to Spain. They ran into a fierce storm off the Florida Keys. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were lost. In 1985, Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha’s resting place and its treasure.”

“That’s amazing,” Marla said. “Those ships must have been heavy with all the gold coins, silver bars, and jewels aboard. No wonder they sank. Who owns the salvage rights to a sunken ship?”

“According to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988, any historic find becomes the property of its respective state.”

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To accomplish my due diligence, I paid a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, a fascinating attraction in Key West. Here you can see many of the relics recovered from the Atocha. Read about my experience and see my photos HERE. Shipwrecks and buried treasure will always provide fodder for stories.

Do you like a bit of history mixed in with your mystery? Does it enhance the story for you?

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For more details on Facials Can Be Fatal, CLICK HERE.

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Crane Point Museum and Nature Center

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 26, 2017

Located on Marathon in the Florida Keys, this 63-acre hidden oasis has nature trails, a tram ride, historical houses, and a nature museum hidden away near the highway at mile marker 50. We bypassed the orientation film to stroll down the tree-lined paths in a mile-and-a-half loop. If you’re not a walker, you can take the tram instead. We wanted to get in our exercise before the rain clouds moved in.

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We reached The Point at the end, where we came across a lovely water view of Florida Bay. Crane House is here, built for Francis and Mary Crane in 1954.

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We didn’t stop to view the Wild Bird Center that rehabilitates rescue birds as we have something similar at Flamingo Gardens in Davie. The Adderley House was the next attraction, built in the early 1900s for Bahamian immigrant, George Adderley. The white structure was made from tabby, a concrete-like mixture of sand, lime, seashells, and water. We peeked inside the bedrooms, the dining area, and the separate kitchen.

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From here, we headed back on the trail past the Butterfly Meadow and the Cracker House with exhibits and on to the gift shop and museum to cool down. The museum portion houses exhibits on native culture and marine life.

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Visit http://www.cranepoint.net for more information.

See all my Florida Keys Photos Here. Click on Photos and then Albums.

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

The Road to Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 21, 2017

On our way to Mystery Fest Key West, we took the turnpike extension south toward Homestead. Note the Mutineer Restaurant at the corner of SW 344th Street.

There’s a Starbucks in this vicinity too. From this junction, you head south. A long, boring stretch of swampland and mangroves follows until you leave mainland Florida. Or you can travel the scenic Card Sound Road that leads to upper Key Largo instead. Then it’s about a three hour drive to Key West. Right before the bridge to Key Largo is Gilbert’s Restaurant.

Traffic travels at speeds from thirty-five 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 just past Shell World 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.

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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. There’s a Botanical State Park at the north end. Or, if you like snorkeling or diving, check out John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park with an aquarium, glass-bottom boat tours, museum exhibits, nature trails. On the way home, be sure to stop at the Florida Keys Key Lime Products on the east side of the road past mile marker 97. Good place to pick up some last minute frozen Key Lime pies, lime barbecue sauce, salsa, and other products.

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, Pierre’s Restaurant, Wahoo’s Bar and Grille, and Shula’s 2. The Postcard Inn, Amara Cay Resort, 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 with exhibits, animal shows, beach, grill, gift shop; and a History of Diving Museum with exhibits and gift shop. Look for a Starbucks before Whale Harbor Channel bridge.

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Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places, the Island Fish Company restaurant, along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center with historic home, nature trails, tram ride, gift shop; and a Turtle Hospital with 90 min. tour and gift shop. if you’re looking for places to explore. Further along on Grassy Key is a Dolphin Research Center. We made it to Marathon three hours after leaving home but traffic was slow on I-75 due to construction.

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Big Pine Key has a gas station if you need it.

We stopped for lunch at Boondocks Grille at Ramrod Key around mile marker 28 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.

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, historical sites, 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 by the marina. We’ve eaten at Alonso’s Raw Bar and Conch Republic at Harborside, and also Schooner Wharf. Here we saw a cook chopping up fish to feed to the sea life.

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At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset. Things come alive on Duval Street in the evening, when hordes of visitors ply the cafés and bars where live singers entertain the crowds.

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We recommend 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 wine bar on the second level, you can get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal.

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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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Pandora – The World of Avatar

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 6, 2017

We visited Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and set out to explore the world of Avatar. Our entrance into this magical land took us past a lounge that looked inviting.

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We skipped the new rides, not having fast passes and not caring to wait two hours in the standby line. It was delightful to stroll around and view the amazing flora and fauna. Disney did a wonderful job making you feel you’re on an alien planet.

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Mountains rise in the distance, past this floating masterpiece, while musicians welcome visitors to their land.

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Hungered by our journey, we entered the canteen where healthful choices tempted us. I had the chicken bowl with rice and vegetable slaw. Others in our party had cheeseburger pods or vegetable curry pods. My non-alcoholic drink, a Pandoran Sunrise, was green and tasted like melon juice.

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Inside the gift shop, you can buy all sorts of theme-related wares. It was fun to browse although we left with our wallets intact.

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It took us a couple of hours to stroll around. If you go on the rides, allow more time. You’ll still have the rest of the day free to explore the Animal Kingdom. I love the lush greenery of this theme park anyway, and the new addition adds to the allure.

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Disney Ramblings

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 5, 2017

We visited Epcot at Disney World again for the annual Flower and Garden Festival. The colorful flower displays were as beautiful as always.

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Bypassing the crowds at Future World, we strolled around World Showcase to sample the foods in the various marketplaces. We headed right toward Canada, stopping by to get the beef tenderloin tips in a flavorful mushroom sauce along with mashed potatoes and cooked carrots. The meat was a bit chewy for my taste. Cost $6.50 for a generous portion.

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We moved on to the United Kingdom for the corned beef and cabbage which my husband ate. It’s a dish he likes at any time. Cost $5.50 per portion.

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At France, we noticed the fast-food café had moved toward the back while its former space is now occupied by an ice cream shop.

Next on the menu were the potato pancakes with applesauce from Germany. These are always good. Cost was $3.75. Dessert was the winner: blueberry buckle with pepper berry sorbet at The Berry Basket. $4.25 each. Well worth the visit!

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As if this wasn’t enough eating for the weekend, we took a walk the next day at Disney Springs. Planet Hollywood has reopened since our last visit. The dome looks a lot better without its prior garish colors. The Edison is still under construction but looks to be a big themed restaurant when it’s finished. Not much else had changed that we could notice.

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We ate lunch at the Boathouse, where I dined on this delicious crab and avocado dish. Fully sated, we returned to our condo to rest for the afternoon.

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Model Train Exhibit

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 24, 2017

My brother has exhibited model trains ever since I can remember. So when he came to visit and we noticed a Transportation Exhibit at the Plantation Historical Museum, it became imperative for us to make a trip there. The exhibit included displays by the Florida Citrus Model Train Society. Below is a replica of an early 1900’s train depot.

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The details in these dioramas were incredible. We watched the model trains go around the tracks, complete with sound effects, but what fascinated me more were the little buildings and the attention to detail.

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One display talked about train bandits and how the Pinkerton Detective Agency foiled these fearsome thieves and protected railroad shipments. Printed materials were available, such as brochures on the myths and realities of safety around train tracks and a brochure about train crossing warning signs. A bookmark I’d picked up says “Never walk or ride around highway-rail crossing gates!” and “Look, Listen and Live!” Trains can’t stop quickly, but you can. About every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train. For more information on safety factors, go to Operation Lifesaver.

I’ve been on the Auto Train between Sanford, FL and Lorton, VA. I took a commuter train from New York to Washington D.C. Otherwise, after graduation from high school, a friend and I bought Eurail Passes and spent six weeks exploring Europe. We rode the trains around and stayed in cheap places where we could rent a room. I kept a journal, one of many travel journals still in my collection. Maybe I’ll share those adventures with you someday if you’re interested. A trip like that one would be impossible today. Meanwhile, would you call yourself a train enthusiast? What trains have you ridden?

 

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Wick Costume Museum

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 12, 2017

The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton offers several unique experiences. We chose to do the museum tour and lunch. First we gathered in the lobby of the museum where Kimberly Wick described the various dresses on display.

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From here we entered a cavernous hall with an exhibit titled Where Runway Meets Broadway, showcasing a range of costumes from the 1800s on up that represented the changing fashions of the times. The beautiful designs and vintage couture were fascinating.

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Next was a quick tour backstage before we headed into the delightful restaurant. The first course is a fruit cup. Then you have a choice of three entrees. I chose the stack of avocado and shrimp with salad greens. A tray of pastries followed.

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After lunch, Kimberly gave us a presentation about the place’s history. I’d had no idea their own costume designs were a worldwide enterprise. Her mother, Marilynn Wick, was an entrepreneur who started the business and grew it into an empire. I found their story as fascinating as the museum.

Before leaving, we swept through the gift shop, took a peek at the theater lobby and box office, and headed out.

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Hillsboro Pineland

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 11, 2017

This nature refuge, located at 5591 NW 74th Place in Coconut Creek, FL, is a hidden oasis in a sea of suburban congestion. Just off Route 441 north of Sample Road, Hillsboro Pineland is a small park compared to others but its two hiking trails will give you a brief respite from civilization. It’s far enough removed that you can hear the crickets instead of the traffic. The first trail leads you through pinelands as per the park’s name. It’s a pleasant shady walk among tall trees.

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The second trail takes you through marshland adjacent to a river that you can’t see from the boardwalk but you can see the water seeping through the grassy vegetation. Lots of wildflowers attract butterflies in this portion.

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This park exhibits what I love about living in Florida. The trails go to what seem like two different ecosystems. Our state has a variety of terrain, from the sea-studded Keys to the hilly and cave-ridden north to the sandy beaches to the mangrove coastlines. Nearby, we can go to Flamingo Gardens and see hundreds-year-old trees or go to Volunteer Park to watch the turtles or take a shady walk on a trail in Tree Tops Park. Our peoples are just as diverse, celebrating our heritage as a melting pot of cultures. Our history, too, provides for a colorful past. And then there are the haunted hotels and plantations. We won’t talk about hurricanes. They’re offset by the flowers and balmy winter temperatures. What more could a writer want?

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Chef Jean Pierre Cooking School

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 30, 2017

We attended Jean Pierre’s Cooking School last night, thanks to a generous gift from our daughter. The complex consists of a commercial kitchen in back, a store selling gourmet spices, olive oil, vinegar, cooking pans, and utensils in the front, and a classroom holding thirty guests off to the side. We received bottled water, but if you want wine, you are welcome to bring your own. We took our seats in the comfortably upholstered chairs. These all faced forward so we could easily see the chef or watch his movements in an overhead mirror.

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Chef Jean Pierre is an entertaining personality who’d operated The Left Bank restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale. We used to enjoy meals there along with his tableside preparations of various French dishes. Now he runs the cooking school, which appears to be highly popular judging from the full-house last night and the distance some folks came to attend.

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The first course was Shrimp Sambucca with Israeli Couscous. It tasted sublime and could easily be a main entrée. It seemed fairly easy to make, except for peeling and deveining the shrimp.

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Next came Steak Diane in a flavorful mushroom tomato sauce. The chef cut beef tenderloins into medallions and pounded them between parchment paper so they came out thin and easy to sauté. The potatoes were made by thinly slicing sweet potatoes and regular baking potatoes on a mandolin. This dish required a lot of preparation so we got to taste the results. Buttered baby green beans accompanied the meal.

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By now I was full, but I made room for the irresistible Bananas Foster. Who doesn’t like this sweet dish of caramelized bananas with vanilla ice cream?

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Naturally I learned a few interesting cooking tips. For example, if you’re using thickeners, flour should be added in the beginning as it needs to cook adequately. Cornstarch can be added at the end. When adding flour to a sauce cooking in a pot, put a strainer in the pot and add the flour. Whisk the flour through the strainer, and this will avoid lumps.

As for storing garlic, you can buy a jar of peeled garlic. Then chop it all up in a food processor. Add a little olive oil and mix. Freeze in an ice cube tray, and you have set portions to drop into your dishes thereafter.

NOTE: These are my interpretations and any errors are mine.

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