How I Spent My Florida Vacation, 2011 Edition–and "Kitchen Classics" Launch!

[Warning:  Extra, extra, extra-long post.  Feel free to portion it out in smaller doses. . . or simply take your time and revel in the sunshine.]

[Nope, no alligators in this Florida body of water. (And no, that's not the HH at the pool!)]

Um, so, yes, I have been rather MIA the past week or so (I’m referring, of course, to the established acronym for “missing in action,” and not the edgy, avante-garde, new-mama songstress of the same initials).  Well, a few days before Valentine’s Day, I simply couldn’t stand this cursed frosty landscape a moment longer; and, since I am on holidays from the college at the moment, I entreated the HH to join me for a spontaneous (albeit short) junket to the same place we sojourned last February: Sunny Florida!

Unlike last year’s pitfall-filled trip, however, this year everything ran smoothly.  I made sure to leave my threatening keychain at home and packed my suspcious toothpaste in my checked baggage, so we breezed through the security checkpoints; our plane took off and landed on time, with a turbulence-free flight in between; our hotel was lovely; and we got to spend a great deal of time with my cousins Marketing Guru and CBC in Sarasota (the former lives there and the latter was visitng).  Even the weather cooperated after an initial protestation and presented us with sunny, temperate days (in the low 70s F, or 22-24 C).

While I won’t bore you with every little activity and event as I did last year, I thought I could encapsulate the trip in a few key photos and captions.  So here goes:

 

I. Trivial Pursuit–Florida Edition:

Who knew that the Tropicana factory was in Tampa?  As we reclined in our Airport Taxi being transported from Tampa to our hotel in Sarasota, our driver, Roderick, provided an ongoing (and constant) narrative about the scenery and locale.  In addition to the Tropicana trivia, we also learned that most homes in the area have automated sprinkler systems to water their yards at night, when it’s cheaper; that Walgreen’s and CVS are the two most popular drugstores in Florida; that driving from New York City to Miami takes about 24 hours if you drive nonstop with two drivers (one sleeping as the other drives); and that one of the biggest Pythons ever found in the Florida Everglades had eyes bigger than its belly when it tried to eat a fully grown alligator; when the alligator got stuck, it exploded and they both died.  Oh, and that Roderick broke up with his girlfriend the second he found out she owned a pet snake–just walked out of the apartment and never looked back.

II. When Travelling While on the ACD, Remember the Boy Scouts (or, God Bless Whole Foods).

[Would this breakfast sustain your for more than 12 hours? Me, neither.]

Because our plane was taking off at 10:00 AM, we had to be at the airport by 8:00, which meant leaving our house at 7:30.  Since The Girls had to be dropped off at doggie daycare by 7:00 AM (“Mum, we like it there and all, but we really didn’t appreciate having to stay for three full days. . . they just don’t dole out the treats the way you do“), we were looking at a wakeup time of 5:30 AM.  It seemed early, but not impossible.  When the hour arrived, however, I was so rushed I had no time for breakfast and blindly grabbed the last (plain, unfrosted) whoopie pie I’d made the week before as sustenance on the way to the airport.  All I can say is, “Foolish, foolish girl.”  Of course, it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be absolutely NOTHING I could eat at the airport; I assumed I’d be able to buy an apple, or some nuts, or something.

For some reason, though, the airport restaurant offered only pre-cut fruit plates that featured mostly melons (not allowed on the ACD); I just couldn’t justify paying $7.95 for two pieces of pineapple when I’d be throwing away the rest of the fruit.  And there were no plain bags of nuts in sight (only sugar-coated–another no-no).  Ah, well, no worries; I knew we’d be landing by 1:20, so I reasoned I’d buy something once we arrived at the hotel, around 3:00 PM.

As it turned out, by the time we met up with Roderick, drove to the hotel, checked in, picked up a rental car and got back to the hotel, it was after 5:00 PM.

Which meant I hadn’t eaten for almost 12 hours.

Before we called my cousins, before we unpacked our bags, before we looked through the tourist pamplets, before we marvelled at the fact we no longer needed our coats, before we even used the washroom–yes, before anything else–we drove to Whole Foods so that I could stave off starvation (okay, I’m being overly dramatic; really, it was so that I could stave off fainting from hunger and crumpling in a heap in the middle of the hotel lobby).  Once there, I bought a trayful of prepared dishes (curry quinoa salad, raw kale salad, garlic tofu and baked beets), a celery-apple-beet-ginger juice and a wheatgrass shot, and downed them all before I even remembered to snap a photo.  Then (and only then), we proceeded to the hotel dining room, where the HH had his dinner and I sipped, quite calmly, on green tea.

Note to self:  no matter how late you need to stay up the night before a trip, be sure to pack a bag of food that you can eat to take with you.

III. My Relatives Make Great Tour Guides.

[St. Armand's Circle, looking very un-circular.]

Despite a short (3-day) trip, my relatives made sure the HH and I saw a lot of the surrounding sites.  On our first afternoon, we were taken to St. Armand’s Circle, an upscale shopping area where “epicurean delights tantalize your taste buds.” We stopped for a relaxing lunch at Venezia, where we ate pizza (everyone else) and salad (me). We later embarked on a walking tour of the Sarasota downtown district, where we learned that the library looks like an opera house, there are sculptures dotting the urban landscape, strangers will let you pat their dogs if you’re in canine withdrawal, the actual opera house itself is fairly nondescript, squirrels in Florida are angular and skinny unlike our fat, round ones here (they don’t need to fatten up for the winter–there is no winter!!) and, according to my cousin, Sarasota is the cultural hub of the entire state.

Our last full day started out at a local deli where my cousins shared a huge pastrami plate, the HH munched on a Reuben, and I scooped up hummus with carrot sticks.  My cousin had actually chosen the place because they promised a “gluten free menu” which turned out to be a typed list of things on the menu that were NOT gluten free as a warning to those celiacs among us. (Bizarrely, the list included “Rice” under the “Do Not Eat” category; when I questioned the hostess about this, she noted that it referred to “wild rice.”  “But wild rice is also gluten-free,” I countered.  At that point, she wrinkled her nose, pretended she didn’t hear me, and began to search for our table.)

[Not a bad place to spend an afternoon.]

After lunch, my cousins drove us around the Siesta Key area as the HH and I gawked at the stunning homes on the water and then strolled along Siesta Key Beach, one of the most appealing beaches I’ve ever seen, with sand as fine and white as talcum. We strolled under the soothing sun beside the gurgling tide and relaxed into our holiday.

IV. Sarasota is a Cultural Hub; but Sadly, Not a Culinary Hub.

[Our hotel breakfast table:  three kinds of artificial sweetener and only one kind of real sugar.  HH, I think we're not in Toronto any more. . . ]

After my success finding so many fabulous ACD options last year in Miami, I assumed I’d have just as easy a time this year.  Well, you know what they say about those of us who assume. Perhaps it was because I was in the company of omnivores who love their meat; perhaps the HH and I simply didn’t find the “right” restaurants there (and many thanks to those of you who proffered suggestions–which I wasn’t able to frequent). After the first night’s Whole Foods escapade, I made do with the few options available wherever we happened to be.  In our hotel, where breakfast was included each day, I was able to pick out roasted potatoes (one day, they were sweet potatoes), fresh pineapple, and green tea.  It wasn’t until the last morning there that it occurred to me to tote along my own accoutrements to add to the pot of cooked oatmeal, thereby re-creating a familiar favorite, like so:

[Behold the only food photo I snapped during the entire holiday: cooked oatmeal with almond butter (thanks, Justin's individual packets) and my own, always-with-me, stevia (thanks, NuNaturals).]

In fact, the best “restaurant” meal of the trip turned out to be the takeout Chinese my cousin brought home for Valentine’s Day, after all the restaurants he tried were booked.  The four of us shared food out of cardboard boxes (well, we spooned it onto plates first) and gabbed for a few hours.  Perhaps not the most romantic V-Day, but one spent with three people I love. And we were in Florida, away from the snow, ice, cold, wind, frost, snow, slush, grey skies, and snow.

Well, that was enough to warm my heart.

V. There’s No Place Like (the food at) Home.

[The Girls getting back into their post-Florida groove.  ("We missed your treats--I mean, we missed YOU, Dad!)]

While we had a fantastic time with relatives and sunshine galore, one thing I learned from this trip is that Florida squirrels are skinny  you should always wear sunscreen  Pythons’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs  we are really blessed with fabulous food options in Toronto.

And so, in honor of a dish that I often order at a favorite restaurant here in town, and one that we make at home all the time, I present you with today’s recipe for Pasta Arrabiata.  It has nothing to do with Florida, per se, but I sorely missed being able to order something that is both delicious and which I could safely eat at a restaurant while away during the past week.

The pasta recipe also introduces a new feature here on DDD:  Kitchen Classics! So often, we in the food blog world spend most of our time seeking out novel or unusual recipes, those we consider “blog worthy” or those that will stand out from the throngs of dishes being highlighted on other food blogs.  We sometimes overlook those recipes we make all the time–the “favorites” or “go-to” recipes we turn to when we want something comforting, or consistent, or reliable.

I consider as “classic” any recipe for a dish that’s common across most of the continent, for which most people have one “favorite” recipe in their repertoire.  Everyone has their own favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie, right?  Or how about a favorite Guacamole?  Or Chili?  Those are the classics!

I’ve also gone through the blog archives and tagged any existing DDD recipes that apply (such as those above), including Best Home Fries Ever, Chocolate Tofu Pudding, Soy-Free Vegan Whipped Cream, Fluffy Fruited Pancakes, Classic Green Smoothie, Coleslaw, Cheesecake, Oven Baked Root Vegetable “Fries,” and a bunch of others that have become my standard recipes when I’m looking for a classic taste.  (You can see them all by clicking on the category, “Kitchen Classics,” at right).

This Arrabiata has been in the DDD lineup for quite some time–I seem to recall cooking it for the HH on one of our starry-eyed early dates–and we tend to have it at least once or twice per month.  You can cook up the sauce in a jiffy while the pasta boils, and have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes.  The result is a lively tomato sauce that won’t weigh you down, yet is thick enough to cling well to your pasta.  The addition of red bell pepper provides a subtext of sweetness that’s a perfect counterpoint to the spicy chili pepper.  It couldn’t be easier–and it always delivers a tasty, satisfying and quick dinner.  And there’s no need to fly in an airplane to get it.

Ah, it’s good to be home. . . .

Last Year at this Time: Flash in the Pan: Egyptian Fava Bean Breakfast

Two Years Ago: PS I Love You: V-Day Dinner 2009 (Celeri Remoulade and Tempeh Meatball Stroganoff)

Three Years Ago: Soba Noodles with Ginger, Chard and Walnuts (for ACD: substitutte Bragg’s for the tamari)

© Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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Comments

  1. Hey!

    Found your blog through Vegan Culinary Crusade blog.
    Just want to say hello and I am from Bradenton, FL….went to Ringling College of Art and Design!

    Hope you enjoyed Sarasota.

    -Sarah

    • Welcome, Sarah! Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. :) We *almost* went to the Ringling museum, but ran out of time. But did, indeed, enjoy the rest of the trip! :)

  2. Nice trip! Glad you enjoyed it! (My folks winter in Florida and are near Sarasota – there’s a fabulous Cuban restaurant with a to-die-for vegan black bean soup. Mmmmm)

    Happy to see you back!

    • Cool! (or should I say, “Warm!”?). I think that may be the same restaurant that Bitt mentioned on her blog. . . but we somehow missed out, as we were with others the whole time and always ended up in a more “mainstream” type of place. Next time! :)

  3. Glad you had a nice vacation to thaw out! I went to Florida once as a teenager, and I really want to go back to see the Harry Potter amusement park. :)

  4. Believe it or not, I actually DID know that about Tropicana in Tampa and the sprinklers overnight…I always fly into Tampa when I go to FL too, lol :-) I love Siesta Key beach! It is gorgeous.

    I hope you had a fabulous trip, despite all of the food snafus. While I love taking trips, it is always SO good to come home to my own place and my own food and my own cooking…welcome home!

    Courtney

    • Courtney, who knows, maybe you met Roderick, too! And yes, despite the difficulty in finding good food, the overall tone of the vacation was very good. Thanks! :)

  5. I was just down in the Sarasota area! Pretty place. I did manage to get a few goo meals out. Not sure if you read my post about Mi Pueblo having raw vegan stuff. There’s a great place with a salad bar too that worked well for me. But I was grateful that my parent’s place had a kitchen to make our own food. That’s really the best choice.

    • Yes, I did see that post and even wrote it down so we could seek it out, but in the end just didn’t manage it. But I agree: home is best, when you have time. :)

  6. Ricki,
    I’m so glad you got a break from the deep freeze! I am heading to Florida this weekend – once I’m done in Oklahoma. I will keep Roderick’s stories in mind.

    It sounds like this trip was another great adventure. I love when traveling makes you happy to come home.

    xo

    • I know it wasn’t quite as warm in Oklahoma, but it sounds as if you have been having a fabulous vacation as well. I think the weather in Florida is going to be hot, hot, hot this coming week–hope you have a great time! :)

  7. I am so jealous that you escaped to Florida! I know that you and I are both misplaced Canadians haha…I can’t stand the cold and snow either. I’m glad that at least one of us got a little break from it :)

    It sounds like you had a hard time with the food situation. I’ve dealt with it too. We are very spoiled in Toronto with all of the veg-friendly allergy friendly options, and then once we get to airports and smaller cities there is almost nothing! Now I know to always be prepared. And as long as there’s a Whole Foods wherever I am going, I can manage…thank goodness for Whole Foods. I’m so glad you enjoyed yourself in the sunshine state.

    Love the new Kitchen Classic series. The simple every day recipes on food blogs are the ones that I’m more likely to try…they are more realistic to fit into my schedule and I love a good tried and true recipe. I tried those root vegetable fries recently and they were amazing! and easy enough that I didn’t mess them up.

    • I know we are kindred spirits when it comes to hating the cold! Hope you have a chance to get away (or, at least, hope that spring comes very soon!). ;) Yes, WF is a godsend, isn’t it? And glad you like the KC series! They aren’t all super quick or super easy, but they are the kinds of things that everyone makes at one time or another. . .usually on a regular basis. :)

  8. How nice to have a warm break from winter’s chill, even if it wasn’t in the center of gourmet ACD cuisine. Pasta arrabiata is a favorite around here, too, in fact, I believe we’re having it tonight!

    • Absolutely–I feel renewed and can now stand the rest of the winter! ;) Is your recipe on your blog as well? Always love to try new Pasta Arrabiata!

  9. So funny, I am sitting in Sarasota as I read your post. I too couldn’t stand the cold and flew to FL on whim. Fortunately, I did pack a few things (sunflower butter, rice crackers, a gluten-free hamburger bun which came in handy as soon as we arrived at the hotel starving, and some homemade gluten-free muffins). Like you, I ventured to Whole Foods as soon as I realized the hotel couldn’t really accommodate all the allergies. I stored a few things in the restaurant freezer and the rest in my minibar fridge. The hotel restaurants were very willing to cook/warm up the food I bought for my son, and even made a dairy-free fruit smoothie for him for breakfast like I make at home. This is the first time I’ve traveled since my son’s allergies were discovered, and it was a good learning experience.

    • Jeanette, you are far smarter (and more organized!) than I. ;) Next time, believe me, I will be better prepared! Glad you’re managing to find the food you need (and great that everyone is so accommodating). Hope you’re having a fabulous–and WARM–time! :D

      • I think I was more fearful my son wouldn’t have anything to eat than organized! I have been very fortunate that the hotel has been so accommodating. I am enjoying the sunshine as I hear another wintry mix is coming up north on Monday!

  10. Welcome home Ricki! Traveling on the ACD diet seems like a huge challenge but I’m impressed with how you did! I may have caved before Whole Foods!

    This pasta looks fantastic! Btw I’ve been in love with gluten-free baking ever since our date!!

    • Thanks, Gillian! Honestly, it didn’t feel like such a challenge last year. And I’m so glad you’re enjoying the GF baking! Would love to know which recipes you successfully adapted :)

  11. Ahhh, Florida:) I die! Last spring break my family and I went to Key West, it was BEAUTIFUL

  12. Did they mention that the sprinklers use, um, UNTREATED water? Hence the funky Florida smell! I wish I’d known you were in dietary distress, I would have been happy to stage an intervention! (Or at least give directions to the nearest Publix, which has a surprisingly good selection.) I’m glad you and the girls are happily reunited. Have a good weekend!

    • Hmmm, no we weren’t told about the water! Are you in Sarasota?? We did actually go to a Publix but didn’t find much. I definitely was able to find food to eat. . . just not food that I loved. :)

  13. I rather enjoyed settling down to this long post – it was good for my short-according-to-the-media Gen Y attention span ;) Though I definitely feel sorry for your 12 hour no-food stint! Awful! Airports need to get their act together :S

    What a wonderful pasta dish to come home to, too!

    I’ve just learnt that I *might* be able to order Nu Naturals from down here in Australia. Do you think it’s worth the international shipping? :)

    • Hannah, you have restored my faith in the long-term abilities of Gen Y!! ;) But yes, the pasta made the homecoming worth it.

      Re: NuNaturals, it is a fabulous product (in my opinion) and I find it’s the very best when sweetening chocolate, as most stevia imparts a slightly bitter undertone, which I don’t notice with NuNaturals. But I have no idea what the shipping charges to Australia would be, so hard to say whether it’s worth it or not. The bottles are pretty small, so it might not be so bad. . .I’m not sure I’d order it if the shipping cost more than the product, though. ;)

  14. My grandparents live near Sarasota, and I love the area! Seista key is so gorgeous.
    Good call on bringing stevia with you when you travel – I need to start doing that!

    • How lovely for your grandparents! :) And yes, the stevia was a lifesaver (even if I had to put it in my clear plastic bag of gels and liquids to get through security). ;)

  15. I am envious of your trip to Florida! What a treat. But you were unprepared Ricki! Except for the stevia of course :) I will try this pasta recipe, it looks amazing. Love caramelized onions!

    • I actually knew that I needed to bring stuff with me, but the prep was so quick and chaotic–and I slept too late to do anything about it the final morning (a 5:30 wakeup was as early as I could manage, sadly). ;)

  16. I’m so glad your trip went well … a much needed break! Yes, never leave without food!!

  17. Hey Ricki–So glad you had that little excursion to the sun, water, and warmth! I laughed out loud on the taxi driver who left his girlfriend when he found out she had a snake! But I get that. I tolerate non-poisonous snakes fairly well when encountering them in the wild, but I couldn’t live with a snake. Son had lizards, mice, and a chinchilla (who’s still with us) in addition to the more traditional dogs and cats, but I ignored all requests for snakes! Airports can be abysmal with their food choices, or lack thereof, but usually you can find plain nuts and plain fruit as you anticipated. I pack apples and nuts most of the time, but there have been times when I’ve gone for hours and hours with nothing and it’s no fun.

    Way cool on your new series Kitchen Classics! This pasta recipe looks terrific, and Mr. GFE, who loves anything pasta will adore it, too. :-)

    Welcome home, Ricki!
    Shirley

    • Thanks so much, Shirley! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to live with all the wildlife you had, either–dogs are about it for me ;) And yes, airports can suck. I really need to plan my spontaneous holidays more carefully! Glad you like the Kitchen Classics idea. Hope Mr. GFE likes it, too. :)

  18. Glad you got the shot of sunshine that you needed – sounds like a fun holiday if not the most tasty. I am glad you grabbed a whoopie pie for breakfast – I would have been grumpy as a bear with a sore head if I had gone without eating for 12 hours – but I often get grumpy at all the horrid food in airports. At least roderick would have taken your mind off food :-)

    And the kitchen classics is a great idea – bloggers just love our novel ideas so classics can get lost so easily – I think your faux meat sounds like a classic – I would love it in the pasta dish – I often use leftover nut roast in a tomato pasta sauce.

    • Yes, it was just enough warmth and sunshine to tide me over until it returns here! And I did have a bit of a light head by the time I ate! Thanks for mentioning the faux meat–I think I will add it as a classic! :)

  19. The beach picture is just too much for me. I mean, sun? sea? And all those people in swim suits… GAH! :D Glad you had a nice vacation. And the pasta dish looks delicious!

    • I think the beach was the nicest locale we saw while there. The picture makes it look warmer than it actually was. . . but I’m not complaining! No snow, no ice, no cold. . . perfect. And glad you like the pasta dish! :)

  20. glad you had a nice vacation! and also i think i would’ve cracked after that long w/o food…

  21. Sounds like a nice vacation, especially since ice is tapping my window at the moment. I’m definitely a kitchen classics kind of person, probably because that’s the kind of eater my husband is (not adventurous with food). I look forward to this feature on your blog.

  22. Hey Ricki, I love how you documented your food journeys while away. I will actually be travelling to the US for a conference and trying to figure out how to best prepare myself with healthy treats while away for a week. Usually I don’t mind resorting to local cuisine, even if it includes meat, but not the case while in San Antonio… ;)

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ricki Heller and Cathleen Ann Mackay, Ricki Heller. Ricki Heller said: Why haven't I blogged for the past week? Find out here: http://su.pr/1ThLUY [...]

  2. [...] You can find an alternative, traditional recipe here [...]

  3. [...] tomato paste were too heavy for a light, vegan summer dish. Then came the idea to try making my own arrabiata sauce, which has been on my to-cook list for a long time. I threw in some chickpeas for [...]

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