Tag: leisure pursuits

Books Connect Snowbirds to Community: Six Favorite Local Gulf Coast Books

I am honored to have two original maps published in “Florida’s Emerald Coast, A Pathway to Paradise” by Robert Reynolds Books Connect Snowbirds to Community Six Favorite Local and Regional Gulf Coast Books At the end of summer when the weather starts changing and there’s 

BeachFront, Ocean Front, Ocean View: What to Know

An example of prime beachfront property, the units are directly accessible to the sand at ground level. Miramar Beach, Northwest Florida. Beachfront, Ocean Front, Ocean View What to Know About the Nuances of Beach Rental Terminology Snowbirds looking for a place with “beachfront” in the 

Cook Like a Pro: The Basics

Beautiful and simple butternut squash pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese
Beautiful and simple butternut squash pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook Like a Pro

The basics of cooking like a professional chef

When it comes to cooking, I've found that snowbirds fall into two groups: the non-cooks and the foodies. I consider myself a foodie and am guessing the non-cooks focus on pre-made meals and food they can assemble, heat up or purchase from a drive-through, delivery service or carry out kind of place. I have many snowbird friends who fall into this category for one reason or another. 

I didn't start out as a foodie, although looking back it seems inevitable. From a young age, I was taught how to cook by my mother and grandmothers because it was a necessary survival skill. I learned to prepare and serve family meals every week starting at the age of 11 because my parents had full time jobs and their children were expected to contribute to the household by working in the kitchen. My experience was mostly based on learning a few basic skills to be able to follow hand-written recipe cards that were kept in a small file. On assigned cooking nights, my job was not only to plan, prepare and serve the meals on time, but to create meals that were nutritionally balanced, within budget with ingredients that we already had on hand and not a repeat of what someone else already recently served. It was a lot of responsibility, but I learned that eating well is rewarding and preparing food to enjoy with others is comforting and worthwhile.

As an adult, the evolution of television shows on networks dedicated entirely to food and cooking intrigued me. I became a huge fan of the shows that explained and cooking techniques plus so much more. Tantalizing new recipes were readily shared on the shows as well as flavor combinations and terminology that I didn't even realize existed. My vocabulary and knowledge of cuisine increased to the point that some family members, such as my dad, had no idea what I was talking about. As the years went by, I was inspired to take local cooking classes with a variety of talented professional chefs as well as food enthusiast instructors. The classes included techniques and recipes featuring hors d'oeuvres, soups, salads, mains, cocktails, desserts and foods of other cultures such as Cajun cuisine and the foods of India, South America, Italy, France, Thailand and Japanese sushi. The primary difference of watching a tv show vs. in-person classroom instruction is all about being able to taste the results. I truly enjoy my cooking classes and look forward to each of them. 

Below is an overview of the very basics to cook like a pro. Once you incorporate the basic techniques, you can build from there. The key is to follow the basics. Every. Single. Time. Bon appétit!

Recipe for Butternut Squash Pasta [Pictured above]


Fresh, Quality Ingredients

Start with fresh, quality ingredients whenever possible.

    1. Choose the freshest produce, fruit and perishables
    2. Fresh herbs make a difference
    3. If your budget permits, select better cuts of meat, such as ground chuck vs. ground beef for better flavor.
    4. Fresh fish is ideal when possible
    5. Properly store your ingredients until ready to use
    6. Frozen white fish is acceptable, but I've not had good results with frozen slabs of salmon
    7. Freeze ingredients that won't be used right away, such as meat

Know Your Flavor Combinations 

Tomato and basil; chocolate and peanut butter; sour cream and onion; olive oil with garlic or basil; apple and cinnamon; strawberries and bananas, salt and vinegar; lemon and lime are examples of popular flavor combinations. Lesser known combos include bacon and brown sugar; cream and nutmeg; chocolate and hazelnut or coffee; sea salt (fleur de sel) and caramel or chocolate; pineapple and coconut; blueberries and lemon; teriyaki and beef; bourbon and brown sugar; strawberries and balsamic vinegar for example. "The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs" is a best-selling book and respected source professional chefs turn to for more extensive flavor combinations and ideas.

Practice "Mise en Plas" 

Prep Ingredients Bourbon Chocolate Nut Pie Midlife Snowbird
Prep your ingredients for Bourbon Chocolate Nut Pie: clockwise from the bottom: Kosher salt, vanilla, brown sugar, sugar, eggs, corn starch and bourbon (center)

A French term that literally means "setting in place," Mies en plas (pronounced MEEZ ahn plahs) is a technique of gathering all of your ingredients, tools and equipment prior to beginning the food prep. Professional chefs do this to easily identify if all ingredients are acceptable and accounted for and thus they can assemble meals more efficiently and quickly. Pans, mixing bowls, knives and other tools and equipment are readied first and ingredients are peeled, cut, sliced, grated and measured.

Consistent Cuts, Slices, Dices  

Professional chefs go to great lengths to make consistent cuts, slices and dices. Use an appropriate good quality knife with sharp blades. If you don't already own a variety of serrated knives, a chef's knife and paring knife, it's a good investment for the home chef. You don't have to have amazing knife skills, but it does help. When preparing food to be heated, the pieces need to be similar in size so they cook evenly. If prepping salad or soup ingredients, the pieces need to be smaller than the fork or spoon so they don't flop over the sides of the utensil as it traverses into one's mouth.

Recipe for Bourbon Chocolate Nut Pie

Properly Heat Your Oven and Equipment

By properly heating your oven and equipment, it saves time but it doesn't save electricity and that's OK.

  1. Preheat your oven in advance of starting the food prep so the oven is waiting on you, not the other way around
  2. Preheat your stovetop skillets and pans
  3. When the pans/skillets are adequately hot, add the water, butter or oil and adequately heat it prior to adding any other ingredients

Season Every Layer, Check and Recheck Seasonings

Seasoning every layer makes a distinct difference. One of my favorite chef instructors admitted that in the past, he didn't realize how much of an impact it has until he accepted a challenge to try it both ways. Now he religiously seasons every layer. Think of it like adding lotion directly to your skin vs. through a sweater. Absurd yes, but the point is made. When the food is warm, it will "grab" the flavor more than when cold, so it's important to add the seasonings before chilling the meat or food. If you plan to season, then chill the food, the seasoning will become more intense with time and colder temps. Always taste and adjust the seasonings to cook like a pro. Properly seasoned food does not need added salt or seasonings by your guests, it should be adequately flavorful when served.

Presentation, Presentation, Presentation

We eat with our eyes prior to the first bite. Restaurant chefs go to great lengths to make the food look appealing and use all kinds of methods to enhance the presentation. Presentation can make the difference of someone being willing to try an entree or passing it by even if it has the most amazing flavor. Until recently, I didn't realize foods such as sushi are prepared with presentation, rather than flavor as the overall objective. It never occurred to me that presentation could be more important than flavor. I prefer both, but to each their own. Thanks to the internet and social media, there are endless opportunities to enhance your presentation skills. Have fun, be creative and don't forget to use enhancements such as knotted bamboo picks, garnishes, tiny paper umbrellas and other flair for your beautiful, picture-perfect presentations.


"You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces -- just good food from fresh ingredients.”

-- Julia Child, American Cooking Instructor, Author, and Television Personality


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Cooking Class: Four Festive Hors d’oeuvres

The small bite hors d’oeuvres are beautifully presented, everything is more sparkly and has an element of being that much better. Beef tenderloin blue cheese bites Butternut squash crostini with arugula hummus Parmesan crisps with Prosciutto and orange marmalade preserves COOKING CLASS Four Festive Small 

Autumn Tour of Saugatuck on Lake Michigan’s Eastern Coastline

Autumn Tour of Saugatuck on Lake Michigan’s Eastern Coastline A Nostalgic, Romantic, Artsy Waterfront Vacation Destination When my twin sister first announced she was coming home to the Midwest from Hawaii, she invited me to go on a “mini vacation within a vacation.” We have 

Outdoor Summer Entertaining

Individual charcuterie boards are fun for small outdoor parties


Tips to Host Your Guests 2021 Style

The global pandemic brought an entirely new appreciation for the simple things in life. Time spent outdoors. Good food. Friendships. And the ability to host loved ones in our homes and back yards. Because of the massive realignment of what is "normal," entertaining guests in our homes has evolved into a new way of thinking and a more careful, conscious effort to be safer in the ways we interact, as well as how we serve and consume food and beverages.

For me, personally, gone are the days of a large gathering in favor of a smaller, more intimate event. Potluck food is still possible, but perhaps in a different presentation geared towards individual portions and a "hands free" attitude. I admit, even though we socially distanced for meals outdoors and in garages during 2020, it took time to readjust to entertaining. Despite extensive experience, I had forgotten how to be a live host versus a virtual host. Below, I've compiled an overview of tips for Summer outdoor entertaining, "2021 style." 

Restyled Summer Entertaining

Glass carafes and recyclable aluminum cups are more eco-friendly than individual plastic water bottles

When the Covid-19 pandemic completely turned life as we knew it inside out, reinvention was the key to keeping our sanity. Virtual events became accepted as a reality and live events emerged in new formats. As an example, we met up with our neighbors for evening "fence parties." Each couple sat in the very back of our own yards with snacks, beverages and lawn chairs pulled up to talk across the 20' expanse of grass that was separated by our own fences. It gave me a beautiful new perspective of my yard from a different angle and an entirely new appreciation for being able to socialize at a distance.

Now the summer of 2021 is restyled into a new normal of entertaining in person again. For me, it's about going back to the basics of summer entertaining. We've hosted 20 or 30 guests for parties and cookouts in the past and no longer feel the need to be as elaborate. Now, I prefer to host a limited number of guests; serve good, flavorful food; add a splash of color with accessories; sit on comfortable chairs with ambient lighting surrounded by a beautiful garden or night sky backdrop. Less is more.

Years ago we hired an in-home private chef to prepare my husband's milestone birthday lunch for quite a few guests. It was a wonderful, memorable experience that taught me many things, including this: a private chef is not less work for the hostess, it actually adds to the work to oversee each step to ensure your event goes smoothly. Anyway, one great idea from that party was the concept of serving individualized portions. In hindsight, it foreshadowed the future and it also provides an opportunity for the hosts to determine how many portions they need to prepare and serve.

Individual Servings in Lieu of Big Bowls

Think in terms of eliminating big bowls of chips in favor of individually wrapped chips and snacks instead. I used to think individual servings are rather wasteful. What if your guests don't want a specific amount of anything? Will they consume less or more than offered? However, it is the new reality of the pandemic world and if it reduces the chances your guests will be ill, it's worth it. Individual servings are good for:

Beverages: Bottles, cans, cups

Finger Food: small bite appetizers that can be picked up with a toothpick or arranged in single servings

Salads / Crudite / Chips / Sides: Serve in very small bowls, personal platters, short plastic cups or mason jars

Skewers: Serve meat, seafood, fruit, shrimp cocktail and/or vegetables on a small skewer or stick

Ramekins: Individual ramekins are great for baked casseroles or other hot food

Desserts: Cupcakes, ice cream bars, parfait cups, pies and more

Commercially Wrapped Packages: Chips, sandwiches, crackers, nuts, snacks, desserts, etc.

Condiments: Packets of ketchup, mustard, taco sauce and mayo


If your guests can't finish everything, offer to pack it to go home with them if they prefer.

Eco-Conscious Entertaining

My parents were way ahead of their time with reuse and recycling, even in the 1970's when you had to drive somewhere to drop off your newspapers, glass, plastic containers and cans. They grew up that way because of their depression-era parents and taught me the mindset way before the city provided each home with recycling containers that we wheel to the street every other week. In 2021, the level of eco-conscious has certainly evolved into another stratosphere.

--Skip the plastic. Use glass, ceramic, metal or washable flatware, carafes and dishes

--Omit paper products: use fabric napkins and/or personal washable/bleachable kitchen towels as a napkin

--Eliminate one-use products (such as disposable "red plastic" cups) unless they can be recycled. Substitute recyclable aluminum cups instead.

--Instead of plastic water bottles, serve carafes of iced tea, filtered water and cold beverages

--Place a pretty cloth or reusable plastic tablecloth or table runner as your anchor for a beautiful table. Flowers from the garden in jars or potted flowers will add a touch of charm.

--Don't forget to put bottles of hand sanitizer in key areas of your home, including the kitchen, bath and food area

--Tiki torches and/or overhead cafe-style string lighting add memorable charm as well as practical function to reduce trips and falls

Pot-lucks in 2021

Potlucks, buffets and large bowls of food such as chips/dip and so forth are a risk, so try to do everything to reduce the chances of spreading anything from guest to guest. Foods prepared in a home kitchen vs. commercial kitchen carry a higher chance of food-borne issues.

If you've never hosted or attended a themed pot-luck, this is a good time to give it a try: Baked potato bars, pulled pork/smoked meats, tacos/Mexican, Italian, Greek, Asian-fusion, deli salads or even chicken sandwiches can all be purchased from commercially prepared establishments. Suggest to guests in advance that they RSVP and bring $5 to $10 per person (depending on your budget) to cover the costs of the meal and have one or two families coordinate ordering and delivering the food.

If you prefer an old-fashioned potluck, keep plenty of hand sanitizer near the food and encourage guests to bring individual portions, as suggested above. If your potluck involves brats, hotdogs, pork, burgers, meat or poultry cooked on-site over a grill, have the grill master dispense the meat onto each person's plate.

Beat the Heat

During 2020, we spent every very small social gathering with family outdoors and distanced from each other. This meant dining al fresco during some very hot days of summer on the deck, but that was better than the alternative of staying home. Here's suggestions to beat the heat:

--Stay in the shade wherever possible under umbrellas, trees, awnings and so forth

--Bring portable electric fans and extension cords so each person has air blowing directly on them or provide paper fans

--Stay hydrated: consume cold beverages

--Use cold compresses on your neck and ice-pack hats for your head if available

--Serve ice cream, slushies, frozen treats and desserts and so forth

--Don't overdo it! Limit your time in the heat and don't let your pet/s be in the heat too long either



"Throwing an unforgettable party doesn't require a ton of time or money, it just requires a little thought, creativity and heart.

-- Maury Ankrum, Event Planner, Author

Walking Tour Ruskin Place Park, Seaside FL

Ruskin Place Park Walking Tour of Ruskin Place Park in Seaside Florida Ruskin Place Park in Seaside Florida, former site of scenes from The Truman Show, filmed in scenic Seaside Artist Colony, Townhomes, Shops, Live Entertainment  Ruskin Place park is a wonderful destination for anyone 

21 Considerations of RV Snowbirds

Before becoming an RV snowbird, there’s many considerations including expenses and type of recreational vehicle [Miramar Beach, Florida] RV Snowbirds 21 Considerations Before You Buy a Recreational Vehicle Travel in recreational vehicles, known as “RV’s,” has always been a big thing, but with the 2020 

Snowbird Gift Guide

Destin Ale Midlife Snowbird blog
Consumables such as beach towels, local craft beverages and specialty food items are great options for someone who is not easy to buy for


Snowbird Gift Guide

75 Best Gifts, Souvenirs for Yourself and Your Home Team

Shopping for souvenirs, mementos, keepsakes and gifts is a process I start from the very beginning of my snowbird stay each year. By "very beginning" I mean as in "on the way" to our snowbird community. Small gas stations and gigantic travel plazas are fabulous opportunities to buy trinkets, novelty items, local specialty foods and regional logo products such as items related to area university and national sports teams. Many of my favorite lapel pins and baseball caps are from large and very small fuel centers.

Hawaiian coin purse Midlife Snowbird blog
Choose quality over quantity for gifts and souvenirs, such as a beautiful coin purse

French for a "remembrance or memory," a souvenir is any object that someone acquires, collects and transports home for the memories associated with it. Keep in mind, when giving a souvenir as a gift, etiquette suggests the amount spent on the item should not make the receiver feel uncomfortable.

To help strategize, I've compiled a list of my best ideas for souvenirs and gifts for loved ones and your home team, as well as yourself. If, like me, you're not really into shopping, it's so much easier to have a plan and pace yourself than to try to make a mad rush at the very end. 

One of my favorite strategies is to find gifts in unexpected places such as the souvenir section of the local grocery store or convenience store. Baseball caps, t-shirts, costume jewelry and apparel are usually less expensive than the traditional surf shops, although many surf shops reduce inventory at irresistible prices in the off season. If you winter in a region with outlet stores, most of the luxury brands clear out their inventory in January with amazing deals such as 70% off + an additional 10% to 15% off select merchandise. I have a very nice collection of Coach wallets, purses and accessories thanks to the January sales. Adding a new Swarovski pen to my collection is another fun close-out pursuit.

Don't make the same mistake I did -- group all of your purchases together and go through each and every closet and drawer about a week before departing to make sure everything you bought comes home with you. This reduces the chances of leaving behind a drawer full of gifts and gives enough time to go through your list of who is getting what. If you need to add some last-minute items, it won't send you into full-on panic mode. As much as I try to shop for 80% of my list within the first few weeks of arrival, there's always one more thing to buy at the end.

Once home, most gifts are presented to recipients in a timely manner to show appreciation for the help while away or to let someone know you missed them. For items purchased way in advance of the occasion, such as Christmas, they are put aside in a designated area with a label of who the gift is for and the occasion when it will be given.

It's always nice to be thought of and let someone know you cared enough to buy something for them. Being surrounded by souvenir magnets, coasters, pens, apparel, hats, notepaper, books, wall art and much more connects me to my beachy southern home all year round.


Overall, unless buying a gag gift, go for items that are high quality without necessarily a high price. One quality item is better than a bunch of lower end stuff. Take advantage of local specialties that not just everyone can pick up in your home state. Ideas include cactus jelly, orange blossom honey, pickled okra, fresh oranges and citrus fruit, art, hand crafted items and so forth.

Consider how much space you have to get your souvenirs and gifts home and whether they will perish. Baked goods may not work for everyone, although I have a friend whose mother insisted she bring cake from a local southern bakery back home to Indiana.

Our rental is known for rather tired-looking kitchen linens, so I buy beautiful new hot pads at the start of each snowbird season, use them during my stay, then bring them home with me. If your unit doesn't have the highest thread counts, buy new pillow cases at a discount store such as TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Tuesday Morning or Home Goods, use them while at your rental and take them home. I liven up our condo with seasonal flowers such as blooming hyacinth and tulips. When they are done, remove the bulbs from the soil, let them air out and transport them home in a plastic bag to later be planted in your yard.

Difficult to Buy For

For the person who is difficult to buy for, consider consumables such as specialty foods, beverages, candy, flowers, lotion, pens, upscale room spray, soap, stationery and so forth.

Younger People

For younger people, a high quality beach towel is fun without a huge commitment. Or a quality specialty food such as gourmet pasta or sauces, or perhaps a beverage that you know they might enjoy.

Long Distance

If someone at home is celebrating a milestone, send a thoughtful bouquet of flowers. They're fun to give and receive. Gift cards easily fit into an envelope to transport via mail, but since they function like cash, take photos of the front and back in case they are lost in transit.

Ask for Help

It's easy to be overwhelmed with choices when considering an appreciation gift for someone you may not know that well. Don't hesitate to ask a store employee for assistance. As an example, it's much easier to select a craft beer or local wine with professional help. After all, the employees know what's popular and can save a ton of time and mistakes choosing an item based on what a label looks like.

Gifts by Category

General gifts

Ash trays

Beach towels



Coin purses

Key chains

anniversary bouquet Midlife Snowbird
Thoughtful gestures such as a flower bouquet help bridge the distance

Lapel pins


Shot glasses

Tote bags

Travel or coffee mugs


Leather Goods












Personal Care

After shave

Beauty/Grooming kits





Note paper/stationery




Air freshener




Hand towels

Hot pad sets

Kitchen gadgets



Pillow cases

Photo frames


Soap/lotion dispenser sets





Champagne/Prosecco/Sparkling wine


Cocoa/hot chocolate mix



Craft Beer

Honey: wildflower, orange blossom, traditional


Oils: specialty and infused


Popcorn: plain or chocolate/caramel, flavored, etc.


Snacks, especially if locally produced







Floral arrangements

Plants: Greenery, orchids, etc













Zip-up athletic wear


Local Specialties

Art prints

Canvas art




More ideas

Gift cards

Photo prints

Photo frames



"Keep some souvenirs of your past, or how will you ever prove it wasn't all a dream?"

-- Ashleigh Brilliant, British Author, Cartoonist

Alys Beach – Stunning Architectural Tour

Architecture Tour of Stunning Alys Beach, Florida Renowned for Iconic Architecture, New Urbanism Movement If you’ve never experienced Alys Beach on the Gulf Coast of Northwest Florida’s panhandle in-between Panama City and Destin, I highly recommend it as a must-see while in the vicinity. Renowned