Monday, December 8, 2014

We Had It All, Just Like Bogie and Bacall

My in-laws gave us a trip to Key Largo, well they actually gave us a two day stay in Manhattan in a beautiful NOMAD hotel but the dates were impossible with P's schedule so we ended up taking the value and booking this amazing trip for days where we'd always wanted to go, the Keys.  I never really understood what they meant, the Keys.  What the heck was it?  I knew where it was.  I imagined high end hotels along a Hampton's like beach front.  But it was nothing like that.  In fact the only real full on sandy beach we found was on Key West but our Key Largo hotel was so much more interesting.  For us Florida is always white sand beaches, extreme sun, the gulf water being the main focus, each day.  It's beautiful.  But this trip was at an odd time.  The weather was unseasonably cool there.  We had already changed weather in New York and it was now time for warm sweaters and layers and tans and beaches just didn't feel right anyway.  My brother is sick, my cat is dying, my soul is heavy and grey.  The vacation was an unexpected gift and so I just felt like I went into it half cocked.  My hair wasn't cute and I bought no clothes to wear.  It didn't feel like it was right to celebrate at this particular time in life but it was a gift and such a thoughtful one that it would also be wrong to waste it.
It took me until the second day to even get there mentally.  And I was already beating myself up for squandering any time during such a wonderful experience on moping.  When you have full sun even if it's not super warm, life does feel different.  My sister always tells me God wants you to be happy.  A change in scenery did help actually and after awhile I started breathing better, felt more relaxed and finally blinked and saw that damned if I wasn't on vacation.  What the heck is wrong with me?  We had food to eat, fun to have, this weird new place to explore.  We have use of a car, which is a real pleasure.  And it was super casual and perfect.  No need to worry about what you're wearing.  No need to fret about restaurants, there were plenty of cute as a bug's ear little roadside diners that were filled with locals and everyone was friendly and the food was made with love.

Knife and fork burger and a grilled chicken melt from the hotel.

wedge salad
Some weird pattern in the sky but no plane or anything in site or heard.

This mound was called a hash brown casserole from Mrs Mac's Kitchen.  Never had it, seemed to be a local feature.  Sort of tasted like hash but have no idea what was in it.  Very good.

Is there anything better than not working, being on an island with nothing to do but fill your day with fun?  And you must wear hats!
Local pizza from Tower of Pizza.  Good but the best part was the delivery kid who was nice enough to sit and talk with us about the history of the Keys and where he grew up, what he likes to do.  So young and full of life, healthy and pulsing red hot energy.  I felt like a famished vampire who might lose control and lunge at him, sucking all that new fresh blood out of him and have it for myself.  I wanted to see if only for a moment what he feels, so full of opportunity, a young male living on the water, enjoying the ocean each day.  So innocent and trusting. He musta sensed my thoughts because all the sudden that kid jumped out of his seat for the door.
Best key lime pie EVER!  Surprisingly at the unassuming and half empty Senor Frijoles.  Homemade, with a merengue topping and a spectacular crust.

P got Lobster tacos!
I got the Steak Tampiqueno, an 8oz rib eye with Tampico sauce with a cheese enchilada beans and rice.  Most awesome meal of the vacation.  The place was right on the water and looking out onto the boats, drunk on food, I felt so blessed and grateful.
The hotel had two pools, one for adults and another for children.  Our towel lady, an islander, kept everyone well behaved in her domain.

We rode to Mrs Mac's a second time on a tandem bicycle that the hotel lended for free!  Key Largo has bike lanes and tons of bikers but the morning we rode, we had the lanes all to ourselves.
Riding back from Key West, I spotted a real UFO that was clearly visible in the day and undisputable.
Until we discovered it was a white weather blimp.  Such a bummer.  So close!
We took a day trip to Key West and walked through an allegedly haunted cemetary.
Drove through the town that was clearly decorated by gay men like a hollywood set. The cutest tiny houses with picket fences and flowering gardens, porches and open doors into stunning floor plans.

P does tend to sightsee like a 70's father, driving past everything so fast while I"m goosenecking it all the way trying to notice every detail.

They have tons of wild roosters and hens all over town just roaming the streets.  It's the oddest thing.
So many bars and restaurants all cramped into this sweet little Whoville type place complete with trolley cars and everyone was busy at work on something, whether it be fixing siding or planting gardens, hammering fences, all the while as if dropped from the sky a TON of tourists all walking the streets as if this town is not at the end of series of dozens of small islands with only one road leading to it, sometimes only the width of the road.

Picked a place online the night before, a sweet patio restaurant called Two Friends.  Great choice, for my meal that is.  P got a little short changed with his spice rubbed Mahi.
But this chocolate cake was a dream with ganache and whipped cream on top.

I had the shrimp lover's platter and it was exactly how I envisioned it.  Tons of shrimp three ways, cold peel and eat, very fresh and vibrant tasting, a skewer of grilled shrimp perfectly seasoned and a big surprise shrimp salad on the bottom with crunchy celery and a delicious light sauce.  Lots of lemon and a nice spring salad on the side. 
I'm allergic to fish so I based my choice on the sound of this Mahi steak.  Meh.  Poor P.  And the last thing we needed was another serving of fries.

Being at the end of our world out there looking out until the still waters that day in Key West was it for this girl.

That night we decided to eat as many vegetables as we could before we had coronaries.

Even the cloudy days were awesome.  Something about being right on the water able to look out and see your thoughts.

There was a pier to fish off of and walk on and at night passing silhouettes of other visitors made it a magical place.

The town itself is so narrow but it did have houses, this one being the most fabulous.  Most were on stilts and modest.
The hotel beach was all shaded with trees like a movie set, complete with bar, snack shack, hammocks and games like a little park.

And then you could take the trail and go to the more secluded part where it felt like Gilligan's Island.

This was where it was at for me.  A loner's paradise.  Just you and the sound of the water.

It was cold ass so we read a lot on the chairs by the water.

 At night we drove around to the other islands all lit up in their Christmas lights.
We had the world's best Key Lime Pie in Florida as voted by Florida Monthly Magazine for 8 years at the Blond Giraffe Pie Factory.  The tall Brazilian owner came out and talked with us about his frozen pie on a stick and how he moved from Key West.  His shop was meticulous and he came out from the back as if like magic.
 We parked and enjoyed a piece outside, so peaceful.

Evelyn's was a big hit.  Mexican breakfast outside in the full sun before we knew only the first day of 80 degree weather would be the only day to reach such temperatures. 

Chilaquiles eggs and tasty no lard beans.  It became apparent that the local spots were bringing it full on with their food offerings.  No flavorless greasy spoons in this town. Fisherman came to enjoy their food.  Vintage healthy I'd say.  I mean one place had Adkins diet specials on the menu.

But this whole series of islands knows how to do cute.  The colors and vibe felt a little like the Bahamas.  The locals seemed to have found a little secret to living in peace.

When the weather wasn't right for the beach we wandered the town, visited the outdoor food market,
Went to the State Park, saw the aquarium

We kayaked around the mangroves and sounds. 

We walked nature trails and contemplated life.
Harriets is famous for their homemade biscuits.

Oh yeah babe, with butter and their homemade honey!
Their omelets were like crepes, chocked full of spinach and every spot had the best rye toast.
The waitress sat us at the corner table with the tree and the place was packed, warm and inviting.
At the Tree Top hotel in the restaurant it was gorgeous and again to our surprise completely empty so we had the entire sunset view to ourselves.  I got the special, pulled pork.  Too much sauce, not enough pork but the best part was the green apple slaw.  Dynomite! I will be making that.
P had the lobster salad.  It looked so good but he said it wasn't special.
After getting off the plane initially and managing to get off course out of the airport, we bypassed driving to Miami proper to look around and jetted to McDonald's where to our surprise they featured an Angus chipotle BBQ bacon cheeseburger.  The description had me in a trance.  They were like large sliders, just slid down your throat and they were gone!  We split that and a big Mac with fries and real Cola.
Before I snapped out of my funk looking out the window at Miami coming in I thought, great, another big city.  No thank you.
Silly girl.   Just a short drive down the coast to the furthest most southern spot in the whole country lies our sweet sanctuary where we would regroup, reconnoiter, refresh and share some of God's grace.

Back to the city.  My whole experience of Key Largo might be described by that famous desert, Key Lime Pie. It's refreshing, invigorating, not heavy, tangy, simple yet oh so fabulous, and when you eat it you can't help but feel better.   

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