Culinary SMACKDOWN: Eggplant! http:www.ladivacucina.com

Darlings!  Our dear "Eggy" aka Eggplant to Go has brought back the CULINARY SMACKDOWN!  A friendly little culinary contest "just for fun" and what I'd like to consider as a way for me to spread my cooking wings and a chance to try new things!

However...

La Diva has been laid up with a very nasty leg injury, so I've not been cookin' much as I've had to keep off my leg and keep it elevated.   When I am on the computer, I manage to put my leg up on my filing cabinet  (thank goodness for yoga!) I finally went to the doctor yesterday and they think I could have used stitches, if only to make the inevitable scar "more pretty!"  (doctor's don't like to think that people can do the job without them.  hmpf.)  In any case, all's good, I'm on antibiotics, the gash is healing up and I should be back in action in a few more weeks....and believe me, I will be raring to go!

So, the DJ has been Le Chef.  He's been doin' a pretty good job, especially with my directions yelled from the sofa!  In spite of forgetting to put in the garlic to sweat with the onions, this dish turned out very, VERY good!

 Little neck clam and Spanish chorizo stew as prepared by DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah!)


So, my entry for the lovely eggplant is my own recipe for a very old, traditional Sicilian dish with as many ways to make it as there is to utilize it, called caponata.  When I made this, my little blog had just started, so you most likely didn't even read it then!  For fodder, I had begun a challenge that every day I would make dinner using an ingredient from my CSA box without going to the store for any ingredient and just using what was on hand! 

LA DIVA'S EGGPLANT CAPONATA:  Click HERE to take you to the original post!  

Happy SMACKDOWN, good luck and thanks EGGPLANT TO GO for hosting!  You can see all of the entries HERE.  I'll be back in a few days with PART TWO of La Diva's Key Largo Boating Adventure! Ciao, darlings! x

La Diva's Key Largo Boating Adventure...Saving the Hellish Best for Last! Part 1 http://www.ladivacucina.com

Darlings!  Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port aboard a tiny ship......er, boat....

 Well, you knew it was too good to last now, didn't you?  La Diva and the DJ were having a wonderful, drama-free and relaxed time for two entire days in the Florida Keys....really now, would it be TOO MUCH TO ASK for three?

Indeed it would cuz that's just how things roll in La Diva's never-boring life!

It was now day three in the Keys and time to go.  With the rain coming down in buckets, we checked out of our hotel in Islamorada and slowly made our way up north to Key Largo, about forty-five minutes away.  We had to be at Pontunes by two pm for our boating excursion, so had plenty of time to kill.  While most would have found the rain daunting and disappointing, La Diva knew that a LOT can change in a few hours and a few miles.  Nonplussed, we stopped and had a leisurely lunch on the water at Sundowners.



This was the view from our table at Sundowners...usually glorious on a sunny day and a great spot for sunset and cocktails.  We still managed to enjoy it though as we watched large tarpons swimming just in front of our table.

A few months back I received an email through TravelZoo and what sounded like a fabulous deal:  $129 for a four hour boat rental and included a $100 gift certificate for food and drink at the tiki bar.  Wha?  Renting boats in Miami will set you back a minimum of $300 and this deal included half a day on a boat AND food and drink?  The DJ and La Diva could do a lot of damage at a tiki bar with $100.  Without hesitation, I bought it for the DJ's birthday and filed it away to be used during our STAY-cation.


Now, when we first arrived at the Islander hotel, we made a beeline for their watersports hut to check the availability of their gear.  The crusty old-timer on duty tried to convince us to hire him and their motor boat to take us out to the reef to snorkel instead of renting the much cheaper Hobie Cat.  La Diva told him not to waste his breath, we already had our boating day booked at Pontunes in Key Largo.




Old Timer:  "I'd be careful if I was you." 

Diva:  "Why?"

Old Timer:  "You can't trust them places.  I had a friend come back after renting a boat and had to pay $200 in gas."

Diva:  "Well, I already called and asked how much gas would be to go to the reef, I'm sure it will be fine."

Old Timer:  "Well, how do you know you can trust them?  They will try to swindle you.  Say equipment's broke when it ain't.  Say the gas is full when it ain't."

Diva:  "Well, obviously, I guess I'll do the logical thing and check the equipment and petrol gauge before leaving the dock!"

Old Timer:  "How do you know it's not broke?"

Getting highly frustrated and tired of this conversation, I said, "Listen here, do you think we are a couple of rubes?  Do you think we just fell off the hay stack?  I'm from Detroit and wasn't born yesterday!   NO ONE is going to pull ANYTHING on ME.  Good day!"  La Diva stormed off and the DJ followed, unimpressed.  Fear as a tactical form of manipulation NEVER works with La Diva.

Still, it planted the seed of doubt in my head and I would make sure to be very thorough when we went over our rented boat.



 This sculpture is the Christ of the Abyss, it's one of three and was designed by Guido Galletti.   It's is a popular reef destination and lives in John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.

By the time we arrived in Key Largo, the rain had dissipated and we were left with a gloomy but dry day.  While it was not the best of conditions for snorkeling and boating, it was not terrible and we were not going to cancel just because it was cloudy.  An overcast day on a boat can mean cool relief from the hot, relentless sun.  

We got to Pontunes Marina Tiki Bar & Grille and I was given a pile of paperwork and began to sign my life away.  There it was...the page with all the costs to replace items on the boat if anything was broken and everything was expensive.  My heart started to pound...."How can you trust them?"  The old timer's words echoed in my brain...I pushed it down and asked the young man serving us if we'd go over the boat's equipment.  He assured me we'd go over everything with staff.   "What's the weather like?  I asked.  "Nothing coming, you should be fine.  The waves are at a two foot swell."  We gathered our gear, went outside and stepped onto our little 24 ft. Sundeck. 



There was the GPS, first aid kit, life jackets, radio, FULL gas gauge and most importantly, the map and Pontunes business card.  The deck hand pulled up the propeller and showed it to us.  "It's brand new but the last couple that rented it scratched it up a bit."  Gulp.   Then he told us that with the GPS, they would be aware of our position the entire time and to not worry if we got lost, they'd be there to guide us.  He showed us how to use the radio and what channel to use if we got into trouble.   Then he went over our position on the map and advised us of which route to take to get out to the reef.  "When you get out to the lake, DON'T take the canal on the right, stick to the left."  Got it.

The boat hand asked if we had everything and did we need something to drink?  I told him I don't really like to drink (alcohol) and boat, I like to keep my wits about me but the DJ encouraged me to relax and get the left over sangria out of our cooler in the car.  I complied but knew I'd only sip it, we were responsible for this boat, we were not just lounging guests this time, and La Diva doesn't fool about when boating on the sea.



 Captain DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah):  Steady as she goes, matey!

The route to the reef was not a straight shot out to sea and would take us a good 45 minutes to get to the first reef.   We would have to go past a point (where there was an A frame house), into a bay, through a cut in between houses, out to a lake and through canals through the mangroves until finally we'd get out to sea.  Then we'd head straight out to the first reef, once we saw the tower landmark, we were to find a white buoy and moor to it.  To drop an anchor on the reef itself would result in an expensive fine.



 Do you know how to read maps?  La Diva does, I trust a map more than a GPS, especially in a car.  The red squares indicate the reef towers...not exactly a hop, skip and a jump to get to them.  Go on and click on it, darlings!

And so we began our adventure out to sea.

We passed the landmark point on our left but could not see the A-frame house and  we were already getting frustrated until I realized that we were not  even in the right bay and the landmark was the FIRST point, not the second.  Sure enough, we passed the second point taking us to the bay with the cut.  We drove closer to the shore, looking for the entrance but it was not until we were right up next to the shore that we had spotted it, there it was, between houses and certainly was not easy to find.  We made our way through the moored yachts and sail boats and headed into the cut.



 Buoy markers help guide boaters through waters and find their way, a necessity in places where everything looks the same.

The cut was lined with houses on each side and had sturdy coral sea walls.  As we neared the end of the cut, I decided to take a photo of the house at the entrance, just in case I needed it for later.  When one is on the water, things are easy to forget and are never what they seem.

YES!  We made it to the lake, now to head across to the canals through the mangroves.  There were the markers!  Head to the left, not to the right...GOT IT.  As we headed through the mangroves, I noticed the skies darkening and it began to sprinkle.  We had come so far and only had to get through this part and then we'd finally be on the ocean.  




The mangroves were beautiful and loaded with gorgeous white egrets.  As we made our way through the winding mangrove canals, La Diva began to notice that everything started to look the same.  Instinctively, I took out my camera and began to take photos of the markers behind us.  Like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs, these photos would serve as a guide for when we returned, just in case.  

We laughed when we passed the people that went out before us on a pontoon with a squillion kids, still yelling at them and cussing, and we were glad we had the little boat that allowed us the freedom to get to the reef.  It was then that I noticed a very large boat in front of us.  It was the snorkeling boat for the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park heading out to the reef, just like us.  If they were still heading out in the gloom, La Diva knew it was going to be fine.  But it wasn't.  Stay tuned for PART TWO!!!!!  (Because it's gonna be a doozy, darlings!!)

Jessie-Lou's FABULOUS and DIVINE Coconut Pound Cake http://www.ladivacucina.com

 Darlings!  Have you ever been given a recipe that sounds so damn good that you want to make up an excuse to try it as soon as possible?  That's exactly what I thought when my dear old friend Bobby put up a post on Facebook about his Grandma's old fashioned coconut pound cake, apparently it was to die for.   The recipe came from his Southern Grandmother who was from Alabama and baked her cakes "old school."  Hells yes,  La Diva HAD to have the recipe!

Now, I've known Bobby since he was twelve-years-old and because I'm like the big sister he never had, he was happy to share the precious recipe with me.  The next day, the recipe came to my inbox and I took a look at the famed cake. 

Two sticks of butter?  Yep, can't make a cake without buttah!

And 2/3 cup of Crisco?  Dang, I've not made a cake with shortening for donkey's years!

Three cups of sugar?!   Oooo-wee, dis gone be one sweet cake!  And that didn't include the ENTIRE BOX OF POWDERED SUGAR FOR THE FROSTING.  Holy cow!

FIVE EGGS?!  That's it.  This cake was going to be saved for a special occasion.  I filed the recipe away and then life, dieting and business took over and it languished in my computer files for months.



 Crack ho's need love (and coconut cake) too! 

And then one day a few months back, Bobby, who lives in an, ahem, "about-to-be-gentrified" neighborhood in Atlanta, posted about the his grandma's coconut cake again, this time about his experience giving a piece to a local crack ho, oops, I mean "one of the colorful neighborhood characters," who was more than appreciative.   Here's the story he told me:

"I used to feed her a hot meal when it was really cold and one time she got the cake along with some yummy soup! Her best wig nearly blew off! (She wears different wigs everyday because she is really a crack whore, and she don't want the popo knowin' who she is! She's kind of "undercover," or so she thinks). She charges $5 for a bj...

The best story is the local neighborhood helper guy (who I also used to feed) also got some cake one time too, and he shared it with his "auntie" who was really the mother of three drug dealers. She loved that cake so much she used to have her 'boyz' come knock on my door for special occasions (always her birthday) with a $20 in hand and ask me to "make her one of 'dem coconut cakes!'" I usually would make it, but never took their money. Those boys were rough, but sooooo shy when they would come knocking on my door for their mama's cake!"

That's what I love about Bobby, you can tell the boy's from Detroit and he's such a generous soul, Jesus would highly approve!

DANG.  Now La Diva had to try this cake.

And then Diva joined a gym, began working out and forgot about it again.  Until June, when it was the DJ's birthday, and I was trying to decide what cake to make him.  Now, the DJ is my sweetheart and he works hard at his job five days a week, driving 80 miles and day and many a weekend he spends doing La Diva stuff for my business.  So La Diva ALWAYS makes him a fresh, home made cake with his favorite ingredients for his birthday as a special treat.  Last year I made him a chocolate cake with peanut butter icing.  While it's one of the DJ's all-time faves, I wanted to treat him to something new.

And then I remembered Bobby's grandma's coconut cake!



 This is the shortening I used.  It's made from 100% Organic Expeller Pressed Palm Oil.

So now, La Diva had to go and buy me some shortening.  Darlings, I can hear you asking La Diva:  "What IS shortening anyway?"  Wikipedia states that "Shortening, in its most generic meaning, is any fat which is solid at room temperature and used to make crumbly pastry (from "short" being an old synonym to "crumbly").  Although butter is solid at room temperature and is frequently used for such pastry, the word "shortening" is seldom used about butter.   Originally, it was mainly used as a synonym to lard."  Therefore, beef suet, pork lard and Crisco are all considered to be "shortening" and used for baking.

You can read more about shortening HERE.



La Diva frosted the cake "old school" a la Betty Crocker, with loads of swirls and waves.   Perfect cakes are boring.

Jessie-Lou's FABULOUS and DIVINE Coconut Pound Cake

(Here is the original recipe but my modifications are in pink!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Take a bundt cake pan and butter and flour the pan.

2 sticks butter  (at room temperature)
2/3 cup Crisco  (I used organic shortening without trans fats)
3 cups sugar
3 cups plain flour
1 t baking powder
5 eggs  (at room temperature)
½ t coconut flavoring
1 cup milk
1 cup coconut

Cream butter and Crisco. Add sugar. Sift flour and baking powder and add eggs one at a time beating thoroughly with an electric mixer at medium high speed for about five minutes.  Add flavoring and milk and mix until well blended. Add coconut last. Bake 1.5 hour @ 325 degrees.  Because ovens vary, I would check the cake at one hour and every ten minutes until done.  I used a toothpick to test and it came out with crumbs on it, not batter.  I tend to "underbake" my cakes slightly so that they will be moist.  This cake in MY oven was finished and had a nice brown crust at one hour and fifteen minutes.  Allow cake to cool for a few minutes and then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting:

1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 box confectioners sugar  (that is one pound)
1 t coconut flavoring
¾ cup coconut
Let cream cheese and butter soften, mix all together and frost when cake is cooled completely.



So maybe now it's time to talk about Bobby's grandmother in Bobby's own words:  "Her name was Jessie-Lou Chandler and she grew up in Hartford, Alabama. She had nine children, lived her whole life in Geneva County, Alabama, and only flew on a plane one time in her life. Basically, grandma and grandpa were share croppers and they lived on some else's land doing all the work in the fields for the land owner.  Grandma  always had this cake ready for my mom whenever we came to visit.  It was her favorite  cake, as well as mine."

Well, guess what, Grandma?  Your cake is La Diva's favorite cake now too!  Thank you, Jessie-Lou Chandler, thank you for giving me a cake in it's full fat glory, the way cakes were supposed to be made, velvety moist and full of flavor. 



RESULT:  Ok.  Hold steady now.  THIS WAS THE TASTIEST,  MOST MOIST AND DELICIOUS CAKE I'VE EVER EATEN.  Seriously.  I was worried it would be too sweet.  Well, the frosting WAS sweet but not too cloying and naturally, the cream cheese cut some of the sweetness.  I was concerned the coconut flavoring (I only found imitation) would add a chemical coconut taste.  The coconut taste from the flavoring was subtle and necessary, and as there was coconut in the cake itself as well as the frosting, there was no chance of it tasting like anything but divinely decadent coconut.  The flaked coconut also added more moisture to the cake.  (as if it needed it!)

Darlings, this is NOT the cake to eat if you are worried about calories or cholesterol.  However, this IS the cake to bake for a special occasion or someone you love.  Now, the DJ, he LOVED his cake.  He LOVED IT SO MUCH that he refused to share it with anybody.  And La Diva HAD to get that cake out of the house as I had THREE PIECES in two days.  When I went to take a plate to the neighbor, he stopped me at the door, "Where you goin' with my birthday cake, woman?"  "Um, to Edgar's?  He's a single guy, I bet he doesn't get home made cake very often...."  "You are going to do no such thing.  He's not deserving of such a cake.  The cake stays here."  I meekly put the cake down.

Then, a few days later, as the cake slowly disappeared, I noticed that the spongy, velvety texture of the cake was still intact, this cake would be "fresh" for days.  We were down to a nice little chunk now and because I had posted photos of it on Facebook,  two friends mentioned it as soon as they came into my door when they stopped by my house for a visit....I soon found out it was NOT to visit La Diva, but to get a PIECE OF THE CAKE.  Charles, in particular, had been fantasizing about it ever since I had posted the photos. I split the last chunk into two, simultaneously upset about the cake finally being gone as well as relieved, and handed a plate each to my two friends.  And then I watched them devour it with faces of bliss and ecstasy.

Thanks, Bobby, for sharing, you are a dear.  And thanks to Grandma Jessie-Lou! Do you have a TO DIE FOR CAKE recipe?  DO tell La Diva all about it!  Ciao for now, darlings!

La Diva's Flo-duh STAY-cation Part 2 http://www.ladivacucina.com

Darlings!  La Diva woke up on Day Two of her fabulous STAYcation in the Florida Keys to a dismal, dark and dreary day of drizzle! A morning snorkeling trip was definitely out, so leaving the Big Bear Man to slumber on,  La Diva took off in search of REAL coffee instead of the insipid dishwater being offered for free in the hotel's lobby.

The lovely front desk staff directed me to the Midway Cafe "just down the street" and I headed out into the rain.  I drove.  And drove....and noticed a woman sweeping up fallen leaves in front of a row of charming art galleries.  I stopped to ask her where the heck the cafe was, La Diva was getting desperate for her caffeine fix.  She told me I was close, only a few blocks away, and I made a mental note to come back and check the galleries out after I picked up the DJ.



Tired of driving, La Diva decided a lovely walk to the galleries was in order, so we headed  out in the light, warm rain up the Old Highway.  The first shop along the way was called The Wild Lily and it had unusual and beautiful clothes and the most divine original jewelry.  Owner Susan Durner has exquisite taste and yes, La Diva DID end up with a very fetching tropical beach cover up!  The DJ was eager for me to purchase something gorgeous and  was ever so patient...which is unheard of, I NEVER torture the Big Bear Man by taking him clothes shopping with me.  But, the Keys will do that to you, you are not in a hurry to do anything or go anywhere.  (and if you are, you better SLOOOOOW DOWN!)

We went to a few more galleries but I found The Gallery Morada had simply gorgeous, unique home furnishings and one-of-a-kind artisan pieces including beautifully intricate shell wall hangings that were exquisite and delicate, not your usual scallop shell picture frame.   I wish the DJ would have taken photos, but it would have seemed a bit rude, even though the shop keeper Carol was lovely.

By now La Diva and the DJ were getting a bit peckish and we decided it was high time for some lunch.  Carole at the Gallery Morada suggested we avoid the tourist traps and go to Ma's Fish Camp.  She raved about the fresh fish but also about Ma's home made desserts that were made on premise fresh daily.  The DJ started off with an order of conch fritters and they were the tastiest, fluffiest conch fritter I've eaten!  Slightly spicy with bits of conch that was NOT rubbery, we couldn't wait for our mains!




Southern Florida is known for its seafood and in the Keys in particular, and on menus every where, you'll find  an abundance of fresh dolphin fish (mahi mahi), grouper, conch (in soup and fritters) Florida stone crab and lobster (when in season) Key West pink shrimp, and of course, Key limes.  These are Ma's Fish Camp conch fritters, hot and spicy.


La Diva started with a cup of the spicy conch chowder, tasty,  hot and satisfying,  and  then ordered a mahi Reuben which consisted of a super fresh blackened dolphin fish fillet on toasted rye with spicy slaw and remoulade.   I took my first bite...oh hell yeah.  It was so good that I wouldn't stop eating it to let the DJ take a photo!  The DJ got the house  sammie...a nice grilled fillet of dolphin fish on toasted sourdough bread with cheese, tomato and mayo.   The sandwiches were so fresh that we both had juice running down our hands, definitely two napkin sandwich.


When we were through, La Diva asked for the dessert menu.  Sure, I was stuffed but was thinking of taking the dessert home for later as we were going to eat "in" back at the hotel for dinner.   We'd heard about the chocolate bread pudding with Kahlua and of course the classic Key lime pie, but when the server told me that they had German Chocolate cake baked fresh that morning, well, there was nothing left to decide.  We ordered the German Chocolate Cake to go and WALKED (the only people walking by the way) back to our room about a mile or two down the road.  A kind man in a pick up stopped and asked if we needed a ride!   No, we certainly did not, it felt good to walk after such a satisfying lunch and a few sneaky fingers sampling the coconut caramel of the cake made it all the sweeter.



This was on the menu at the Sundowner Restaurant in Key Largo.  La Diva can't imagine what's in this pie that makes it worth almost $30?!  Most key lime pies that I'd seen advertised were sold at $16.95.......must be something in the meringue! 





The Rain Barrel, which was a funky hodgepodge of little shops in shacks with tacky souvenirs as well as artists selling fused glass along with a potter in the rear.  That giant lobster really freaks me out....


Poor little hermit crabs!  These guys were for sale at the Rain Barrel and destined to end up in some kid's luggage and most likely starved until they make it back to Jersey or Minnesota!   The day before, La Diva actually found a miniscule hermit crab on the beach of the hotel.  It was as tiny as my thumbnail and the DJ was amazed my eye had caught it at all in the fading light of dusk. 



Ahhhh.....pastel Teddy bears glued to imported polished shells MAKE THE BEST craptastic souvenir! Most of these polished shells are from Asia.  It's a shame that the world's oceans are being pilfered only to be turned into throw away junk like this.  Please don't buy shells.


In the afternoon it cleared up enough for us to go sailing!  One of the main reasons for our trip to the Keys was to go sailing and to stay at a place that offered water sports on the their beach.   We love the freedom of sailing in a small craft without a motor...until the wind dies!  And then you realize you are not free at all, but a slave to MASTER WIND!



This is the just like the hobie cat we rented, perfect for two!

When the DJ and La Diva first moved to Miami from Los Angeles, we joined a sailing club.  It was fun, but we were the youngest members by 20 years and all we did was drink and sit on our bums while the captain and another person did all the work.  And for La Diva, I did not feel the sea connection...and I wanted to be a more "active" sailor like when I used to sail small skiffs back in Sydney.

That's when I realized that I love to sail on the smaller boats.  The DJ grew up on the water and as his father was a navigator for the Royal Australian Navy, sailing was a prerequisite  growing up.  So, in his capable hands, with La Diva prone on the canvas, we glided across the waves, getting splashed and wet with warm sea water.  Sailing a Hobie Cat is the closest thing to being a fish that this little mermaid can get.




Without the loud motor of a regular boat, one sees things like beautiful sea turtles in the waves!  Bliss!  This is when La Diva la Sirena, is happiest.  We sailed around for several hours and then came back in about 5 pm, happy, exhilirated and ready for a cool glass of wine on the lanai.


Darlings, at times do you ever feel like just eating cheese or dessert for dinner?  La Diva does!  And that's exactly what we did!  Once we got back from our sail, La Diva poured herself a lovely crisp La Crema chardonnay and then put out this spread from The Cheese Course back in Miami.  I can't remember exactly what I'd bought but it was a nice mix of a sharp blue, Italian sheep's milk pecorino with peppercorns, a beautiful triple cream, fig and almond paste, salami and delicate biscuits.  DIVINE! 

And for dessert:  The German Chocolate cake from Ma's!  The cake "slice" was HUGE, four layers!  It was super fresh and moist, with REAL caramel and coconut layered between the dense cake...heaven!  Sigh....another laid back and peaceful day in the Keys and our last night!  The next day we would head  back north, up to Key Largo for an afternoon of motor boating out to the reefs.  Ciao for now, darlings!


La Diva's Flo-duh STAY-cation Part 1 http://www.ladivacucina.com

Darlings!  It was not less than six months ago when La Diva asked DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah!) what he wanted to do for his vacation and surprisingly, he stated most vociferously:  "I'm not going anywhere!  We are staying in Florida, we are going to snorkel and bike ride and do all the things we pay so much money to live here for.  We're not going anywhere but having a STAY-cation."

Coming from a man who spent his last two years' vacations attending weddings overseas (that trip to Sydney will eat up money and four precious vacation days not including the jet lag) and continuously playing tour guide to a constant stream of out of town guests, I can't say I blamed him for wanting to stay put and do what HE wanted to do.  The Big Bear Man needed some real down time looking after no one but himself and enjoying all the amenities we pay so dearly for.

So, naturally, La Diva began thinking of fun things to do and was inspired by the myriad discount coupon emails that came to my inbox daily:  Groupon, Travelzoo, LivingSocial, etc.   I booked a kayaking trip, a dinner out, a Cinebistro movie and dinner and then this one really intrigued me, $129 for a four hour boat rental and $100 Tiki Bar credit at Pontoons in Key Largo.  Seemed like a great deal, I printed them up and filed them away to be used as needed.



The first part of our holiday was spent filming La Diva for La Diva TV and me and the DJ worked really hard.  Our little apartment looked like a TV studio with all the professional lights and equipment.  Then, on June 22, we had my "Roll Your Own" pad Thai summer rolls event at South Beach's Design Within Reach where the DJ and a business associate filmed me in 3D!  Needless to say, the event was a huge success and the cameraman was thrilled at all of the "great" content he got, stating that La Diva was a "natural" on camera.  (of course!)  The next day, our staycation officially began!



The DJ is pretty good at photographing these gorgeous sunsets!  Bayside from our pool deck.



For several days, we had fun biking and beaching and barbecuing and  drinking cocktails and lounging in our pool and hot tub, but La Diva was REALLY EXCITED about our upcoming three day jaunt down to the Keys!  I booked a few nights at this place called The Islander in Islamorada that had been refurbished and friends had stayed at recently and really enjoyed.  Plus, it was less than two hour drive from Miami Beach.



This hotel reminded me of the "old school" Florida Key's hotels, simple and unpretentious.  The $200 a night OFF SEASON price tag, however, did not.  Ouch.




video 
A mere one hour upon arriving in Islamorada, it began to pour and the sun did not return for the next three days.  The good thing about rain in Southern Florida is that it usually doesn't last too long, so unless there's a hurricane or severe storm, we don't let a little bit of rain stop us!


The hotel was casual and not at all hoighty-toighty, which allows a glam Diva to let her hair down and relax.   With the hotel's natural, not-overly-manicured grounds, courtyard picnic tables and coal barbecues, it reminded La Diva of an upscale caravan park in Australia.  The hotel service was a perfect fit for my summertime mood, a relaxed combination of "Leave me the f*ck alone" and "Yes, I'll take another margarita" kind of vibe.  After a few poolside cocktails, the DJ and I took cat naps on a shallow ledge of the salt water pool, in a large hammock under a shady palm tree and on a lounge chair out side of our room.  Bliss.



 The Islander seaside restaurant had the most exquisite food and it was prepared and presented at a much higher level than the resort itself!  The DJ ordered coconut lobster as an appetizer.  It came served with a unique orange horseradish marmalade, which was refreshing, as the heat from the radish mellowed the sauce that is usually too sickly sweet for Diva's tastes.




 Fried lobster in a coconut batter?  Hell to da yes!




At the hearty encouragement of our enthusiastic waiter, La Diva decided to try the special of the night:  Two huge quarter pound prawns butterflied and STUFFED with lump crab and served with a decadent Key lime beurre blanc sauce!  For some reason, La Diva wasn't exactly listening when the stocky male server told her he SHARED this with another waiter the night before...the order was astonishingly huge.  La Diva asked for an extra plate and gave the DJ one of the stuffed shrimp but even then had a hard time finishing dinner!

After dinner we went back to our room and lounged under the stars, chatting without the usual distractions of TV or "life," while an exquisite tropical ocean breeze gently cooled us off and kept the voracious mosquitoes at bay.  Spent and sunburned, we drained our wine glasses and went off to bed to prepare for another gorgeous Florida Keys day.