Goji Berry Oatmeal + Fran’s Encore

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Don’t you hate when you stay up late to write a lengthy blog post and your stupid software EATS it?! Yea, that’s what happened last night…so irritated!

But let’s move on.

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Check out my latest bulk bin purchase – goji berries, dried cranberries and coconut flakes. There was a better looking bin of coconut flakes but it had like 10 ingredients in it. The one I got had one – organic coconut flakes. :lol:

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I had a fabulous breakfast of goji-berry oatmeal, “sausage” and coffee.

Check out these fabulous samples Food Should Taste Good sent me:

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Bailey was very curious about the new delivery.

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Inside: Chocolate, Jalapeno, Cheddar, Sweet Potato

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Blue Corn, Olive, The Works Multigrain, Lime

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Mini bags of the flavored chips.

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A bag of mini multigrain chips. I think Bailey wants them for himself.

Thank you Food Should Taste Good!! I can’t wait to try all of these!

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Since I had avocados on hand, I decided to make a guacamole to test out some chips. I only had avocados and not other guacamole ingredients, so I made a semi-homemade guac with 1/2 avocado, salsa, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

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I let hubby pick out our chip flavor to try – The Works.

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Nice ingredient list.

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I love the suggested accompaniments.

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Nutrition.

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Gauc, chips, open-face turkey melt.

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I made sure to sample a chip without any guacamole so I could really taste the flavor. The chip was very flavorful and I loved how it wasn’t all heavy and oily. These were so better than restaurant chips!

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Cherry tomatoes.

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Strawberry banana smoothie with Vega vanilla chai health optimizer.

My mom made an impromptu visit so we hit up a local nursery (photos of the goods later) and then decided to eat out. I knew the perfect place! A repeat of the night before – Fran’s Filling Station.

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My mom got the special – coconut rice, ginger rum shrimp, pineapple salsa.

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I got the slow-roasted beef with braised greens and roasted cauliflower.

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I thought my mom needed to try one of my faves – a local doughtnut.

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After saying “later” to my mom, I headed out to a ladies night out at a local bar where we were doing a demo with my dance fitness group.

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Apple-tini

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Chauna + moi

SO much fun dancing with my girls! We took over the stage at the bar and demoed some of our fave songs. Loved it!

Busy weekend ahead. Gotta run! :) Have a great weekend everyone!

Fabulous Frans + Fantastic Samples

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Thursday Eats

I have been a blog posting machine this week!! :lol: That’s what happens when you stay somewhere without wifi and your hubby’s laptop doesn’t run on batteries. I didn’t get on a computer for like 3 straight days while I was in Key West!

Since I stayed up so late last night working on all those fabulous Key West photos, I was extra tired today. I made breakfast quick by enjoying my short-on-time go-to breakfast – Power Toast!

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I had a slice of Great Harvest honey whole wheat toasted and topped with Barney Butter, pepitas, sesame seeds and hemp seeds, plus Larry’s Beans coffee to drink.

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For lunch I packed a large salad with a slice of fresh honey WW bread.

I used to hate eating salads for meals. They seemed so unfilling and boring. However, now I see salads as an easy way to consume veggies and gain extra nutrition for the day. Plus, some salads are definitely more interesting than others. My salads tend to be a bit boring, but I’m currently researching ways to make them more exciting.

I ate the bread straight up. It was just baked yesterday and still lovely and tender today. I didn’t need any toppings to enjoy it.

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I had a banana for a snack later.

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And, after my 3pm phone conference was cancelled, I lucked out and took a quick 30 minute break to meet up with my friend Megan for some QT.

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Since the weather was so perfect – sunny and right above 70 degrees F – we snacked outside on homemade energy bars. I had the banana walnut.

After work, the weather was still just as pretty, so I talked hubby into eating out even though I had some good ideas for meals in. It probably helped that I stopped by the grocery store to get shrimp for the meal I had in mind and the store didn’t have shrimp. Unfortunately, by the time hubby was done working out and stuff, the sun was setting and the temperature was getting cooler and cooler.

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We decided to eat in but try a new restaurant we’ve been wanting to try for awhile – Fran’s Filling Station.

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I started with a glass of pinot grigio.

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We decided to try a couple different things since it was our first visit. We started with an appetizer – the Grilled country bread with slow-roasted tomatoes and olive oil.

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The app was a lot like a de-constructed bruschetta but with a sweeter taste thanks to those roasted tomatoes. Hubby and I really enjoyed the dish and agreed with the waitress that it was a great starter size – not too big so you fill up before the meal. Hubby had 2 slices and I had one – it was just enough for me.

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I was really craving comfort food, so we got the Thanksgiving on a Plate (roasted turkey, veggie of the day – snap peas, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Wow, this was fantastic! I loved the tender roasted turkey and how it was sliced thin – paired with that slightly sweet gravy. The potatoes were nice and creamy. Hubby really liked the bacon-studded stuffing.

We shared the turkey dish and…

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Mac and cheese! This side dish was served in the dish it was baked in, which was great because the hot plate really kept hte mac and cheese warm for us. The dish was ooey-gooey and totally hit the spot. Hubby said it reminded him a bit of my Dad’s mac and cheese (which reminds me that I really need to get that recipe to you guys)

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Though we were pretty full after our fabulous dinner, we decided to go ahead and see what Fran had to offer by way of desserts. Our waitress suggested the Tuxedo Cake, which normally would have been my top choice, but I was craving something following our comfort food theme of the night.

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The tart was served warm and was a lovely rustic apple tart with a puff-pastry-style shell. The dessert was served with fresh berries and whipped cream. What I really liked about it was that it wasn’t too sweet! So many desserts are over-the-top sugary, but this one was just right.

Hubby and I had a wonderful dining experience at Fran’s. I already can’t wait to go back and try some of their other dishes. They had a fabulous looking veggie burger, I hear their fries are amazing, and I MUST have that Tuxedo cake…sooner than later. If every experience can be this great, then Fran’s may inch their way to my fave Charlotte restaurant list. ;)

New Samples!!

I’ve gotten some new samples to try recently…hoorah!! I adore samples!

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First up, Chef of the Future Not Your Average Cajun Seasoning. I can’t wait to taste-test this stuff! There are plenty of ways to use this seasoning, but I’m mostly excited about using it to grill food this summer. Hubby’s new grill can’t get here fast enough! Not that he ordered one yet, but he needs to! :lol:

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I’m also very excited to have some fabulous Vega samples in my possession! I found Brendan Brazier’s presentation (click for lessons learned) a few weeks ago very inspirational and I loved the message of his books and products.

I received some fabulous things to try out…

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Vega Vibrancy Bars.

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Vega Complete Whole Food Health Optimizer packets.

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Vega Sport Natural Plant-Based Performance Optimizer packets.

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Vega Whole Food Smoothie Infusion packet.

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Plus, I got a recipe booklet. I really want to try this chocolate energy pudding…it sounds delish!

I can’t wait to test out my samples…yum!

Nasoya Tofu Press Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Nasoya Tofu Press Giveaway! I wish I had dozens of these to give away but Nasoya and I just have one. And, the winner is…

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#2 – Amanda of The Hungry Wanderers!!! Hey, I know her!! lol

Congrats Amanda! I hope you enjoy your tofu press! But before you can, please email me your new address so we know where to send your tofu press.

As for the entries, I’m going to go back and read through all your fave tofu uses (click to view) for some meal inspiration. You guys are so creative! I loved reading through your comments and I can’t wait to go over them again.

Big thanks again to Nasoya for this giveaway…Thank you!!

HEADS UP! If you didn’t win…I have a few more giveaways queued up so stayed tuned to win some more awesome freebies!! :)

Traveling Hydration – Weigh In

Lastly, this past weekend in Key West reminded me how terrible I am at hydrating when I’m traveling. If it’s not the lack of access to non-germy water (no water fountains for this germiphobe…sorry!) then it’s the fact that I hate using airplane bathrooms or having to pull over when I’m driving. It seems 10 times more difficult to stay hydrated when I’m traveling.

How do you stay hydrated when you’re traveling? What are you tips?

Chicken, Cremini, Shallots in a Marsala Wine Sauce

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One more post and I think we’re caught up! I actually stayed up till like 1 am yesterday trying to catch up on all my Key West posts…phew!

Wanna guess how many photos I took on my Key West trip?

100?

500?

Try more like 1100!!!! Geez I’m a photo-geek! :lol:

Anywho, before leaving for Key West, I contacted my friend Dana about coming over for dinner. We decided to eat in to save money, but I had to host. I LOVE having people over and the whole dinner party thing, but to date…I haven’t really had a lot of dinner parties. For the last couple years my excuse was my small apartment. Now, my excuse is my mid-reno house. It’s kind of a hot mess right now.

Recently, I read an article in Real Simple about how the older you get you really have to work at friendships and I’ve definitely let too many fall through the cracks. I’d like to work on this by reaching out to my friends more often. I know friendship is a two-way road and some of those lost friends could easily have reached out to me, too, but in the game of friendship, I think it’s important to work at it rather than going with the flow.

So, messy house and all, I had Dana over Tuesday night for dinner. The house was extra messy since we got into town so late Monday and I didn’t have time to pick up or unpack (I may still need to unpack…hehe), but a good friend doesn’t care about your messy house – they just are glad to have some QT. Lucky for me, Dana is a good friend. :)

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She and I work near each other, so I picked her up from work and we swung by the grocery store. I wasn’t sure what to make, but I ended up thinking a chicken marsala type meal would be good.

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So, chicken marsala it was.

Since the chicken part was semi-complicated and I didn’t want dinner to take all night, I stuck with a simple angel hair nest (3 minutes in boiling water…it doesn’t get much easier) and steamed broccoli and carrots (another no-nonsense side).

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Not sure I’d call this true Chicken Marsala, but it was darn tasty.

Chicken, Cremini, Shallots in a Marsala Wine Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to same thickness (I didn’t get mine very thin, I just tried to even it out)
  • 1 small carton cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, sliced
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2-3 cups marsala wine (I free-poured…not sure exactly how much it was…sorry!)
  • salt pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp EVOO in a saute pan over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and saute for 4-6 minutes per side, until browned outside and cooked through. Remove cooked chicken to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.
  2. Heat other tbsp EVOO in the same saute pan and add the shallots and mushrooms. Saute for about 4-5 minutes, till vegetables become tender.
  3. Add flour to the pan and stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add wine to the pan, stir, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, add chicken back to pan and cook till sauce has reduced in half, about 5 minutes.
  5. Serve chicken over pasta and spoon sauce over chicken. Add a veggie side for a complete meal.

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Enjoy!

Anywho, it was so great catching up with Dana. I need to have more impromptu friend-dates more often.

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I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting as much nutritious food when I’m traveling as I do when I’m home. While I had a blast in Key West, I was feeling like I could use a boost of nutrients, so I had a mini Vega Whole Health Optimizer mixed with vanilla hemp milk for dessert.

Reader question: How do you stay in touch with your friends?

Louie’s Backyard + What’s Better Than Sex?

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After our adventurous day touring Key West, enjoying a Cuban lunch, and visiting the beach, we were ready to slow down a little with a romantic dinner for two at Louie’s Backyard. The restaurant had great reviews on Yelp and was recommended by the waitress at Pepe’s.

Hubby was smart and called ahead to make a reservation but all the patio seats (recommended by the Yelpers) were taken, so we had to get a table inside.

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We took one of those bike-carriage thingies over. Those things are expensive! It was $18 for the ride over, but it was pretty nice. Plus, we got a great recommendation for a restaurant we had actually spotted on our Conch Tour – a dessert spot called “Better Than Sex.”

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We got to Louie’s early and they already had our table ready. Score!

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Inside was nice and airy and the doors were all wide open.

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They had some great specials and I actually ended up selecting one.

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To drink, I tried their cosmo made with house-made pineapple infused vodka. It was the best cosmo I’ve ever had!

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Bread and butter.

The entrees were a little more expensive than I anticipated. The special was $37.

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Our entrees came out with silver lids.

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Hubby got the shrimp and grits.

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I got the herb-crusted mahi mahi with pineapple salsa and grapefruit butter sauce, green beans, and rice pilaf.

The citrus was not just for decoration – they really enhanced the flavor of the fish. I was a little disappointed with the herbs – I didn’t taste them at all! Not sure if they were just parsley and therefore should have had a mild flavor, which might make sense considering how flavorful the citrus and pineapple salsa are. The fish was cooked nice and the green beans were nice and crisp-tender.

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We actually finished eating just before sunset so I headed outside to snap some photos.

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Turns out you actually can’t see the sunset from Louie’s! I don’t know why I thought you could…I guess I mis-read the Yelp reviews, but I was sort of disappointed.

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Still, the view from Louie’s was quite nice – an open area of water and sky.

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Hubby and I hung out on the back patio for a bit before deciding to walk to the dessert restaurant.

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The dessert restaurant was down a side street from Duval (one of the main streets in town).

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I don’t know what was going on with the lighting, but I really liked it and thought it added to the ambiance.

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So what’s better than sex? Apparently this dessert restaurant! ;)

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Inside, the scene was right up my alley – cute, cozy, intimate. They had a man playing the guitar and singing laid-back version of popular songs.

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The decorations and wording on the menu tied in nicely with the theme. For example, instead of a “daily special”, they have a “one night stand.” :lol:

They also had books and games on the various tables for some fun tableside games.

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Each table gets a flashlight to read the menu – it’s very dark inside.

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You could pretty much see the menu without the flashlight, but the whole flashlight thing was neat.

Check out those menu item names!

Kelly was our waitress and she was great. She was very personable and attentive. She even has a menu item named after her – a drink called Kelly’s Klimax.

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Hubby and I got decaf versions of the restaurant’s secret house blend. The coffee was lovely, but it would have been extra nice if the restaurant offered liquor drinks (Bailey’s and coffee anyone) or espresso drinks (mmm…cafe latteeeeeeee). The coffee was really so good, I didn’t miss the liquor or froth.

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The lighting was so dark, I couldn’t get a photo of hubby’s extra-dark dessert – the Better Than Sex chocolate bread pudding.

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I had the special – the Cookie Nookie pie. I was a little worried about ordering this because a chocolate chip cookie pie is one of my fave desserts at a coffee shop in my home town, but this version was different yet equally tasty. It hit the spot!

The dessert restaurant was my favorite restaurant of the whole trip! I loved their quirky, fun, and intimate ambiance and their desserts were fantastic, too!

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We hit up the hotel’s breakfast bar Monday morning to fuel up before a long day of traveling.

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I had a hard-boiled egg, a piece of French toast with a little syrup, and a I grabbed a banana and orange to eat on the ride home.

We had a long day planned:

  • 4 1/2 hour long shuttle ride
  • 2-3 hour wait in the airport
  • 2 hour flight
  • 1 1/2 hour drive to / from SC to meet sister to pick up Bailey

Our shuttle driver, Tom, showed up right on time at 9:30am and in a very cheerful mood. He was a nice guy and told stories to us and another rider for most of the trip.

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Things went awry about 3 hours into the trip when the windshield washer of the van broke off and Tom had to pull over to the side of the road. About 5 feet to the left was a one lane highway with cars and trucks speeding by. About 5 feet to the right – rocks and water. I was so worried we were going to get rear-ended or something because the road was pretty narrow and there wasn’t really anywhere to go. Not to mention, we were in the middle of a torrential down pour with lots of thunder and lighting. It was pretty scary.

Out shuttle service ended up calling a taxi for us after waiting for about 40 minutes for a cab to arrive, we took off. Tom stood in the rain to watch us off. I felt terrible for him. His day had just started and without a windshield wiper, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to finish his trip that day. That meant an average of about 3-5 groups missing…and also missing – their tips! Some of the other shuttle riders were kind of angry, so they weren’t going to tip Tom, but we still did. Poor guy – it’s not like he broke the windshield wiper off…I hope he got home safely himself! And I wish people could be more understanding!

We got to the airport late and had enough time to scarf a snack down before running over to board our plane.

Once our plane landed, we took a shuttle to our car and drove half way to my parent’s house to meet my sister to pick up Bailey.

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The weather back in the Carolinas was thankfully nice and clear.

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Bailey was really excited to see us and we were really excited to see him, too. :lol:

We had dinner with my sis at Cracker Barrel before heading home.

We didn’t get back till 10:30pm!! That’s like 12 hours of traveling! Phew! Long but successful trip. Being somewhere so tropical made me think of the Bahamas….we haven’t been in the 2 years since we got married, but I hope we can go back soon. I miss it!

Phew again! Ok, I think I’m all caught up but I have a post from last night’s dinner to share still…eek! Plus, I’ve gotten some really cool samples over the last couple days and can’t wait to share!! :)

PS I’m selecting the winner of the Nasoya Tofu Press tomorrow, but there’s still time to enter!

El Meson De Pepe’s for Lunch + There Is a KW Beach!

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I’ve been craving good Cuban food for awhile now since we had one of the best meals ever at a little Cuban restaurant in Miami a couple years ago. So, since we were in southern Florida, Cuban food seemed like a good idea.

After brunch and our tour of Key West, we hit up El Meson de Pepe’s for lunch (the restaurant was recommended by our Cuban shuttle driver).

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The restaurant was right near where the train dropped us of (like a block away), so the placement was pretty good. The restaurant was located in a part of Key West called Mallory Square.

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Luckily, there was no wait this time.

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The inside was pretty neat looking…

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…but we opted to eat on their outdoor patio. I wish the patio would have had some views waterside, but it was still nice to just be outdoors.

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Our meal started with Cuban bread, crackers and mojo (dips).

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I got a sangria to drink.

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Hubby and I split an appetizer and an entree.

For our app, we got the Tostones Rellenos – an option hubby was eyeing and the waitress recommended. I really liked sampling all the flavors. My fave was the Ropa Vieja (yep, like my dinner at the wedding reception).

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For our entree, we shared the Bistec Palomilla a la Plancha. It wasn’t quite as good as I remembered, but is anything ever as good as you remember? Especially when it’s been a couple years since you had it!? I think we all tend to romanticize things we enjoyed a long time ago. Overall, lunch was really enjoyable and I’m glad we chose Cuban for one of our meals. I think I may have a new fave Cuban dish though – the Ropa Vieja!!

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I also had a Cafe con Leche…because I could and because I can’t get that around my town! It was tasty and a nice pick-me-up for the afternoon.

After lunch, we had the brilliant idea to try to walk to the Fort Zachary Taylor park where we heard the best beach was located. I tried to talk hubby into renting a bike (actually, I asked for one all weekend, but we never did rent one :( I think I need to be more persuasive) but we didn’t. Boy was that a mistake! We walked for a good 30-40 minutes in the hot sun to get to the beach.

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It cost us $2.50 each to get into the park.

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I made friends with a nice Russian man, Artem…or is it Arteum? (the dude laying out in the background), who let me have some of his sun tan spray. Thanks again A! A was in Key West visiting from Miami. He was in the states getting ready to select a university. Exciting stuff! Some days I wish I was in college again.

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The beach was a bit disappointing. I guess I thought it would be like Miami or the Bahamas. It looked pretty and white and it was mostly sand, but when you got to where the water was, it was all rocks till you got deep enough your feet didn’t need to touch any more. It was painful to walk into the water!!

I think I know now why people told me there are no beaches in Key West…there are some, but they’re not that great. Or, maybe we went to the wrong one? Who knows. Hubby and I were just glad to get some sun.

We took a taxi back with two beautiful Italian women and ended up buying their fare. It was only $3 per person and they were really nice and basically let us share their taxi (they were waiting for one at the beach first), so it was good karma.

We had a little time to relax before it was time to get ready for a romantic Key West dinner! Dinner details next time. :)

Touring Key West + the Conch Tour Train

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After our delicious brunch at Blue Heaven, we said our “laters” to Rachel and Frank and headed out to explore Key West.

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Key West is about 2 by 4 miles and is basically comprised of many narrow streets (originally designed for carriages, not cars) with lots of cute, beach-town buildings, house, cottages, inns, bed & breakfasts, restaurants, and shops. It reminds me a bit of Charleston, SC – lots of history, lots of shopping, but not really any beaches (you have to go to surrounding cities in SC to get to the beaches like Isle of Palms).

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Main methods of transportation are your feet, bicycles, bicycle-drawn mini-carriages. There’s no real reason to bring a car here. Parking is difficult, hard to find, and expensive.

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Some areas are more touristy than others, like this famous bar Sloppy Joe’s, which is known for being frequented by Ernest Hemingway.

There are tons of outdoor bars and restaurants.

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As we were walking around, I found a man chopping up a coconut. Score! When I got married in the Bahamas, all I wanted was a drink in a coconut. Alas, I was too busy with wedding stuff to rouse one up. So, 2 years later and I was REALLY excited to see this guy and his little stand.

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Success! I was also really happy to get fresh coconut water for the hydration benefits – natural electrolytes.

We walked around, coconut in hand, to explore town some more. We were short on time, so I just snapped photos of everything. Would have been nice to tour more of these places, but we only had a day, so we tried to hit up the highlights.

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The Audubon house.

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A museum.

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Umm….another museum?? I forgot! :oops:

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We saw a giant cruise ship.

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Saw some quirky art work – this building had lots of statues all around posed doing various activities. This scene is a painter statue painting naked statues.

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Since we had a late brunch, hubby and I decided to go ahead and do a tour before lunch. We went on the world-famous Conch Tour Train, which lasted 1 1/2 hours long and was very informative. I wish we would have done this first to get a sense for how the island was laid out and what activities and historic sites would be good to hit up.

Here are some photos from our tour:

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Shannon was our guide and she was pretty awesome.

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We learned about the local trees and other plant life.

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Begin Highway 1.

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We learned about different house styles.

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And passed lots of pretty houses.

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We passed many historic sites – too many to remember!

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Sand sculpture.

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I think this may be the Cuban area of town…eek, we saw so much, I can’t remember!

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One of the beaches.

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The southernmost point of continental USA.

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I thought this scene was interesting – just some random guy staring out at the water.

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Roosters and their chicks running around.

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Church.

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More pretty houses – I loved the flowers spilling all over the fences and all around the houses.

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Me + hubby on the train.

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Entering the Bahamian area of town.

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Painted by a famous painter.

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More quirky stuff – a bicycle attached to the second floor balcony.

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A shop.

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A house designed to look like a wedding cake.

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And speaking of wedding, we passed the church where Serena and Dan were married the day before.

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Rooster! Why did the rooster cross the road?

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We learned about gingerbread – the special cut-outs of the woodwork on houses where the craftsmen left their marks. Here are some actual gingerbread men-shaped gingerbread.

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Prohibition gingerbread – bottles, hearts, spades.

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Hubby and I really enjoyed our tour. We saw a TON of the island and learned a lot, too. I recommend trying out this tour if you visit Key West, but go as soon as possible so you know where you’re going afterwards.

Next up, our Sunday lunch…

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