My Spring Break to Sunnybel (aka Sanibel)

The usual suspects Vivian (aka 007 or as my friends like to call her the “Pool Hopper”) and Shirley (aka Trouble) took me to the airport to fly to Punta Gorda to meet my mom and my four-legged sister Dulce.

 

The size of the carry-on one can “CARRY-ON” is a joke! The seats were comfortable, and for a fraction of the cost of Delta, Allegiant Air worked pretty well for me. I would recommend it.

 

The crappy part was that it was an hour plus drive for my mom, so I drove back home. The airport was comparable in size to Bangor Airport where I went to Uni up in Maine. It was between 2-4 gates. Gosh, I love that!!!

 

We drove home and sat up till 1:30 talking. I can’t believe my mom stayed up so late.

 

The next day our first stop was to visit THE BOOK NOOK ladies: Jan and Melanie. They are sadly closing. VERY sadly closing. They are so nice, and so knowledgeable and it is just a shame. We will miss them, but I heard a rumor that Melanie may go somewhere close by. I hope this is true.

 

I can’t remember what else we did that day, but it required a nap!

 

That evening I was invited to be the guest speaker at the Fiesta @ The Sanibel School.

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The kids ran around screaming while the parents sat around chatting and laughing. We all made tacos. The good thing was a lot of books at the Book Fair were sold.

 

We met a Sanibel cop named John, who had been assigned to the school to watch over the kids. It is amazing and sad how the school environment has needed to change over the years. It was so foreign to me to hand a driver’s license to the powers to be to have them do a background check on me and make sure I was okay to be around the kids. I never had a cop at my school growing up. I grew up in neighborhood that probably was a lot like Sanibel. Safe, protected, parents were all working professionals, great school. I am so glad that John is there to protect them and he couldn’t be a nicer and easier to be around guy, but sometimes there are things that one doesn’t know about their cops. Actually, there are things that people don’t know about other people. What you see is not always what you get! I wonder how many people have ever taken the time to talk to John and ask about his background. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t, but I am so glad I did!

 

He was originally trained as a chef and not from Billy Bob’s Food World University. He came out of Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, which is one of the best cooking schools not only in the good ole U.S. of A, but in the world! Johnson and Wales chefs set the world on fire. They are amazing! Talented, brilliant, innovative artists of the cooking world. I may not remember this conversation precisely, but this is what I remember. He graduated from Johnson & Wales and landed at the South Seas Plantation on Captiva in a restaurant that we all used to love called Chadwicks. Long, long hours for many years in a hot kitchen caused him to change jobs. Now, he is one of Sanibel’s finest, but how many police officers that you know are such accomplished chefs? And if this NJ boy, hadn’t taken a chance and stepped out of his comfort zone by moving to Captiva Island, he would not have met the woman of his dreams and have two beautiful daughters with her. It just goes to show, no one knows where life will unexpectantly take us.

 

We left the Fiesta at the school and went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. My mom and I had shared a taco and it was not going to cut it for us. We went to The Sandbar. The manager Brian was at the host stand and ready to tease me about anything he could think of. He just likes to do that! As we are standing there talking I saw an attractive man walk by that reminded me of a family friend’s son-in-law that I used to claim was the epitome of the perfect man, next to the late JFK Jr. I said his name thinking I must be wrong and sure enough it was him.

We ordered a dish that my mom calls BANG BANG SHrimp…it is tasty…

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I hadn’t seen him in years. Last time, he and his wife were in Brooklyn Heights, NY. Yes, I had a crush, but not a romantic one, more like, that is the type of guy I want, crush, but I didn’t want him. He was married. I wanted someone footloose and fancy-free! He was still attractive as hell, but a lot grayer and his wife was adorable as always and the baby they had at the time I last saw them was now in college. I feel old!!! We went and sat and chatted with them. Then, of course, Brian had to appear at the table with my books to tease me that he was astonished at my ability to write or something like that or that I had written such smut. He said he was over at the bar telling the owner about my books and suddenly she appeared at the table and said, “The girl that wrote the books is Erin?” To which I said, “The lady who owns this restaurant is a tennis buddy of mine?” What a small, small world!

 

Friday morning, I regressed to the age of 10. I woke up. I packed a lunch to take to school. I had my mom drop me off at school and she vowed to pick me up at the end of the day! I felt absolutely ridiculous having my mommy take me to school, but one car between us demanded it.

 

The Book Fair brought a whole lot of kids to the library that day. The younger kids sat with me as I read elements of my book PERI’S SANIBEL ISLAND ADVENTURE to them and asked them if they had ever seen the animals in the book around the island.

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I met lots of mom’s that had moved to Sanibel from all over. The most interesting was a woman who had been living in California and working as a homicide detective and she got burnt out on the job and the politics of the job. She decided to reinvent herself and move across the country. She went to cooking school and is now the most respected caterer on the island. She is really good too! I have been to many functions where I have tasted her food. So, when she told me her name at the end of the long story, I said, “YOU ARE LESLIE!!!!” And as I write this, I realize I met a chef that went to police work and a police detective that went to cooking. Hmmmm….

 

My mom accidentally got caught in the pick up line after school to pick me up and she didn’t have my name in the window. They made her get out of line and the nice teachers monitoring the line got a kick out of the oversized, preppy kid that was 44 getting picked up by her mom. They waved goodbye to me and off I went for an afternoon snack. Sadly, it was not Oreos and milk!

 

I relish my sunset walks.

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I do not miss them unless I have to for a dinner engagement and even then I try to plan around sunsets. I try to swim in the pool. This time I just walked and jogged around the pool with the radio on and me singing. I had finally relaxed into vacation mode.

 

Of course that all goes out the window when one is watching all those NCAA basketball games that had us on the edge of our seats! Why is college ball so fun to watch?

 

I had a book signing over at McIntosh Books. Cute kids like Mia and Jameson came over to buy books to keep and take back to their schools. I talked with the gal working in the shop named Rebecca, who is so knowledgeable and has a kid or two at Sanibel School. I asked her about bullying and weight issues with kids, because to me those sound like the two key topics to address separately in my next teenage novel age books. When I was a kid, they didn’t call it bullying, they called it teasing. It was more than teasing. It may have been bullying. I am so glad I was never a bully. I would have a hard time living with it. I was teased pretty hard at different times for different reasons, but thankfully someone said to me at a young age bullies go nowhere and the others can go far. I am so glad that is so true.

 

Ever since Mindy’s awesome healthy brownies, I am putting healthy things into my not so healthy foods. I have been putting a handful of spinach into my smoothies! It changes the color from a pretty purple to a puke green but it tastes darn tootin’ good, so I don’t care.

 

I went to the traditional Sunday breakfast with my mom, my 4-legged sister and all of her Sunday morning, crack of dawn breakfast buds at THE OVEREASY CAFÉ. It was fun to sit and be with all those Hoosiers, a St. Louis fella, a Columbus gal and chat.

 

Then we went to one of the last Farmer’s Market of the season. My sister gets so excited to see all her friends. She pulls us into the market. I drag her to get a chocolate croissant with me. She wants it so badly, but no chocolate for doggies.

 

Of course, the combo of sugar high and waking up so bloody early sends me to the lounge chair for a nap. Then I go to visit Joyce. Love Joyce. My surrogate mother and my best friend from living there. She talks about MAD MEN and that John Hamm went to her son’s school The Burroughs School and he still goes back and teaches classes there. Okay, he is not only hot, hot, hot but he is a cool human being. I like it!

 

I come home and curl into the side of the pool, legs fluttering behind me intermittently. I need one to be grounded to balance and I stand at the pool edge writing on my computer thinking this is such a great desk.

 

Finally, sunset walk time and then dinner. Dinner at my house has always been special and treasured.

 

My mom and some of her buddies many, many years ago were not the greatest chefs when they married young, fresh out of college. Back then, there were a small handful of good restaurants in Cincy, but dining was not what it is today. They signed up for cooking classes with a famous Cincy Chef named Chef Gregory. In my house, that black covered cookbook my mom created with his recipes IS OUR BIBLE. It is the first thing my mom would grab in the event of a fire. It inspired my mom to cook and cook well.

 

My mother made a fabulous home cooked meal almost every evening for me growing up and to this day. Dinner was special. I would set the table and talk to her on a chair in the kitchen while my mother did a beautifully orchestrated dinner preparatory dance. It relaxed her after a long day at the office.

 

As a young child, I felt compelled to scrape off all her fancy sauces and saturate my foods in ketchup, but as I grew older, I really came to appreciate the artistry behind her cooking.

 

As a child, I was supposedly a little bit of a picky eater claims my Uncle Bob. My mom disagrees, but then again I went through a phase where I would only eat chicken. NOT being the brightest bulb in the box, they would put a hamburger in front of me and say it was chicken and I gobbled it down, same with any form of protein. And all desserts were contingent on how much of my veggies I ate. Sadly, our Boston terriers were loud eaters, and I tried to feed them veggies under the table, only for my mom to place more on my plate…I ate them. I wanted the cookie!

 

I think my mom’s foray into cooking and her love for it, made my palate grow. I now will eat anything! And when I now see how my mom cooks, presents food, lights the candles at the table, I am completely awestruck that a working mom has been doing this for almost 44 years. WOW! That is so impressive.

 

Here is what we had one evening and this is normal fare for my mom.

 

She cooked a mango snapper fish in wine and butter and topped it with sautéed almonds on top. She cooked the protein and I cooked the veggie. I sautéed zucchini and onions for the side dish. We forgot to take a picture! You know I ate it too fast to take time for the pic!

 

The next day, I went to The Lighthouse Café with one of my mom’s best friends named Edgar and his mother Charley Sue. They are Mississippi folks. Super nice. I went up to the owner and asked him if he knew anything about a dish the previous owner did called Kay’s Delight. He said, “Funny you should ask that Erin! When I bought the place they asked me if I wanted to buy the recipe. I said no. Now, only one person connected with the old restaurant is still living.” He scrawled his name on the back of a business card and handed it to me and said, “You can give it a try.” I was doing this for a nice gal that recently moved into my building who has been going to Sanibel for over 40 years and wanted it. I called the once young man, sous chef, that is now the only living member of that old staff and he said no. It is going to the grave with him. I thought what a shame. This nice gal just wants to cook it for her and her hubby. She doesn’t want to sell or distribute the recipe. She wants to enjoy it. But no. Gosh, people can be stinkers sometimes!

 

My mom and I were invited back to The Sanibel School for an afternoon with the writing group. I read my book THE OLD OAK TREE to the kids.

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I talked about writing. My mom talked about illustrating. Then the kids drew pictures to create a character and made a list of their characters’ characteristics. One girl brought up the first chapter of a book and asked me to read and critique it. I was really impressed and told her so. I am ALL about encouraging kids…I want kids to strive for what they want to do and realize there are no boundaries. If you want to be a writer, be a writer. If you want to be an artist, be an artist. A violinist, a chef, a dog walker, a scientist, and doctor…the world is your oyster and go for it!

I went home to another fabulous dinner. It was a walk down memory lane from New Orleans. It was Banana Grouper with Bananas Foster on top! Oh yes….

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I cannot believe when the plate reaches the table how beautiful my mom’s dinners are and have always been and I am not noticing this till now?

 

Even to watch the NCAA Finals with shrimp cocktail and shrimp and grits. I am psyched to eat my mom’s cooking. Simple yet yummy!

 

I was lucky enough to get to play tennis a handful of times with South African Sue. I knew someone going to South Africa and I asked Sue who would be a good contact person. She gave me the name of a well-known, world famous photographer, who happened to be a friend of hers that lived there. I passed the name along to my acquaintance. She and her child neglected to call him. THAT is a shame. I kept the number because I will not make that same mistake. Imagine seeing South Africa through the eyes of a world famous photographer, but he is showing you his country. He is showing you things, places, and people that you would not be privy to without him or his access.

 

The reason I know the people I know, and have the stories to tell that I do is because I DO take those chances. I have been so lucky to meet such extraordinary people through other people.

 

When I moved to Atlanta in the early 90s, I was given a list of people to call. I called every single one of them! Some I continued to see while I lived there, others I didn’t. Some introduced me to people that led to work, led to other friends and one in particular….I am still close to today. My friend Alison, who I love dearly! I rarely see her, but I love Alison! She was a great friend, has a heart the size of Texas and I would not have become friends with her if I had not called her then boyfriend who was a friend of a friend. People take chances!!! It may not be worth it and yet it may turn into something amazing!!! You never know…

And that is just one example….

 

One of my mother’s oldest friends is a gal named Jeanie who grew up in Cincy. She lost both her parents very young and she fell in love and married another Cincinnatian named Lou and they up and moved to Washington, D.C. Jeanie raised her kids on political rallies in D.C. and they turned out pretty good.

 

When I lived in D.C., she was one of my closest and dearest friends. She and Lou have a place in Naples, so she and my mom get to spend time together down there. We went to meet them for lunch at this architecturally cool restaurant called MASA. Jeanie’s guacamole was so good, I could have eaten it alone with a spoon and licked the bowl after. I ordered two different types of tacos. One was a marinated flank steak taco with avocado, radish, and onion. The other one was a soft taco with chicken in chipotle cream, radish, lettuce, cojita, cilantro-lime rice and black beans. YUM!

 

I went to the bathroom and came out and Jeanie was there waiting to go in and she said to me. “We are going to take care of your mother!” That means her and another old, dear friend Margie. I was so touched by that! These gals have stayed friends for 68 years. And they have seen and been through everything together. My granddad used to say if you die having had 3 good friends you could truly count on you are lucky. Most can’t say that! I thought it was absurd when I heard it. It is true. When I think of those people “special people/dear salt of the earth friends” and I wonder if they know who they are…and how special they are…I feel so lucky!

Here’s a pic of Margie, Jeanie and my mom. Friends for 68 years!!!!

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Sometimes vacations are so wonderful! I took Dulce to the beach and watched her skip, hop and jump in the waves. I could actually see the dog smile and if she could have laughed from happiness she would have! Until, I took her home and threw that beautiful stinky smelling thing in the sink and then had to almost water board her to get her clean. HATE THAT!!!! Not really, but when you have to soap up their cute little faces and then rinse them clean it is a painful process to watch!

 

Then there is my mom and her salads. She makes a salad everyday for lunch. Usually, she made one for me. I offered to make one for her, but it was BEYOND comical and you will now know why she makes them instead of me.

 

MOM: “Please don’t put the lettuce stems in my salad.”

Erin: You are kidding, right.

MOM: No.

Erin: You do not eat the stems? No wonder why you go through so much lettuce!

MOM: You tear it? You don’t cut it with a knife? Okay? (Eye roll)

Erin: Yes, I tear it and I eat the stems or centers of the lettuce leaf.

MOM: You do?

Erin: Yes, I do! Do you have a size preference on the lettuce bites?

MOM: Yes, that is too big!

Erin: Okay, Princess, you would like the stems out, the bites to be roughly 1-2 inches in diameter. Would you like me to make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cut off your crusts?

MOM: Smart-ass.

Erin: That is why you love me!

 

That night for dinner my mom had made pulled pork that she had slow cooked for four hours and then being the veggie girl. I took a cauliflower and spread dijonnaise on it, which is Dijon mustard and mayo and steamed it. My mom said her recipe called for crumbled melted cheddar on top melted. Viola dinner!

 

We always get massages when I visit my mom, which is 1-2x a year. The massage gal Karen keeps telling me I need to do it more often because I abuse my body running, lifting way too heavy things, etc. I never do, but boy was that a great much needed massage. I asked her if she knew a friend on the island that was going through throat cancer and she did and said he was having such a rough time with it and sick as a dog. I saw him at X-mastime before he was diagnosed. I hate cancer.

 

After the massage, we went to meet my mom’s friends Sylvie and Tom from Germany and their four dogs: Ruma, Rula, Cookie and Winnie and Ellen from Chicago and her three dogs: Bella, Tess and Sadie and my sister. Can you imagine seeing a motley crew like all of us coming your way on the beach? More dogs than people. I LOVE IT, these people, and these dogs. Aren’t dogs the best?

 

 

After that, there was no break for the gal on a working vacation. We went to see Becky & Dan, Cincy friends who we didn’t know till Sanibel. We are planning a trip to visit them in Asheville, their other home. Can’t wait. I have never been and hear it is a fun, eclectic, cool place.

 

Then we went to STARFISH for sushi and Jean Claude or Jean Paul or whatever the Frenchie dudes name is who waited on…didn’t wait on us. I kept telling my mom to pretend she was in France and get used to waiters ignoring their customers. She didn’t like it. I said he is pretending he is in Paris so you should too. Didn’t like that either. We flagged him, he ignored us, I was waiting for her to stand on the table and do the dance of 1000 napkins and throw water glasses, but thankfully she did not. The sushi was good.

 

I called a friend to go to breakfast or lunch. A new friend that I met over the holidays that I thought she and her hubby were so cool. She suggested we go see Clyde Butcher who is the Ansel Adams of Florida.

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He looks like Cris Kringle and is as funny as Johnny Carson. He is incredibly talented and inspiring. That night after his talk, my mom and I went to the beach for our sunset walk and took pictures with our phones and played with the lighting and look what I took! I am pretty proud of myself. Makes me want to go back and play with the lighting on a lot of old photos.

Here is a pic that may have been ordinary but I played with light the way Clyde suggested and this is what I got.

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After the Clyde Butcher talk, Carol and I went to Normandie for breakfast. It is so close to my mom’s place, but I tend to forget it and it is usually too dark in there for me. Carol shared that her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was able to talk to her about it. Then she has sort of adopted a little girl as a granddaughter back on the Cape in New England who is going through cancer at the age of 8. We talked a lot about this remarkable young girl who has endured so much! Again, I hate cancer. But hopefully, she is going to get to ride the swan boats in Boston next week. All fingers and toes crossed for her.

 

They have full moon parties on the Causeway. You bring a savory or sweet app meet in the park on the causeway on the eve of the full moon. It is just a bunch of locals. Isn’t Sanibel cool?

 

We walked with our wonderful friend Shelley and went back to her place to see what she was doing to her summer home in PA. It looks great! Shelley has the magic touch! She had a blue room with Matisse in it and designed around it and it was my favorite. My mom was thrilled to use her design background and give Shell advice. She was quite the interior designer in her heyday!

 

Then we went to Traders and shared a yummy dish for dinner. Snapper with sundried tomatoes and spinach on a bed of cheese tortellini. It was really good.

 

It is getting closer and closer for me to return home. Last Sunday market for a long while. I had to speak a little French and get my last pain du chocolat. I also knew I wouldn’t get one for a very long time because I was going to give up bread for a very long time after my birthday weekend. So, we bought beignets, the chocolate croissant and a lobster roll for lunch, stopped at Baileys for cappuccinos and went home and had a picnic by the pool. Now, this is nice vacation time. I think we should do this every time!

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After breakfast, I walked with my friend Margot from TN and then dragged her with my mom and I to hear Danny Morgan perform at Casa Ybel. He is a Cincy musician who has been on Sanibel a long time and sometimes performs with my favorite musician’s brother Livingston Taylor. His bro and my fav is James Taylor.

 

We went home. We watched Bubba win THE MASTERS! We walked at sunset and watched my sister frolic on the beach. We went to a section of beach that was so wide with multiple sandbars and watched her run. She was like a kid on Christmas morning. Magical. So were stepping on sea squirts that tickle your toes and make me laugh like a 5-year older.

 

We had a Hogsnapper with a Peruvian topping and a side of Asian eggplant that I made and my mom actually had seconds. Skin and Bones (aka Mom scrawny Mom) loved it so much that instead of eating her usual tablespoon full of food and being stuffed, she got seconds. Kudos to me.

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Next day she made me cornbread and gravy. I have never ever had that before and it was good. I played tennis at Beachview with those great tennis playing ladies that I love to play tennis with as much as possible!!!

 

We took Dulce to Island Paws to get her a birthday present. I got her a bone dipped in doggy yogurt. She loved it.

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Last full day, I walked the beach with Joyce and our doggies. I read on a lounge chair, we attended a really cool recyclable art show. Pics below.

This item is made from bicycle and automobile tires.

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Owls made from the toilet paper cardboard.

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This is made from driftwood.

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We went to RC Otters for rice and beans. We went to the Sanibel Grill for a plate of raw oysters. I had been home for almost 2 weeks and had not eaten one raw oyster. That is a sin!

 

The next day…my mom and I vegged out and then she returned me to Punta Gorda to fly home. You should have seen the flight attendants. It was two older gentlemen. One looked Spanish like Mr. Ricardo from Fantasy Island and sounded spot on him. The other looked like he may have been an Italian Stallion years ago. I thought it was brilliant. You put two-aged Don Juan’s on a plane to take care of us? I LOVE IT!!!! We get charmed. They enjoy charming us. It was a win-win all the way home!

 

 

Until we meet again…

 

Enjoy! Eat, travel, laugh…often….

 

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One thought on “My Spring Break to Sunnybel (aka Sanibel)

  1. Erin, been awhile since I had a chance to read your blog. I think I gained 20 lbs. reading all the wonderful dinners, etc… Sounds like you are enjoying life!

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