At the start of the pandemic I began a journal. I recently reread it and realized how much we have gotten back to basics since then. I am writing this from a native perspective of a Floridian living in south Florida minus the hustle and bustle. This is my journey into a more laid back Florida lifestyle.
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Spring in South Florida
During the beginning of the pandemic I was out of work for 8 weeks. My husband took some vacation days and then began working from home. Around the same time my son came home from college for spring break. He stayed home the rest of the semester. My daughter, in middle school, continued her semester on line after spring break as well. We live in a populated area and virus numbers began soaring. After a few trips to the store I realized I needed to limit my trips out of the house.
Although it was scary, I was given the gift of time. We started having morning coffee outside watching the birds, squirrels, and lizards in our front yard. We started talking to people passing by each morning walking their dogs. Then we started going walking in the mornings before our coffee. It was great to get out in nature.
We started a garden years ago when our daughter was small. We ripped out part of the back lawn and built garden boxes and laid pathways. Our natural dirt here is sand so we filled the boxes with dirt from the store. With time on my hands I was able to weed the garden beds and clean up the landscaping in the yard.
We had started a compost bin years ago and used this to enrich our soil. My husband started collecting pepper seeds from various peppers we bought at the store. After soaking them in water he planted them in random containers we had.
Soon nature took hold and our garden started sprouting whatever God wanted us to grow. We ended up with a full box of tomato plants, from cherry tomatoes to beefsteaks grown from tomato seeds in our compost. A vine started growing which turned into two cantaloupes. We ended up with about 20 pepper plants including scorpion, banana, and miniature bell.
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Mangoes: a staple food while living in south Florida
Mango trees grow easily in south Florida. However, if you have one you know that if you don’t harvest the mangoes you end up with a lawn of rotting fruit which attracts all sorts of pests. Our neighbor’s mother had a mango tree, and he would bring us some mangoes each time he collected them. We must have ended up with at least 200 mangoes over the course of a few months.
Mangoes became a staple food in our diet. We would make mango salsa, use them in smoothies, and eat them raw. I also made mango chutney to go with Indian food. Sometimes I thought I was cutting into a ripe mango but it turned out it was green inside. These I cut up and froze to make Thai mango salad at a later date. Any extra ripe ones I cut up and froze for smoothies and tropical drinks. If you have ever made a smoothie with mango you know there is no need to add any extra sugar because they are crazy sweet.
You are not Living in South Florida if you Don’t Eat Coconuts
13 years ago there was a small tree growing in our lawn when we moved into our home. It is now over twenty feet tall and produces tons of coconuts each year. My husband learned how to harvest these and they have become a staple of our south Florida cuisine.
My husband uses an extension pole with a blade to knock the coconuts down. Then he drills holes in each with an electric drill. Subsequently he pours the coconut water in pitchers. Further he filters it though a strainer lined with Bounty paper towel into a pot several times to get rid of any pulp. After that we bottle it to share with neighbors and put some in pitchers in the refrigerator to drink ourselves. I tend to have certain times of the day that my blood pressure runs low. I find the coconut water helps keep me from getting dizzy.
We used to just harvest the coconuts for the water, but now we use the meat too. During the rainy season, June through November, the meat is very gelatinous. Dan scoops it out with an ice cream scoop. Then I put it in the blender to make coconut milk. I subsequently put it in jars to freeze until needed. I use coconut milk a lot in Thai and Indian food. It’s also great to add to smoothies.
On the other hand, during the dry season, the coconut meat is harder. Dan has to use a lot more elbow grease to scoop out the meat. A serrated scoop would be the best tool at this point.
When he is finished I shred the meat in my food processor. Following that I spread it on a parchment lined baking sheet and toast for about half an hour at low heat in the oven. I use the convection setting at about 250 degrees. You may have to adjust cooking time and temperature based on the amount of moisture in the coconut meat. Make sure to toss it around about every ten minutes while cooking to toast it evenly. Consequently you will know it is done when it is a light golden brown with some parts slightly white. This is great for coating fish or chicken and to use as a topping for salads. To sum up it can be stored once cooled in a glass jar in the pantry.
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Living in South Florida,Outdoors the Year Round
Living in south Florida we get to enjoy the outdoors most of the year. Therefore Dan and I have worked over the years to create numerous outdoor rooms for personal enjoyment as well as for entertaining.
The Screened Room
When we moved into our home 14 years ago, it already came with a screened patio off our family room. Screens are a must when living in south Florida because it rains often and doesn’t get cold enough to kill off the mosquito population. However, the floor of our patio was just raw cement. We ended up running out to Home Depot and buying tile which we installed ourselves. We were very proud of our accomplishment if I do say so myself. The area isn’t large but comfortably fits a love seat, two chairs, and a serving cart. We bought a dart board and created an instant night out for ourselves when our kids were young and we couldn’t get away. This area also is a great place to be outdoors when it rains since it is covered by a tin roof.
Living in south Florida gives us the benefit of being able to grill all year. We created this area by painting a Mexican tile design on plain cement. It is near the screened patio area so it makes it easy to grill here and then head in the screened area to eat, minus the bugs. This area provides a nice space to enjoy the outdoors while supervising the grill or hanging out with neighbors out back.
The French Bistro
The only problem is that our backyard faces west causing the sun to glare in our eyes early evening. Then we head out front. Evenings usually give way to a refreshing breeze and chats with neighbors out walking their dogs. Our bistro table provides the perfect setting for a romantic cafe dinner or morning coffee. We add additional chairs to accommodate neighbors stopping by for a drink.
Our latest project, inspired by my Octoberfest blog post, is to create a Biergarten out back. For years we have lamented our hideous slab of rocky uneven cement on the southwestern part of our back yard. We have had several contractors recommend how to redo this space. We have heard everything from build up a wooden deck on top of it to tear up the whole thing and start fresh. All in all, we prefer to spend our money on better things.
Recently I decided to fix up this area with our old stand by, paint. I figured we could get some outdoor cement paint and paint the whole thing. Then using another color paint “grout” around “slate stones”. After sealing it, the cement would no longer be sharp, and the uneven patio would just appear to be uneven stones. The uneven stones would still not work for an outdoor dining set, but it would be perfect for some chairs and bistro tables. This project is a work in progress. I will be posting updates on social media.
Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Luv the outdoor “rooms”, very creative. Also might try mangos as you madexthem sound so appetising.