Summer Vacation 2016: Where We Stayed

We just returned from a wonderful month-long vacation in Big Pine Key, Florida. We had a truly unforgettable time. We were so fortunate to be able to take this trip and we really made the most of the time we had together. I’m going to devote a few posts to our vacation. I’ll share where we stayed, what we did, what we ate and what we brought.  I am by no means an expert only using this as a way to share our experience.

We used HomeAway Vacation Rentals to book our house. We stayed here and we couldn’t ask for a better place. Our family of four stayed the whole month, and we split the weeks of the month up with friends and family who shared the house with us one to two weeks at a time. This house was perfect for 8 people. We didn’t feel cramped and everyone had their own space. You can see the inside from the listing. What made this house though was the backyard. The pool was perfect to entertain the kids when we weren’t out on the boat (and perfect to hop in after a long day out). The tiki hut was a great place to relax and be outside without being too hot and miserable. The dock and sea wall provided the perfect amount of space for the two boats we had and the landscaping was just beautiful.IMG_7232









Outdoor Shower




Big Pine Key is located in the Lower Keys about 30 miles north of Key West. You can see from the map where it is in relationship to the other Keys and South Florida. Big Pine definitely has a very laid back vibe. You don’t go for the nightlife and restaurants like in the Upper Keys or Key West. You are definitely there to enjoy being out on the water each day and resting each night to do it all over again.

We took our boat out almost every day and it was incredible. We brought our masks, fins, snorkels and fishing poles then each day we set out on adventure. There are so many things to explore by boat. Where we stayed is the “Start” and each day we would head out and try new things. We would go to the patch reefs that were very close. The water wasn’t as clear but there were so many fish to see while snorkeling. 
Map 2

Our favorite by far was Looe Key. It took us about 35 minutes to get there each time but it was worth the trip. The water is so beautiful and there are so many different types of fish, coral and sea life. It is part of the Florida Keys National Marine SanctuaryIMG_1831





The sandbar was also a favorite. The kids swam and explored and the grown-ups floated and relaxed.

We really enjoyed staying in Big Pine. It was perfect for what we wanted do to. I really enjoy staying in the Upper Keys too though. But if we are going to stay for longer than a week we will definitely head south and stay here.

Tomorrow I will share what we did while we were there. 



2014 Summer Recap & Bucket List Check-In

So it has been a while no? Needless to say our summer was very full and fun and sadly, has come to a screeching halt. School is back in session and work is busy so the carefree feel of summer is behind us. Fortunately, we were able to leave summer on an amazing note with a wonderful trip to the Keys. I will re-cap that in another (terribly long) post. I thought I would touch base and see how we did with our Summer Bucket List. I think we covered quite a few things, although not all-boo.

Here are some thing we were able to check off.

Grill out once a week- We grilled out while maybe not quite once a week, definitely a lot more than usual. While in the Keys we grilled out quite a bit. It is just an easier way to feed a crowd and enjoy the scenery at the same time.  My favorite meal highlighted lobsters that we caught that day! So good.




Steak in the Keys is better than steak anywhere else.

Eat Outside- We did a lot of this! One weekend in June we joined my Mom and Dad and had lunch at The Taproom at Dubsdread. It is actually where my husband and I were married!





Hummus Plate, burgers and beer al fresco. It was a perfect Saturday afternoon.

While in the Keys we ate outside quite a bit.


This salad was made with leftover steak, tomatoes, olives and grilled veggies. So yum!


Hot dogs, watermelon and a pickle. His favorites!


Lunchtime in Key Largo wouldn’t be complete without popsicles!


“Tater” Chip Fondue at the Island Grill in Key Largo (we went to the Mandalay location this time). If you go, you MUST try the Tuna Nachos.

Make homemade Ice Cream-I did this and the kids hated it. Whomp whomp. They said it tasted like frozen milk. I will need to see about a better recipe next year.

Go to the Pool- We definitely hit the pool pretty regularly. Whether it was our community pool, while visiting family or the Keys house we stayed in, the kids definitely were little fish this summer.



The Princess doesn’t swim yet and normally will just sit and play on the pool steps. We found a couple small swim rings for her and all of a sudden she had all sorts of confidence. Similar one here. She even swam while the others were looking for lobsters-in the ocean! With that ring she feels like she can conquer the world!



This Little Man also made strides with his swimming this summer. He became GREAT with the mask and snorkel and was able to dive down almost 9 feet in the pool. Little fish I tell you.

Some of the things we didn’t check off our list.

Food Trucks-We didn’t get to any food trucks but I think we may do that when it is cooler out. It is just miserably hot now so we may need to wait for some relief.

Family Game Night-This didn’t happen but we did have a few Family Movie Nights. They were just as fun. One of our favorites was Walking With Dinosaurs.

All in all we had a really great summer. I know I keep saying it but the Keys trip was the highlight and we managed to knock off a bunch of our list items while there.

Now I am looking forward to cooler weather and a very busy fall/winter. I am going to have a new niece in October! My wonderful friends are getting married in November and Thanksgiving is shaping up to be a great family event. Christmas will be here before we know it. I cannot even believe it.

How did you guys do with your Summer Bucket Lists? Can you believe the summer is over??


Missing The Keys

Some of my favorite family memories involve the Florida Keys. We have been taking trips there annually since I was young. Some of the most important life events have happened in the Keys. My sister and brother-in-law were engaged and later married there, my very best friend was also engaged there. Some of my favorite memories come from time spent in the Keys. The Keys stretch out from just South of Miami to the Southernmost Point in Key West. We tend to spend most of our time in the Upper Keys (Key Largo, Tavernier, Islamorada). We also love Key West and the Lower Keys when we have the opportunity to go further south. It is a whole different world once you cross the Overseas Highway and enter the Keys. Things are more laid back, the water is gorgeous, the fishing is awesome, and most of all the food is amazing. You would expect the seafood to be delicious as the waters surrounding the Keys are filled with sea life and most places do not disappoint.

One of our very favorite places to eat in Key Largo is The Fish House. You must go when you are there as it is one of those places where you will have a great “Keys Experience”. The fish is always fresh and local. You can order your fish of choice several different ways, but I always choose the“Matecumbe” preparation. It is a combination of tomatoes, onions capers, lemon and olive oil, poured on top of your fish of choice. It is magical. The menu says “often copied but never duplicated”. This is so true, but I still try  to capture the flavors myself at home when I can.

While at the coast over the weekend we picked up some fresh Cobia. Cobia is very mild and when it is available we always try to pick some up. Since we had the fish component, I wanted to see if I could try to replicate the flavors of the “Matecumbe” sauce.

The Fish House’s version has capers and basil. Both of which I forgot to get while I was at the store. But I did have some green olives and spinach so I substituted that and it was really delicious. It is true though, although this version was pretty good, it is definitely not as good as the original. I guess that means we will just have to make a trip back down there soon.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of us in the Keys.


Us way before kids in Key West. What am I doing with my arm?


Little Man’s first trip to the Keys (approx 6 months)


This was the first trip for The Princess (approx 7 months)




Okay, enough of that here is the recipe.


Cobia "Matecumbe"
One of our favorite fish dishes from one of our favorite places.
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  1. 5 tomatoes, diced
  2. 1/2 red onion, diced
  3. 2 shallots, diced
  4. 1/3 cup sliced green olives
  5. 1 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped
  6. 1/2 cup olive oil
  7. Juice of 1 lemon
  8. Salt and pepper to taste
  9. 1 to 2 cobia (or any mild fish) fillets
  1. Combine tomato, onion, shallots, green olives, and spinach in a bowl.
  2. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, stir.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  4. Place oven rack 6 inches from top element.
  5. Preheat broiler to 500 degrees.
  6. Sprinkle each filet with salt and pepper and creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachare's).
  7. Place under the broiler for approximately 4 minutes a side*. *This all depends on the size of the fillets, you will just need to keep an eye on them).
  8. To serve, top each filet with 1/2-1 cup of the topping.
  1. This topping can be used on just about anything. It is awesome on fish but just as good on chicken, steak, eggs (you get the idea). Enjoy!
Adapted from The Fish House "Fish Matecumbe Recipe"
Steph in Symmetry