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How I Spent My Florida Vacation, Part II: Sarasota. A Copycat Recipe. And Alligators!

[Do you have any idea how scary it was to snap a closeup of this alligator?!

 Me, neither. (Source)]

After that harrowing ordeal in the airport and the relentless carnival atmosphere of Miami Beach in the first half of our trip, the HH and I were more than ready to head north to Sarasota, where my cousin Marketing Guru (MG) had promised a more serene lifestyle.  So let’s hit the road, shall we?

I. En Route to Sarasota: See Ya Later, Alligator

[Can you believe how many alligators live along this stretch of Florida highway?? Me, neither. (Source)].

Leaving Miami, we headed along interstate Route 75, also known as “Alligator Alley.”  This 200-mile (320 km) stretch of highway dissecting the Everglades offers the curious sightseer but one image:  a seemingly endless vista of flat terrain dotted with the occasional tawny brush, swampland on either side, and a veritable army of alligators poised on either shore, patiently awaiting their lunch (human, perhaps?), effectively sporting their green leathery camouflage.  I tried over and over to snap a photo as we whizzed by the monochromatic scenery, to capture only this:

[Can you spot the alligator in this photo?  Me, neither.]

Finally, after about 2 hours without pit stops, bathroom breaks, or any other signs of civilized life, we lit upon Naples, then continued right through to Sarasota (with a quick rest stop at a local Sheraton Four Points Punta Gorda).

II. Sarasota:  Feed Me!

I was initially a little wary before our reunion with MG,whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. It was also the first time I really got to know MG’s wife (MGW), with whom I’d never really spent any quality time.  I shouldn’t have fretted: they were both incredibly hospitable, gracious and welcoming, and we four hit it off famously.  I mean, for our first dinner out, MG suggested  Chutney’s (“where spice is the variety of life”), primarily because “they have a daily vegetarian option.”  (Is he a great guy, or what?) The combination Indian and Mediterranean menu provided more than enough choice for this Canuck gal.  Thanks, cuz! 

A cozy, unassuming atmosphere beckoned and the food, both homey and creative, was excellent.  My pick (of course) was the vegetarian curry of the day (with chickpeas and vegetables) along with a hefty portion of the Mediterranean appetizer plate shared by us all (including baba ganouj, hummus, tahini and falafel).  We did manage to get back to the house in time for an hour of ice dancing* before falling into bed.  All in all, a great first evening!

III. Sarasota: Come Over Here and Give Me a Pug.

One of Sarasota’s most quirky public events is known as the “Pug Parade.”  For this annual festival, every dog owner in the city–nay, the state (and beyond) dresses up her or his pug, then sashays along a runway with said costumed canine to determine which will win the Dog Owner with Way Too Much Time on Their Hands award.  (Okay, I made up that last part.  But they do choose a winner for best dog costume.). 

Well, as it turned out by sheer coincidence, the HH and I arrived on the selfsame weekend as this year’s parade!  And by even greater coincidence, Marketing Guru and MGW have a pugAnd her name is Misty!  And Misty is a former Pug Parade Champion!

Needless to say, we attended this year’s Pug Parade.

Milling about under a massive tent in the center of a local park, I have never seen so many pugs in one place, let alone so many pugs in wildly creative costumes (biker pug with actual tatoos; sushi pug rolled into a giant nori roll; bride pug with bouquet and groom pug; geisha pug; birthday cake pug; ballerlina pug, Tiger Woods pug, Lady GaGa pug, Bug Pug, and any other kind of pug you can imagine).  Misty, this time round, was dressed as Pugahontas.  Ain’t she cute?

[Can you spot the alligator in this photo?  It’s right there in front, dressed up as a pug.]

Though she didn’t win this time round, Misty did receive a huge round of applause and several hoots.

Later, as we drove through the idyllic neighborhood with its palm tree-lined streets and placid parklands, the HH and I both marvelled at how beautiful the area was. A planned community, almost the entire city had been built from scratch. 

“Oh, when we first moved in, there were still lots of alligators roaming the streets,” MGW told us.  “And wild boars everywhere.” Alligators?  Wild boars? 

I nodded politely.  “Wow,” I said.  “You guys are brave to have moved here back then.  Good thing the alligators have all gone now.”

“Well, not really,” she countered. “They just hang around the ponds now.  You can usually spot a few at each pond.”  Given there were ponds at just about every intersection, and given I had not yet spied a single solitary alligator with my own eyes, I remained incredulous. We approached another pond.

“Here, take my binoculars,” MGW urged as Marketing Guru slowed the car.  I peered through the lenses at the not-so-distant shore.  And. . . what the–?? That dark olive-grey mass in front of the trees. . . by George, it WAS an alligator!  But wait!  There were two more masses beside it, just over there to the right. . . ! And what was that further down the shore–??!!  I could feel my skin begin to tingle.

“They stay still during the day, but they generally come out at night,” MGW informed us.  “Don’t worry, though, they don’t come up to the houses. . . well, not anymore.”

And just like that, there went my dreams of moving to Sarasota.  

IV. Sarasota, Sarasota: It’s a Wonderful Town!

As a perk of his position at the Sarasota Orchestra, MG was able to secure tickets to that weekend’s concert for the four of us (yippee!).  On the playlist that evening were three performances: Bernstein’s “Three Dance Episodes from On the Town” (from which “New York, New York, It’s a Wonderful Town” originated); Barber’s “Violin Concerto Op. 14” performed by the young, critically acclaimed Elena Urioste (whose performances–both visual and aural–were stunning); and Saint-Saens’ “Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78,” the organ symphony. 

Our pre-performance dinner that night took place at  Tropical Thai, another quaint spot that served up surprisingly good food.  I was, again, surprised and delighted with the number of vegan options (there was even an entire page of Macrobiotic dishes!).  I opted for miso soup, followed by a red curry with vegetables and tofu–not as tasty as the previous night’s Indian curry, but satisfying nonetheless.

Then, it seemed, just as we began to really relax and feel at home,** it was suddenly time to return to Toronto.  Here we are now, a week after our return, and it feels as if we never left.  And as a bonus, we were greeted last week with the biggest snowstorm so far this season. As Pepé le Pew would say,  Le sigh.

[“Mum, it definitely felt like you left to us. And don’t worry about the snow–at least you won’t find any alligators living in this climate!]

Well, if I can’t physically remain in Florida, at least I can travel back along the highway of gustatory imagination. I decided to recreate the delectable butternut-edamame hash I savored at Wish in Miami.  With small, uniform cubes of roasted butternut squash cozying up to perky green edamame, both awash in a slightly gooey, slightly sweet maple glaze, this hash was the epitome of clean and delicious fare.  I had to have it again!

My version uses yacon as a standin for maple syrup in the original, though you should feel free to swap it back if you prefer the latter or can’t find the former (unless you’re also on the ACD, that is, in which case, sorry–maple syrup is verboten).

The bright hues and fresh flavors of this dish are guaranteed to bring a little bit of Florida sunshine into your mealtime.  And no alligators, I promise.

*That would be, “watching it on TV,” not “doing it.”

**Not that I’d ever get used to the alligators, however.

 Butternut and Edamame Hash (suitable for ACD Phase I or later)

inspired by a dish at Wish restaurant.

With its combination of sweet squash, chewy edamame and sticky glaze, this high-protein dish makes a perfect accompaniment to any savory main course. 

1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) cubes

2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt

1 cup (240 ml) shelled, cooked edamame

2 Tbsp (30 ml) yacon syrup and 3 Tbsp (30 ml) water OR 1/4 cup (60 ml) pure maple syrup

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 Tbsp (15 ml) toasted sesame oil

1 tsp (5 ml) arrowroot powder or cornstarch blended with 1/4 cup (60 ml) water until smooth

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) maple flavoring (if using yacon syrup), optional

pinch fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with olive oil spray.  Also spray a casserole or square pan and set aside.

Place the raw squash cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and salt.  Toss with your (clean) hands until all the pieces are coated evenly.  Spread the squash on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the cubes are just tender.  Remove the squash and reduce the oven heat to 350F (180C).

Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine the yacon/water or maple syrup, garlic, sesame oil and arrowroot mixture until well blended.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and bubbles; continue to cook and stir for 30 seconds, until thick.  Remove from heat and stir in the maple flavoring, if using; season with more sea salt to taste.

Place the squash cubes and edamame in the reserved casserole dish and pour the glaze over them; toss with a large spoon or spatula until all the squares are coated.  Reheat in the oven until everything is warmed through, about 10 minutes.  Stir again before serving.   Makes 4 side servings.

Last Year at this Time: A break.  But how about My Mother’s Potato Corn Chowder instead?

Two Years Ago: Bangkok Noodles with Cashews and Pineapple* (*Or, How to Get Your Meat-Loving Guy to Love a Vegan Meal)

© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs


27 comments to How I Spent My Florida Vacation, Part II: Sarasota. A Copycat Recipe. And Alligators!

  • what if the alligators hide in the snow??? :\
    uh oh

    when i was in mexico there was this pond and this weird fragile looking “handmade” wood bridge made out of wooden trees…or something. THe point is that it looked fragile. And you pay 10 pesos to see the crocodiles. ANd luckily there was one…..waiting right under the little bridge…must’ve known something. But it was really close. So that if the bridge gave, you fell right on top of the alligator, 3 feet away. So i do know what it’s like to take a shot of an alligator that close. It’s not a good feeling. You feel like fresh food HAHA


  • Wanting to recreate such a terrific-looking (and certainly equally delicious) dish is understandable! Thanks for sharing that piece of sunshine from your vacation!


  • OMG – all those alligators would have totally freaked me out. Every rare once in a while there will be one in the waterways at DisneyWorld but I’ve only seen them at Gatorland. They are SCARY! And I bet they’d LOVE a nice pug sammich!


  • holy alligators! what a fun post 🙂


  • My husband and I have been dreaming about moving to Florida, haha. That sweet potato and edamame hash looks awesome! Such pretty colors.


  • Awww I want to go to a pug parade!!! Any kind of pup parade sounds like heaven to me!


  • The alligator in your first picture looks impressive!


  • those alligators look scary – if they were crocs up north in Australia they would be having tourists for lunch each day whereas I prefer your colourful hash – impressive dish to find in a restaurant!


  • I am afraid of alligators. My Mom says it’s a phobia and I say “no, it is a realistic fear of death”. I’m glad you had a great trip. I’m heading to Florida on Thursday to run a half marathon – I will run fast with the idea of the alligators chasing me in my mind.


  • Sounds like a fab time all around. This pug parade idea is brilliant! I’m pretty temped to start googling to see if I can find some pics.. Lady Gaga pug?? Amazing! I loved your airport story in the last post, what a riot 🙂

    I am certain I’d love this hash, well done!


  • I love those ‘gator pictures…and am intrigued by your use of yacon. I bought it a while back and I’ve forgotten it completely.


  • my grandparents used to live in sarasota, but i never saw any gators! too bad they’re not there anymore, i’d have some places to go eat 🙂 this has sounds wonderful!


  • Courtney

    Tehehe–my grandparents live in Sarasota, and I have driven down Alligator Ally MANY times. They don’t have any alligators near them, though…thank goodness! Wow–your friend must live in pond-y area…scary!

    Your recipe sounds wonderful–I think I am going to try it with sweet potato in place of the butternut squash…yum!



  • An army of alligators! Jeez! I’m glad your car didn’t stall on the road or something. The edammame dish looks fantastic. I need to get me some of that there yacon syrup. 🙂


  • Georgie,
    OMG! Thanks for that scary feeling, all over again 😉 . You are far, far braver than I–I’d probably be too scared to cross that bridge when I came to it!

    Thanks–it did bring back memories 🙂

    Well, I was perhaps a LITTLE freaked, but since we were in the safety of the car, not too much. Now, as to the pug. . .she was hiding. 😉

    I’m sure the gators thought so, anyway!

    Don’t let it stop you! It’s pretty rare that people are out on foot, anyway 😉

    Yes, I was quite interested in all the other breeds there, too (as spectators)–personally I’d love to see a Great Dane Parade!

    It impressed me, anyway–whoever took that pic is pretty brave.

    Yes, I much prefer the butternut hash as well!

    Hope I didn’t put you off! You certainly won’t see any alligators on the marathon. Good luck with it! 🙂 (And I agree–totally realistic to be afraid of an alligator! Have you seen those TEETH?)

    Ordinary Vegetarian,
    Thanks–the dish really was memorable even though quite simple, in fact. 🙂

    Oh, the yacon is great (although incredibly expensive–yikes). You can use just a little bit alongside some stevia for a lovely sweetening effect–and very low glycemic index. Pull out that jar and get experimenting!

    I think they are technically beside Sarasota, but there were definitely alligators!

    I think the gators are still there because the land was pretty wild when the developers started building, and the alligators really had no other place to go. They left a lot of ponds so they’d have a place to sleep. 🙂 I bet the hash will be great w/ sweet potatoes–let me know how it turns out!

    I was thinking the same thing as we were driving along. . .”gee, hope we have lots of gas. . .”!! Yacon is great–a really interesting taste and so easy to work with. 🙂


  • Jes

    Alligator Alley is pretty boring–I remember being nonplussed the first time I drove it. Your butternut-edamame hash looks delish though!!


  • Misty is SO adorable!! The alligators are very cool – in photos! I’d be nervous about being so close to one too… 🙂

    I LOVE all the flavors and textures in this dish, and I love the boost of protein with the edamame…

    I adore your mom’s potato corn chowder! It’s one of our favorite recipes!!


  • Butternut hash, now why didn’t I think of this?! Writing the ingredients down on my shopping list right now.


  • your cousin picked some great places to dine, Ricki. very awesome on having many options, fo ‘sho! Misty is just too cute. i have to say that were i to attend a pug parade i don’t know that i’d be able to stop smiling and giggling. pugs crack me up – i think it’s their crazy eyes that get me. ah ha ha! the nori roll pug sounds too funny, and i love Misty’s Pugahontas costume. she looks so proud and happy – can see why she was a former champion! when i went to australia i was “okay” with the crocs. they were always far enough away, and i was 18 and thought i was untouchable. but when someone says “alligators hang around the ponds here.” and that’s followed by something about wild boars running around?!?!?! – eeeeeeeek! i think i’d never made it in sarasota. ah ha ha! your butternut and edamame hash sounds simply wonderful, Ricki. yacon kinda upsets my stomach so i’m gonna use maple syrup instead – i can’t wait to make your dish. mmmmmmmm!


  • Wow, that’s a lot of alligators! I would be so freaked out if I lived in Florida and saw those in my yard. I wish I could have gone to the Pug Parade! I am not one for dressing my dog up in costumes, but I can’t help but squeal over the cuteness of other animals in costumes.

    Your salad looks lovely! May have to try this sometime this week. There’s a butternut squash hanging out in the back of my fridge.


  • Hah, alligators galore! They really do look like logs most of the time. Glad you had a good time!


  • When we were on Sanibel Island, FL, a large alligator crossed our path less than 10 feet away. It took a few moments for my brain to tell my hands, “take a picture!” My son and I both took a lot of pictures but they were all blurry — our hands were shaking too much. Glad you had such a good time but I hope if you return the weather will be better.


  • Oooh, the sight of gators would make my skin crawl too! Florida is a great vacation spot and must be quite different from Canada. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!


  • A pug parade!! How adorable. Love the photo of your dog in the snow. And this hash – yum! I don’t eat nearly enough edamame.


  • jessy,
    Oh, my, eighteen or not, you are definitely much braver than I!! I’m surprised about the yacon–it supposedly has prebiotics (they feed the probiotics)–ie, great for the intestinal tract. Strange!

    You mean you actually STAYED PUT and took pics?? No wonder your hands were shaking!! I think my entire body would have been shaking–once I got back safely in the car, that is.

    Bizarrely, Floriday wasn’t that different from Toronto or Montreal, as there are SOOOOO many Canadian “snowbirds” there. I even saw signs in French!

    She may not be wearing a costume, but I daresay Elsie is cuter than any pug (sorry, Marketing Guru)!


  • That is one big alligator! At first I thought you had taken that photo! 😀

    Aww, Pugahontas! How cute! And who knew a big alligator could disguise itself as a tiny little flat-nosed pug!

    I’m glad that you had a good trip… and that you kept a safe distance from the alligators! 🙂


  • […] and sticky, sweet, flaky-crusted pies. I think of au gratin vegetable bakes, Brussels sprouts, root vegetables and garlic mashed […]

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