Ft. Myers and Cape Coral

It's travel Tuesday!! So how about the first installment of the Exploring the Sunshine State series??

I have documents full of travel research. Places I’ve been to and place I dream of visiting. Sometimes I’ll read about something on a blog or in a magazine article and add it to the plethora of information I’m saving for someday, just in case.

Sanibel Island

This is one of my favorite parts of traveling, the anticipation and the research. I love research; a trait I definitely inherited from my father who we always joked should be a fact-checker.

At the end of 2013 I was in the final stretch of a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, a 16 month marathon program. I decided that I was definitely rewarding myself for finishing the mother of a program so I started researching warm places for January and February. After trying desperately to find somewhere semi-affordable in the Florida Keys we settled on Cape Coral, which was still far enough south to be warm, but not as expensive. 

Sanibel

My one time victory roll accomplishment for sunday morning

            We rented a 4 bedroom/2 bath house with a private pool and hot tub through VRBO.com. Then I slogged through the end of my degree, managed to pass all of my classes, and actually graduated! We departed Indiana where the wind chill was about -8 and landed in Ft. Myers where it was 82 degrees. Hallelujah! The best part of getting on the plane in Indy was that the demographics of our plane to Ft. Myers was about 95% senior citizens. I joked to my sister that we were definitely on the party plane. (Little did I know that Ft. Myers as a whole would continue to be made up of about 95% people over 60).

            We arrived and got our rental car before heading out to our house, which was in a normal residential neighborhood. Although what the listing forgot to mention was that they were currently in the middle of putting city water and sewer throughout the neighborhood so the roads were all red clay. If we hadn’t had an SUV we might not have made it through some of them. But we persevered and proceeded to stock up on groceries and random stuff from the 5 different Publix grocery stores we visited over the course of two days (I mean I’m a fan of Publix but even for me this was bit much).

            Sunday morning we got up and went to the Arts Fest in downtown Ft. Myers. I’m a big fan of arts festivals, Pensacola has a huge one every year. I usually don’t buy anything but its fun to walk around and look at all the interesting and amazing artwork that’s on display.  

After the arts fest we headed to Ft. Myer’s Beach to do what we came to Florida to do, lay on the beach. We ate dinner at Nemo’s on the Beach and I had the best chicken teriyaki sandwich. Plus we got an appetizer of some of the biggest nachos I have ever seen.

Ft. Myer's Beach

            The next day we headed to Sanibel Island to hang out at the beach. Sanibel is a much different feel than Ft. Myers Beach. Sanibel feels much more deserted and there are multiple little access points up and down the island so you can feel like you have the beach to yourself whereas Ft. Myers Beach you are pretty packed into one small area with lots of people. Sanibel Island also had more wildlife and a less commercial feel.

            After that it’s more of a blur of beaches, shopping, time spent in the pool and searching for good places to eat.   

Places to Shop:

Tanger Outlets

            These outlets are on the way to Ft. Myer’s beach so their a nice stop after you’ve been out in the sun all day.

Bell Tower Shops

            This is an outdoor shopping mall in Ft. Myers. It’s a bit older and doesn’t have a huge variety of stores but there are some unique ones worth checking out.

Coconut Point

            This one is actually in Bonita Springs, south of Ft. Myers. It is a newer outdoor shopping center. It has a ton of variety in stores and lots of food options as well. This one is definitely the winner out of all the shopping we did in the area.

Things to Do:

Manatee Park

           My sister loves marine animals so we definitely made it a point to visit the Manatee Park in Ft. Myers. From the website it’s a “Non-captive warm water refuge for the florida manatee”. The best times to see manatees are December, January and February. There is a fair amount of paved nature trails and you can also rent kayaks. Parking is $2/hr or $5/day. Free admission.

Ford and Edison Estates

            We actually didn’t have time to do this but I wish we had! You can visit their winter homes in Ft. Myers and see the lab where Edison worked on his inventions.

 Places to Eat:

Heavenly Biscuit

            If you go to Ft. Myer’s you MUST GO to Heavenly Biscuit. My cousin had recommended we try this and waxed poetic about the giant cinnamon rolls and biscuits. I’m all about the baked goods, so of course we had to make this a priority. I will tell you, make sure you go early because they do sometimes run out of cinnamon rolls. Also be prepared for a line out the door no matter what time you go. This place is tiny too, so don’t count on getting a table. I had the cinnamon roll and Rachael got the biscuits and gravy which I could hardly photograph she was eating them so fast.

Artsy fartsy photo of Heavenly Biscuit

Ford’s Garage

            Ford’s Garage is another must visit if you’re in the Ft. Myers area. There are a couple of different locations and we went to the Cape Coral one. The theme is a garage during prohibition. It’s super cute and my favorite features were definitely the old Model T’s inside the restaurant and the sinks in the bathroom! I had a turkey burger and it was out of this world!  

Rachael's burger

The sinks in the bathroom at Ford's Garage

Bennet’s Fresh Roast

            We went here one morning to get doughnuts (because of course I couldn’t go to a new city and not try a doughnut!!). I got a peanut butter glazed one that was fantastic! I don’t drink coffee so no idea what theirs tastes like.

Ice Sssscreamin

         Yes I swear that is actually the name of this ice cream place in Cape Coral. I got an amazing dipped cone there! 

Now for some pros and cons of a trip to Ft. Myer’s/Cape Coral 

Pros

-       Warm during the winter (70’s and 80’s while we were there the first week in February)

-       Lots of options for eating and shopping

-       Not a ton of cultural options (though I’m sure there were more than I looked up)

-       Lots of different options for beaches in the area. Some more populated and touristy, others more deserted, lots of good opportunities to get seashells.

-       Lots of vacation rental options if you’re interested in a house with a pool rather than a hotel and cheaper than further south in florida.  

Cons

-       Most of the visitors to Ft. Myers (or at least in the winter time) are older adults. We saw very few families and pretty much nobody in their 20’s. Which is fine because it wasn’t like we were there to party, but if you are Ft. Myers may not be the place for you.

-       If you are staying in Cape Coral know you are at least a 45 minute drive to pretty much any beach that I could find. So, take that into account when picking a place to stay if being close to beach is important to you.

-       Traffic getting on and off some of the beaches is bad as many of the bridges and roads are only two lanes (often par for the course to get to beaches). 

Here's a video of our time in Ft. Myers! 


The First Installment of the Doughnut Corner

The first installment of the Doughnut Corner!

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE doughnuts. It is the sixth main food group in my opinion. I go out of my way to try any and all doughnuts. I honestly have no idea how this started, but a few years ago I started researching the best doughnut place in every city I was going to visit.

I have eaten so many amazing doughnuts (it’s best not to think about the actual number of doughnuts…). It has become one of my favorite parts of visiting new places!!

Lets begin with the doughnuts that started it all:

 Mary Lou’s Donuts in Lafayette, IN (my hometown!).

They have my absolute favorite doughnuts! Plus they are dirt cheap! My favorites are the cake with chocolate icing and the tiger tails!

Mmm, look at these beauties!

Here’s a few of the other places I have been and eaten doughnuts!!

Chicago’s Do Rite Donuts

These are pricy (as are most things in Chicago) but huge! The cinnamon sugar one was my favorite here.

Fort Myer’s Bennets Fresh Roast 

This is the peanut butter glazed doughnut. Mmmm.

What are your absolute favorite doughnut places?? What’s your favorite type of doughnut?

Strawberry Fields Forever

You guys, strawberries.

We’ve made some super delicious deserts. I’ve been living on them. First I made an angel food cake to eat with the strawberries and whipped cream. If you’ve never had one from scratch you haven’t lived. SO YUMMY. It melts in your mouth, and it’s so light. Perfect for grilling out. I used this Alton Brown recipe, with the following changes.

Angel Food Cake

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup cake flour, sifted

12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)

1/3 cup warm water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or extract of your choice

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a food processor or blender (I used my Ninja) spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine. Sift half of the sugar with the salt the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the balloon whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until very foamy, but not quite forming soft peaks. Add water, vanilla extract, salt, and cream of tartar. Mix on high for 2 minutes. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously on low. Beat until you have achieved medium peaks, slowly add the sifted flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes, on the lowest rack of the oven. 

Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan. Serve with strawberries and whip cream (I prefer homemade, like the recipe below)

Strawberry Icebox Pie

Based off of this recipe from Bake or Break. 

Ingredients

For the crust:

1 & 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

12 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup + 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1 pound strawberries, hulled

1 & 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the whipped cream:

2 cups heavy whipping cream

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

For the Crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine ingredients and press into bottom and sides of 9 inch pie plate. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool to room temperature before filling

For the filling:

Beat cream cheese, 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, and whipping cream using a hand mixer until well mixed. Spread into bottom of cooled crust, cover, and refrigerate while preparing strawberries.  Cut strawberries into fourths. Put half the strawberries into a medium saucepan and mash.   Add 1/2 cup of sugar and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat and add remaining strawberries. Cool completely, if you're in a rush you can put the mixture in the freezer for a few minutes to speed up the process. Spread strawberry mixture over cream cheese layer. Freeze for at least 2 hours

For the whipped cream:

Beat whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla on high until firm peaks form.

To Serve:

Set pie out to thaw to your desired temperature and serve with whipped cream.

ENJOY!!

Gigi really wanted some pie too! 

Me and Rachael in Cullman

Note from Michelle: All of the strawberry dessert frenzy started when we decide to hit up the Cullman Strawberry Festival two weekends ago. We both bought two huge things of strawberries so then of course we had to decide what to do with them! Kayla's version of the Strawberry Ice Box Pie is seriously divine! The perfect ratio of whipped cream to strawberries! 

Great little bakery and cafe in Cullman

What's your favorite strawberry dessert??

Michelle turns 25!

On April 11th I turned 25! Twenty five, one of the major milestone birthdays. A quarter of a century (Or as Kayla’s mom texted me, “You’re a half a century old!!).


My mom, my sister Rachael and my niece Emerie were in town for the week before my birthday and so we’d headed to Atlanta on Friday night. We woke up on Saturday to head to the Southeastern Railway Museum (http://www.srmduluth.org). We decided to go because E loves trains but I have to admit I love trains quite a bit too. I’ve been obsessed with them since I was little and I still want to take an Amtrak somewhere so badly!  

The Southeastern Railway Museum is pretty darn cool. They have 35 acres of engines, cabooses, buses, MARTA cars, etc. You can walk through most of the old train cars and climb up in some of the engines. There’s also a train station from the late 1800’s that’s been restored.

 

After the train museum we headed to Atlantic Station in Atlanta for lunch at Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro (no photos from there!) and then to Old Fashioned Frozen Custard which I’d been dying to visit because I love frozen custard. It was a bit warm and it was melting fast but it was sooo good!

After that we headed back to home to my cake that Kayla had baked me. She and E iced it and we threw some sparklers on it (I thought they were sparkler birthday candles.. turns out they were just actual sparklers). We took it outside so we wouldn’t set off the smoke alarms and I blew out my sparklers… Well really I just watched as they burned out. You can’t really blow out sparklers.

We went to dinner at a little Italian place near my house and consumed a lot of awesome garlic bread.

Overall not a bad way to turn 25.