Tag Archives: Florida

Spiced Sour Orange Cider: Christmas Cocktails, Florida-Style

oranges, lemons, and cloves boiling in orange juice — this is spiced sour orange cider
Spiced sour orange cider — festivity in the making.
Cathy Salustri

“This tastes like sour orange,” my husband tells me as he sips his drink, the newly invented spiced sour orange cider.

The drink didn’t start that way, but the more I sip it, the more I agree — and the more I can get behind a sour orange holiday. Plus, I like how “spiced sour orange cider” sounds.

I’m a fan of Chef Justin at Fresh from Florida, although I have real concerns about what “Fresh from Florida” means for life in the Everglades. I’ve tried several of his recipes, and without fail I enjoy them quite a bit.

When he sent a Thanksgiving email, in it he included a recipe for Florida Orange-Cinnamon Cider, and I tucked it aside until I had a free afternoon.

Today I had that free afternoon, although making spiced sour orange cider took all of 10 minutes. I adapted it because it didn’t smell or look the way I wanted it to look or smell, and my results are likely different than what he intended, but I’m happy, and if you like sour orange things,  I think you will be, too. With apologies to Chef Justin…

Spiced Sour Orange Cider Ingredients

4 cups (Florida) orange juice (I used Uncle Matt’s; please do not use Minute Maid or Tropicana — and here’s why)

4 cups apple cider (I used Trader Joe’s)

2 (Florida) oranges, sliced (I used Valencia because they’re juicy)

1/4 c. black mangrove honey

1 lemon, sliced thin

2-5 sticks cinnamon

2 Tbsp. cinnamon

16-20 whole cloves

Dried and sweetened orange slices

Optional: Bacardi 151


  1. Bring everything but rum and honey to a boil, then simmer 5 minutes
  2. Add honey; stir
  3. Serve in glasses
  4. Add one shot rum (optional) to each drink
  5. Garnish with orange slices
  6. After the first few sips, put garnish in drink to mellow tartness at the end

Did you make spiced sour orange cider? Tell me what you thought; I love to hear from readers! Happy whatever makes you happy this season!

two glasses of spiced sour orange cider
Getting festive, Florida-style.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Mellowing Out: Mello on Anna Maria Island

pool at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
Mello on Anna Maria Island — technically, Holmes Beach — reminds me of mid-century Miami Beach.
Cathy Salustri

While I have many wonderful qualities, relaxing for more than, say, a couple hours is not one of them.

I do, however, love to plan trips on which I could, theoretically, relax. Last month, I had a work-ish vacation for one week, but left almost an entire week open for wherever my whims took me. (I’m fortunate to have a husband with remarkably similar whims.)

That’s how I happened upon Mello on Anna Maria Island. El Cap and I, sitting in a hotel room, wondering where we would head upon checkout. I had my criteria: I wanted to stay so close to the water I could hear the sound of the sea. I wanted something close to food, and I wanted to have the comforts of the indoors. Don’t get me wrong, I still love our camping trips, but every now and then I want to sink into a soft bed and shower in a full-size shower that isn’t part of a public bath house. This was one such time.

So, using the parameters “beachfront” and “dog friendly,” we started searching.

A sleek yellow chair and a sleek white chair on artificial turf, with a green round table between them. They are backed up against a hedge of autograph trees at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
Each room has its own “lawn” furniture, which is far more comfortable than it looks.
Cathy Salustri

At first, I went right past Mello.

Simply put, it looked too good to be true, especially for the price. A living room, bedroom, separate bath, kitchenette, and washer and dryer in the room? Pool on property, and the whole thing decorated in what I call “Mid-Century Florida Dream” (think sun-washed tropical colors, throwback decor, hints of Gary Monroe’s 1970s South Beach series)?

Exterior walkway at dusk at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
It felt a bit like I’d stepped back in time.
Cathy Salustri

We both assumed the photographer had used some digital trickery to make the rooms look less cramped than they were, but booked the stay nevertheless. After all, it was right on the Anna Maria Island beach, the dog fee wasn’t ridiculous, and it had a pool.

pool scene with beach chairs and gold-and-white-striped umbrellas at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
The pool was as inviting as the photos promised. 
Cathy Salustri

We assumed incorrectly. Look, these rooms aren’t as big as your house, most likely. But there was no photographic trickery; these rooms are decidedly lovely, and comfortable, and well-appointed. So much so that, although no one’s paying me to write this or giving me anything in exchange for doing so, I wanted to share this gem with fellow Florida-philes.

Two dogs staring at a floor-length mirror. Mirror has white lettered "stay Mello" phrase at the bottom at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
The hounds perfected the art of mirror-assisted begging in no time flat.
Cathy Salustri

And as for the dogs?

They settled in almost immediately, but they’re hounds, so it doesn’t take much to entice them to flop down and have a nap.

a galley kitchen at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
This is about twice the size of my first kitchen on St. Pete Beach. 
Cathy Salustri

The kitchen, too, was all we needed — and more.

It gave off some true “high-end IKEA” vibes, but it had a setup that made me long to style my kitchen as simply. Of course, Mello doesn’t have to have a kitchen that can handle Feast of the Seven Fishes, so it’s easy to streamline, but it did make for a delightful, breezy change.

While you wouldn’t call it a traditional beachfront hotel, it was actually better. Why? The fringe of Australian pines between our room and the beach. I realize there’s a lot of hate out there for Australian pines, but I’m not one of the haters (have I told you about Fred the Tree yet? The breeze through those pines sounds like pure Florida to me, and at Mello, I had that sound whenever I stepped outside.

Of course, we made it past the trees to the water every night, because there’s nothing on the planet like a sunset off the west coast of Florida.

Sunset outside the rooms, over the Gulf of Mexico, at at Mello on Anna Maria Island Florida
This photo doesn’t do the Anna Maria Island sunset justice.
Cathy Salustri

While on the beach, we noticed something else, too: The people who gathered here didn’t all look alike. They all did share one thing, though: They loved being at the beach. Kids played with each other and their families along the sand. Closer to the motel, families grilled dinner. People played catch, and some sort of kickball, and whatever else they could play with a ball. Anna Maria Island itself may have homes out of the average Floridian’s budget, but this stretch of public beach felt like a beach for everyone.

In between soaking on the pool, people-watching on the beach, and sitting in the water watching the sun go down, I forgot to think about relaxing, and I forgot to worry about the work I could be doing.

Which, actually, was kind of the point.

Jimmy Buffett, My Dad, and Florida Road Trips

A man in glasses and a woman in glasses. They are father and daughter, down by the water, like in the Jimmy Buffett song

Jimmy Buffett died last night.

This isn’t a post about that, not really.

While I’ll miss hearing new music from him, I don’t mourn him. I didn’t know him; I have no illusions that I had a clue about the man behind the legend. Few similarities exist between the Gulf and Western icon father and my own dad, but I feel a heartbreaking kinship of mourning with his daughters.

A few weeks ago, my dad died unexpectedly.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of my father. His death was so unexpected, and still so raw, that those memories still assault me at odd times. Grief is like, my friend Tamara says, a ball banging around inside a box. Sometimes it slams into the side of the box, and other times, it doesn’t, and you never know what it’s going to be.

In Backroads of Paradise, I wrote about my earliest experience with Florida’s salt water, with my dad, as we made our way to what would be our forever home in Clearwater:

“Look at that, Cath,” my dad said, his voice reverent. “Look at how clear it is, not like Staten Island at all.” My father still made the sign of the cross on himself when we passed Catholic churches, but not until this moment had I heard such hushed worship in his voice.

I nodded and peered out the window, feeling something new and familiar inside my chest as I gazed at the sandy landscape offering itself to me. I recognized this, much later, as the sense of coming to where I needed to be.

I figure today y’all will see a lot of “Margaritaville” tributes to Jimmy Buffett on social media, but I never had much use for that song. I’ve always been a bigger fan of his B-sides (so much so I wrote this review about his concert a few years ago.)

One song in particular, “Delaney Talks to Statues” has a special place in my heart. Since the day I first heard it, made me think of every wonderful thing about my dad.

Father, daughter/Down by the water

We moved to Florida when I was 7. I loved going to the beach with my dad. Some weekend mornings, we’d get up early and go to Clearwater Beach. Early mornings at the beach — before the crowds — is when you might find shells. I still have some of those shells we collected down by the water so many years ago.

Shells sink, dreams float

There’s a lot more to say about my dad — a lot that doesn’t have anything at all to do with Jimmy Buffett — but one giant takeaway is that he instilled in me a love of road trips.

Shortly after we moved to Florida, my dad had surgery, and he couldn’t work for a few months. Once he recovered enough to drive, though, we’d go on long drives and talk.

This continued for years. As an angsty teen, I’d go for drives with him, and he’d let me talk. He always treated me like an adult in those conversations, those wonderful, rambling conversations that unfolded and went in different directions, much as the roadways we traveled. We never set out with a destination; we simply drove and talked, talked and drove. I saw a lot of Florida’s central west coast on those drives with my father. I remember a lot of trees on those drives, and a lot of love.

Life’s good on our boat

While I won’t paint everything as sunshine and roses in our home growing up — I hate how people deify the dead — I will say that yes, overall, life was good on our (metaphorical) boat. I had two parents who loved each other, loved me, and made sure I knew it. We didn’t have lots of money for big cross-country or international vacations, but we took road trips. My mom and dad both embraced Florida life, never once looking backwards to what they’d left behind in New York. I credit them both with a lot: Instilling in me a love for Florida, for facing life head-on, even when it hurts to do so, and for all the good parts of me.

The Captain and The Kid

My dad and I had a wonderful relationship. Oh, sure, we fought. More than once he left my home in a fit of anger, but he always came back, and there was always a hug and “I love you” after the fight. There’s not a day I’ve been alive when I ever doubted my father’s love.

And in my memories, my love for Florida is tangled up with my parents and their love for it. My passion for road trips is forever linked to those drives I’d take with my dad.

The last drive we took was in 2019, shortly after I’d left full-time work at a local alt weekly. We drove south over the Skyway, out to Anna Maria (another beach we’d visited as a family when I was younger). We drove as far south as we could along the barrier islands, then turned around and headed north along US 41.

That would be our last road trip together.

My dad and I talked about when we could go again, but then… the pandemic came. After that, my dad had some health issues that made longer road trips unpleasant for him. Finally, a few weeks ago, when he was the healthiest he’d been in decades and at the cusp of being able to take a longer drive with me once more, a freak set of circumstances meant we’d never take a road trip together again.

And so this morning when my husband read me the news of Jimmy Buffett’s death, my first thought was of my father — and then of Buffett’s daughters. Because I didn’t know the man, but I knew a man a lot like the man who sang about his daughters.

And so I close with this thought from another Jimmy Buffett song I love; one that also evokes images of my dad, and also my grandfathers: And though I cried, I was so proud/To love a man so rare.