Beauty of the beach gives colorful sunset surprises in Florida

I’ve lived in Florida my entire life, and despite jokes from others in other states, I don’t know if I ever want to live anywhere else. Oh sure, every time I visit Boston or Charleston, or when I’ve visited France or Spain, I dream of possibly living there.

But it’s tough to beat the days and days of sunshine here and the proximity to the beach. The weather allows for so many events 365 days a year, and Tampa Bay is host to amazing music, art and outdoor adventures.

I probably will never live On the beach, thanks to living through Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but it’s a blessing to live just 15 minutes away.

That means I can head out to the beach any night after 5 p.m. to catch the sunset. Honeymoon Island in Dunedin is the closest beach to me, so that’s where I often go.

This Thursday, I happened to do just that. And I got a very nice surprise.

sunsethoneymoonboardwalksea oatsrockspink skiytall pink sky

Even after the sunset, the colors just continued to blossom, like cotton candy.

Thank you, Honeymoon Island. Thank you, Florida.

Fourth of July table uses red, white and blue transferware




When it’s time to celebrate the Fourth of July, most people think about all of the great food. I like to think about how I’m going to set the table.

For me, Fourth of July is sort of like Thanksgiving, lots of food, parades and family — fireworks instead of turkeys.

I normally use my white Johnson Brothers plates or red Fiestaware plates, but I found some pink Blue Willow this year so I wanted to try it, along with Blue Willow and other blue transferware.

In the past, I normally use a white damask tablecloth or a red quilt but this year I found a fun Ralph Lauren tablecloth at HomeGoods.

At first I used some metal “lace” chargers, but they didn’t show up enough, so I swapped them for some new straw ones from Ross.

I really like using the chunky goblets in red and blue, and the milk glass pitcher for the flowers.






This year I made two desserts — a blueberry pie and an American flag cake. I didn’t have the right pan so I only ended up with three red stripes. Sorry, colonies! But it still tasted good.

The homemade blueberry pie was my first ever. I used a recipe from and also used a Pillsbury pie crust. I know that’s cheating a bit, but I didn’t want the flour mess.

The pie tasted wonderful and I’m looking forward to making it again soon. Mr. Plate Girl is asking for it already.


Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday!

A peek into Waldorf Astoria Orlando

Although my main passion is tablescapes and entertaining, I also like to share my travels to hotels and restaurants, and share elegant surroundings.

Recently I visited Orlando, which is only two hours away from Tampa Bay , and stayed at the Hilton Bonnet Creek resort. The hotel is connected by the conference venue to the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. They each have their own pools and restaurants, but guests are free to use any of them.

I’m so glad I took the time to wander over to the Waldorf, which I had never stayed in. After strolling the long marble hallways, we turned to find a lovely tuxedoed waiter  in tails and a large silver platter of champagne flutes.
  Ahhhh, heaven.From the grand marble lobby, visitors get a great view of the pool area.   The lobby was grandiose and somewhat Disney-esque and I was pleased with the chandeliers and ceiling detail and wrought iron doors.

A pianist plays lovely music.Off the lobby is a bar/sitting room decorated in blues, greens and golds with peacock decor. I felt somewhat like the splendor of the Titanic. (In the good beginning of the  movie.)

The bar is a lovely place to have a glass of champagne or wine and take in the surroundings. The sunlit room and piano music make a quite elegant visit.

Hilton Bonnet Creek Pool, Bar the Best Parts

I had the opportunity to attend a conference this past weekend at the Hilton Bonnet Creek resort in Orlando.

My view from my window was amazing, overlooking the expansive lazy river and golf course.

The conference was filled with great speakers, informative classes, a chock-full expo and lots of networking, but I was glad I had the chance to sneak out in the late afternoon of the second day to cool off in this great pool.

lazy river window

The hotel has a nice place to perch in the lobby, which opens to a large outdoor bar patio that overlooks the pool directly. Before or after swimming, this is a great place to hang out and enjoy yourself. They have a fun champagne drink with blue curacao bubbles – I had to get it – it matches the color of the pool and the upholstery in the bar.


The lazy river is landscaped with lush greenery and palm trees.  There are two larger areas, one more of a pool area and the other with a walk-in pool more like a lagoon.

There are also cabanas for rent along the lake and golf course as well as a  grill/restaurant by the pool and a small shop where they sell sunscreen, sunglasses and premium floats.

While this is definitely kid friendly, small children should be supervised at all times because of the constant flow of water and the amount of other people who are also in the river. The floats are large and make it difficult to keep track of little ones.

The hotel is close to Walt Disney World, but I like that it is far enough away to be out of the hectic traffic. I did also enjoy the Italian restaurant, La Luce, where I had Caesar salad and ravioli and was greeted with very attentive servers and employees. There is also an upscale Asian restaurant and others that you can see here. 

pool tub

July 4 Reprise: Table Ideas for the Holiday

One of my favorite things about working for a coupon company was writing this blog post for our company blog about setting a great table for Fourth of July. Sharing here…

Setting the Stage for Fourth of July

crate-barrel-vinca-dinnerwareThinking about how to decorate for the Fourth of the July holiday? One of the best ways to bring it all together is to put your attention right where the focus is – not just on the food, but right there on the table itself! Whether you’re decorating the patio table or dining room table, getting a little bit fancy can make a big splash and make your guests feel welcome.

It’s one of the easiest ways to set the tone and mood for your get together and makes everyone feel special. And you’ll be sure to get that, “Wow! Everything looks great!”

Refresh It
Think about adding a little refresher to your refreshment area. You might need to add a few new pieces to put some zing into your existing repertoire. Stores such as JCPenney, Kohl’s, Target and Bed Bath and Beyond have some great new everyday china patterns that can make your table pop.

Changing it up doesn’t mean you have to buy a whole new set – you can just add dinner plates or salad plates. So do something a little different! Get some red or blue plates and mix it up with your standard white set, like this Threshold Aztec dinnerware:


Target Coupon Codes

A festive tablecloth in checks, stripes or stars can make all the difference to your table, and works well with a solid pattern of white, red or blue china. A fun tablecloth can be as low as $15 and you can use it for Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Patriot’s Day and Veterans’ Day.

Or look for placemats to add that color. Getting solids is less intimidating, and you will have them for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

Might Not Be in the Stars
And don’t just limit yourself to the traditional stars and stripes. Aside from patriotic, you can also take your theme nautical, coastal, or just plain old summer fun – with watermelons!

Check out Pinterest for ideas and inspiration on these themes. Sandra Lee always does great tablescapes. And here’s mine for Fourth of July:


Or look for inspiration on blogs. Two of my favorite table setting blogs (yes, there are hundreds of blogs that feature table settings!) are The Tablescaper and Between Naps on the Porch. They both bring endless possibilities to the table.

Do It Outdoors
If you have a pool or patio, there are some great plastic or Melamine dishes that look great and are non-breakable. I’ve found some great ones at Joss and Main and Pier 1 Imports, to name a few.

Take a look at  these fun and abstract Vinca Melamine plates:


Crate & Barrel Coupon Codes

Or Martha Stewart star-spangled Melamine collection:


Macy’s Coupon Codes

Find Some Goodies for $1

Find some inspiration at the dollar store. You’ll be pretty amazed at the cool things you can find.

I found sleek blue wine glasses recently that are now some of my favorites. They look great, and if they break – hah! They’re only a dollar. Also look for stemless wine glasses – they are actually elegant, on-trend and convenient for outdoor use as well. I saw them at a friend’s house and was shocked to learn where she had found them. They can be used as wine glasses or for other beverages.


Dollar Tree Coupon Codes

Also look for bandanas, which can be used as napkins for a festive flair. Pick up some tissue paper or scrapbook paper and get the kids to help you make crafts – banners, pompom flowers and flags.

Poppin’ Tags
Don’t be afraid to stop by your local thrift store. Salvation Army and Goodwill are local ones I really like, and there are a lot of thrift stores that support local charities that have great stuff too.

If you don’t have a set of white china that you want to mix-and-match, thrift stores are a great place to easily find eight dinner plates at a super low price.

In addition to off brands or sets from big box stores, I’ve found Mikasa, Pfaltzgraff, Ikea, Johnson and Brothers and even Lenox and Spode.

Bring on the Paper
Now I know there are many of you who will have a yard filled with kids running around, or who still say you will absolutely not “do china” and will only stick to paper plates. Here are some fun options: Sandra Lee has a new line of paper products at Publix supermarkets in the Southeastern states; or have some summer fun with this pattern with ants themed red-checked design.


Crate & Barrel Coupon Codes

Whatever you do, make it festive and fun!

Marsha Strickhouser is the Public Relations Manager at Valpak, and shares the latest news about the company on and on Twitter at @marshas19.


Farmtable Kitchen at Locale Market impressive in both fare and decor

Farm Table Kitchen, located inside Locale Market at SunDial in St. Petersburg, FL.

I went for a business lunch recently and my  associate  suggested Farmtable Kitchen at Locale Market. I had heard about the market but I must have been sleeping under a rock for two years,  because I didn’t know about Farmtable Kitchen.

The concept was started by well-known and award-winning chef Michael Mina, who also owns Boca KitchenBar Market.

“This new American restaurant featuring farm-to-table cuisine that focuses on fresh, seasonal, regionally sourced and house-made products,” according to Tampa Metro Magazine.

Here’s more information from the Tampa Bay Times about other locations.

I loved the space, which was airy and open and dotted with fresh flowers and vintage decorative accents.  The farm tables remind most people of the country, but to me they reminded me of a restaurant in Nice, France, which I enjoyed so much I went several times during my short trip to the town.

I would have loved to have tried the lobster roll, shrimp or crab, but unfortunately I’m allergic to shellfish.  I didn’t feel like I missed out, because my  grouper  was fresh and tender. I like that you can chose your protein and your vegetable side. I chose the avocado, and was very impressed with the taste and the amount. Being from Miami where avocados are abundant, I feel I’m somewhat of an avocado snob.

It is definitely a restaurant where you can enjoy and relax and really enjoy your time there.

Who else wants to go with me?

A welcome entrance.
Details matter.
Private dining space.


Looking through the glass into the private dining area..




An expansive bar which serves craft cocktails.



A view toward the back of the restaurant.
More details – milk bottles serve water.
Vintage touches
We enjoyed our table, which was set off to the side, private and quiet.
Vintage and modern items give interesting focus.


Silverware waiting to be served.
Lovely fresh flowers.
My grouper, which was amazingly fresh, along with salad of avocado, greens, tomatoes, onions and mint.
Lobster roll and fries.
Grouper sandwich and salad.
Farm fresh table.


Winning Wish Farms berries from #hashed Food and Wine Conference contest

Two weeks ago, I attended the Food and Wine Sunday Supper Movement Conference. On the third day we had classes at the Rosen School of Hospitality and part of the day included a #Hashed contest which involved using CK Mondavi Wines, Wish Farm Berries and Cabot Cheese.

Our groups and we were challenged to make a cocktail with the ingredients  and also taking photos of it.

We were thrilled to win the contest with our Summer wine spritzer.

In addition to getting a ticket to next year’s conference, we also received a Wish Farms Berries Prize package. Wish Farms is based in Plant City, Florida, and has been growing berries since 1922.

Wish Farms blackberries on a lilac Spode plate.

So I’ve been waiting patiently for a week or so to receive my Wish Farms berries. They are actually the berries that we usually buy at local grocery stores here in Tampa Bay.

Blueberries on a plate from Royal Tudor Merry Old England.
Strawberries on a pink Willow plate from Churchill.
When I get berries, the first thing I think is How will I present them, and which plates will they look best on? Fortunately, I have many colors.
Fresh from the fields: All three berries from Wish Farms.
Summer means berries… And a time to celebrate.
















I have several recipes I want to make…  blueberry pie, strawberry ice cream, blackberry sorbet… But I made a mulled berry Sangria first.

For two weeks since the Food and Wine Conference by Sunday Supper Movement in Orlando in May, I’ve been waiting for the prize berries. I’ve been saving recipes on Facebook… What did I make first? Mulled berry Sangria.

It’s Officially Summer as Tropical Smoothie Cafe Celebrates National Flip Flop Day June 16

Since I started working with marketing for the local Tampa Bay Tropical Smoothie Cafe team, one of my favorite times of year is mid-June.

That’s because  everyone gets rewarded for wearing flip flops! And in Florida, that’s a no-brainer.

Some flip flop gals in the St. Petersburg cafe in 2016.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe started celebrating National Flip Flop Day many years ago, and offers a free smoothie to customers on that day!

Customers wearing flip flops on June 16 from 2 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Tropical Smoothie Café receive free, limited edition Sunshine Smoothie in 20th anniversary souvenir cup.


Here’s the press release:

Tropical Smoothie Café, the leading fast casual café concept known for its better-for-you food and smoothies with a tropical twist, is kicking off summer by celebrating National Flip Flop Day on Friday, June 16 at 16 locations across Tampa Bay, ” as well as hundreds of other cafe locations around the country.

“National Flip Flop Day creates a mini vacation from everyday life by encouraging customers to kick back and wear flip flops while enjoying a freshly made smoothie. Customers wearing flip flops into Tropical Smoothie Café between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. will receive a free, limited edition Sunshine Smoothie in a 16-ounce, 20th anniversary souvenir cup. There are no strings — or in this case — shoe laces, attached.

I decorated some of the tables in the Cafes with tropical colored plates, plants, tropical fruit and funny big sunglasses. (I must have been wearing the glasses when this photo was taken!)

Tropical Smoothie Café inspires healthier lifestyles by serving amazing


smoothies and food with a bit of tropical fun. The limited edition Sunshine Smoothie captures the taste of summer with a vitamin C-packed combination of orange, banana, orange juice, pineapple and mango.

“Bringing the community of the Tampa Bay area together to celebrate summer and enjoy a brand new tropical smoothie is important to us,” said Mike Rotondo, CEO of Tropical Smoothie Café. “For the 11th year in a row, we look forward to serving over 500,000 guests who will visit one of our cafés and celebrate alongside us on National Flip Flop Day.”

The Tampa Bay community is encouraged to share their experience on social media and can use the social hashtag for National Flip Flop day, #TSCflipflop.


For more information about Tropical Smoothie Café, including menu items and more, visit

Summer table in Florida starts with shells

In Florida, it’s summer. And that means, shells.

I’ve been starting to head out to the beach in the afternoon just to end the day, find treasures, chat with other beach-goers and watch the sunset.

In the past two years I’ve been visiting more beaches in Florida and really getting into shelling. Here, my giant vase of olives (middle), horse conchs (right),  jewel boxes (left), scallops (on platter) and whelks (on table).

(For more about identifying types of Florida shells, I Love Shelling is a great site.)

There are always shells on my patio – often times scattered across the table where I sort them after rinsing. So when I incorporate them into tablescapes, it’s because they are already there.


Here, I’ve added Cannonsburg cream basketweave dinner plates, Churchill salad plates,  glass bowls from Dansk.

My Butterfly Meadow Carved floats in the summer season

I was a lucky girl this past April when I randomly won an Instagram contest sponsored by Lenox, for four place settings of their newly-introduced Butterfly Meadow Carved to their everyday dinnerware line.  This is solid color pattern they’ve come out with after the popularity of their Butterfly Meadow pattern (here’s a photo of the tea set), which is white and richly decorated in pastel flowers and butterflies.

This latest Lenox pattern is available in aqua, white and grey. I thought it would be very “springy,” but here I have simply paired it with a paisley blue, grey and beige runner from Pottery Barn, and I think it has a very summer feel.

No telling what other combinations I will be able to create throughout the summer! Stay tuned!