Birding: The Florida Big Week

The Big Year movie inspiring you to do some Florida birding?

An Indigo Bunting in St. George Island State Park near Apalachicola, Florida, did me in.

I was on a morning birding tour, and we racked up 46 different species within a few hours. A Big Day for me, but they had me with the brilliantly hued, hopping little bunting: I was officially hooked on birding.

It gave me a small taste, 1/365 to be exact, of what a Big Year must be like.

The topic of the nonfiction book The Big Year by Mark Obmascik and a recently released eponymous movie starring Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin, it follows the often comical chase of three obsessed birders trying to break records for the most species spotted in the U.S. from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 1998.

Birders at "Ding" Darling refuge on Sanibel Island

Sandy Komito, one of the book’s birders, won the Big Year that year with 745 birds. He continues to hold the record for number of species spotted in any given year.

The men’s slap-dash travels around the country bring them often to Florida, with its important way stops along the great American flyway migration route. Read more of this post

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The New Salt: Worth Its Weight

Is salt the new health food? Or just the latest trend?

The slim, dimpled, white platter held six different varieties of salt: vintage merlot, espresso, chipotle, truffle, Spanish rosemary, and garlic.

Each, applied by the pinch to my bransino Mediterranean fish, popped a new taste sensation at Sea Salt restaurant in Naples.

Sea Salt restaurant's retail salt collection

Call it salt-hopping or salting around, this trend by any name takes the tastebuds out for a spin.

Salt, often considered a culprit in the American diet, has nonetheless grown into its own gourmet food group.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, inNortheast Floridahas grabbed hold of the trend with a salt sommelier, Isabelle Chety, who doles out tastes of everything from citrus-infused salt to Chardonnay salt mixed with wine sediments from barrels at her family’s vineyard in France.

At the resort’s Salt, the Grill restaurant, Chety selects and presents tableside salts to enhance the flavors of each course.  Read more of this post

Warm Mineral Springs in Fort Myers

Days Inn in San Carlos Park offers more than meets the eye.

If you’re like me, you’ve driven past the Days Inn Fort Myers Springs, formerly the Springs Motel, a hundred times without a thought or even a question about why it was once called the Springs.

We’ve even stopped for a cold one between our drive from Naples and Fort Myers at the motel’s popular tiki hut. Still, I had no idea that a historic treasure lies in the backyard, just steps from the bar.

With a recent major renovation, Days Inn management has restored the mineral springs to their 1960s origins.

The story goes that oil-drillers made the one domed and other open-air pool happen. The 1,000 foot well they drilled evidently tapped into an artesian pool of hot mineral water.

Talk about "springing" a surprise!

It comes out at 82 degrees and smells of sulfur, but many believe it to having healing powers – particularly for skin, muscle, and arthritis problems.

For $5 day visitors can purchase a pass to lounge around and walk the ramps into the pools to relax. The dome over the round pool is next to be restored, said Front Desk Supervisor Laurie Brown.

“It was really a mess,” she said of the lawn area around the pools, now inviting with columns, tables, and fountains. “They put in all new landscaping and walkways.”

The second pool, rectangular with no covering, is better for sun-seekers and those wishing to escape the mineral scent and sediment of the round pool.

The Days Inn people, who took ownership in July 2010, also have plans to pipe music into the pools area and possibly reformat the adjacent building for spa or wedding use.

Guests at the motel will find affordable rates, a regular swimming pool, MarLiDa’s Diner, and the local’s watering hole under the great banyan tree.

239-267-7900, 18051 S. Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers.

Seasons 52 Naples Preview

Seasons 52’s time has come

Chef Cliff Pleau and Master Sommelier George Miliotes talk about Seasons 52 Fresh Grill as a culture.

“The point of Seasons 52 is as much about influencing the industry,” said Pleau, the senior director of culinary for the nationwide brand. “We have a higher purpose.”

“Still, despite our success, nobody else has jumped into the segment,” says Miliotes, director of beverage and hospitality for Seasons 52, with a bemused shrug.

Pleau and Miliotes were in town for a few days the end of September to help set up the latest Seasons 52 restaurant at the Mercato and train staff about the brand’s specific “culture” in preparation for an official opening Oct. 10, 2011.

Seasons 52 at the Mercato opens Oct. 10 in Naples.

That concept, developed by Florida-based Darden Restaurants – innovators of Olive Garden, The Capital Grille, and other successful chain brands – is built upon the cornerstones of freshness, seasonality, reasonable portioning, and good health.

Management boasts that no dish on the menu exceeds 475 calories.  Read more of this post

Sweet Melissa’s Cafe, Sanibel

Chef Talmage shares her path to Sweet Melissa’s Café.

A family that didn’t cook, a detour from law school, the September 11 crisis, Hurricane Katrina, and an untimely death: One might say that a series of curious events – perhaps even inescapable fate – landed Melissa Talmage in a restaurant on Sanibel that bears her name and has been called the island’s best.

“I didn’t come from one of those families that cooks all the time, and so

Sweet Melissa's fish stew extraordinaire

that’s how you learn to cook,” Talmage, chef at Sweet Melissa’s Café, told me recently during a short but rare break from the kitchen.

Instead, she came from one of those families that eats out all the time, so that’s how she learned a love of restaurants. Read more of this post