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April 2016

Daydreaming and Key West

When we were first married,my parents called us one night and offered to run away with us for the weekend, to kick off our sandals and relax in the Florida Keys.  Today I’m dreaming of that trip, and celebrating some of the magic of Key West.

A favorite destination for Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffett, and many more, Key West is known for its palm lined streets and fish that is fresh enough to draw any committed culinary traveler. With a distinct mixture of cultures, the island is not only home to a strong seafood scene, but an enticing fusion of cuisines. After watching the sunset onto the Gulf of Mexico, Key West has a vibrant nightlife to keep you dancing till the sun comes back up.


key west street


The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own personality and attractions . The southernmost, Key West, is just miles from Cuba and is home to a temperate climate and a delicious array of fresh seafood set to a beautiful backdrop. Bringing together a multitude of cultures that have made Key West home during its history, Key West’s food scene has delicious flavors, like African and Cuban, that are difficult to find anywhere else in the US (and as a fairly-new-northerner, I can attest to this!).

When our family moved to the east coast, we were awed by the connection the fishermen have to the area, and as a result, the deep connection between fresh seafood and chefs and home cooks.  (I still melt when I think of this scallop recipe we created with the gems our friend walked to us from the dock.)

Paul Menta of Three Hands Fish in Key West is a guide to the restaurant and seafood landscape; as a professional chef and community advocate and a pro kite surfer, Paul is full of insight into the secret dining spots of Key West. A Philly native, he began his culinary career in Spain and France and eventually came to Key West to continue his love for competitive kite surfing.  His most recent venture, Three Hands Fish is a community supported fish market in Key West. Its members, chefs and homecooks, have access to the freshest fish, shrimp, stone crabs, and lobster that come in on the docks. As Paul describes it, the first hand is the hand of the fisherman, the second the market, and the third is when the fish makes it into the hands of the individual or restaurant. Paul is proud of his market as it brings local, traceable seafood to the people with plenty of variety to avoid over fishing a specific species. Key West has seafood unlike anywhere in the world and the crucial ingredient is the water. The Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Atlantic ocean making a perfect nursery for a plethora of fish, crab, and lobster. Like those who won our hearts in New Jersey, Key West fishermen have come together to create a sustainable plan for the future of their industry, naturally controlling overproducing populations that threaten to take over the ecosystem.

“Not only are visitors able to jump on the boat for themselves and go fishing in some of the clearest waters, but they are able to sit back and relax, knowing they can find the same fresh fish in local restaurants,” says Paul.

Paul suggests visiting The Stoned Crab restaurant, serving straight-off-the-dock seafood. They have Key West’s famous stone crab, and their fresh recipes are served with an unbeatable view of the water. Settled in a resort built in 1956, the restaurant keeps alive the tradition of the fishermen bringing their catches straight to their dock. For gorgeous accomodations, Paul recommends Ibis Bay Resort, which is home to The Stoned Crab and also has a retro feel, serving stone crab, lobster, Key West shrimp, and more local fish they catch themselves.

If we were headed to Key West tomorrow, I’d have to go for a ride on a private charter to catch the freshest fish for myself. Paul recommends Lucky Fleet, chartered by Captain Moe, to lead us on our adventure and help guide us in hooking the best seasonable seafood. Moe has been fishing the waters around Key West for over 30 years.  I’m not an experienced deep sea fisher, but we’re assured we’re in good hands with Captain Moe for a great adventure, not just a boat ride, whether we’re looking for sailfish to tuna or grouper.


Key West 4


After our cruise, I’d be to take a class at Isle Cook, where Paul will teach us how to cook local recipes and healthy meals with seafood.

“Being a chef and commercial fisherman I can tell you there is no better teacher of how to use, care for, store, cook and eat a product than a fishermen. They have ideas and techniques that most chefs would die for….but they have to ask… we spread the word to them,” says Paul.  I have to agree with him; I’ve learned my best tips for new foods to conquer, by working alongside the fishermen and chefs who know where their food is sourced.

I’d especially plan to try local specialties; native to Key West are the Hogfish, Mangrove Snapper, and Lion Fish. Paul’s favorite? The Hogfish. This fish is caught by spear fishing, which is a fun challenge to try (would I dare? Would you?). Speared yourself or not, Paul suggests serving the fish whole and affectionately calls it the Key West Turkey, stuffed with lobster, onions, and herbs. (Ok, next recipe to develop…)


Of course, we’d order Key West’s famous Key Lime pie… or I’d make this yummy spin I created for a beach picnic with a friend…




As Florida natives, we loved Key West’s conch fritters, native to the Caribbean, but Paul prefers to make grouper fritters. Fisherman of Key West are able to catch the grouper right off the coast, so this is a true local specialty.

Similar to the conch fritter, the grouper is mixed with onions carrots and a traditional Key West seafood seasoning by Key West Spice Company that is made of celery seed, salt, paprika, and red pepper. It is simple, but fresh grouper doesn’t need an overpowering of flavors. Once the batter is made, Paul fries the fish balls until golden and enjoys them inside of a sandwich or as an appetizer by the water.  Paul’s recipe is below.  I’ll be working on my own recipe to share, both gluten and grain-free; stay tuned!


Key West


This post is sponsored by Honest Cooking. Photos provided by Honest Cooking; personal anecdotes and dreaming are all my own!  Who’s ready to kick off their shoes and head to the Keys with me?


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Unite | Fellowship {Five Minute Friday}

Once a month I meet with a group of ladies for the purpose of challenge and encouragement, specifically in the area of encouraging other women.  Each woman in this group (including my daughter, the youngest by a decade), is in a place where God is calling her to speak words of life and truth into other women’s ears and hearts.  Together, we are reading Esther, mining the depths of this story to find truths for our daily lives.




Last time we gathered around my table, I got excited over a point of discussion and blurted out a comment, and my sweet friend quickly replied, “Hang on!  That’s not right!” about a point I made.  My process-aloud-personality had resulted in my mouth moving faster than my brain, and the statement I made didn’t quite line up with the truth we were discovering together.  It occurred to me in the moment, and I told the ladies around the table, that it’s a precious privilege to have the kind of sweet fellowship that allows us to safely think aloud, to speak challenge to each other, and to receive that challenge, pointed back to the source of Truth to re-discover for myself.  It takes trust, but trust built on the fruit of a life of honor (not perfection), to speak and to listen in that way.


This time together is painting for me a new picture of what it means to unite our hearts, genuinely, in friendship that is family.  There is gentleness tempered with boldness, and there is always a humility that says, “The world isn’t centered on me.  It’s centered on the One who made it, and the rest of the people He loves, and wants me to love in His name.”  That kind of mindset frees us to be real.


Do you have a “safe place” in kindred spirit friends who allow you to truly fellowship – meaning to challenge and encourage each other to think and act in love – genuine love?  If so, I’m dancing with you – because in these seasons, we get a rich illustration of the out-living of our purpose on earth.  Are you in a season where your Papa is calling you to unite more deeply with Him – putting your trust more completely in the One TRULY “safe” place?  Then I’m cheering for you – longing for your faith to grow – for your hope to be soundly placed in the unfailing Love of your soul’s best friend.


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{On Fridays I try to keep up with a wonderful group of writers who challenge themselves to free-write for five minutes on a shared topic. Click to Kate’s page Five Minute Friday to see what others are saying!}

The “Magic” of Church Programs

Not too long ago, Andy Stanley stirred up quite a controversy when he made a bold statement during a sermon, telling parents who go to small churches, essentially, that they’re failing to do what’s best for their children.  If they were genuinely doing what was “best” for their children, he advocated, they’d get themselves and their offspring to a big church, where there were lots of programs and people and “stuff” to entice them to church life (and hinting, none-too-subtly, that this church life would somehow keep them on the “right path” spiritually).  His statements went viral and incited frustration from many in smaller churches, who have experienced either the blessing of small fellowship or the potential frustration of larger groups.  I don’t disagree with them, although I realize we all, myself included, have a tendency to generalize based on our personal experience.  My frustration with his comments, though, ran deeper, to a basic assumption he seems to make about programming in general.  I haven’t seen anyone address it, but it’s been simmering, so I want to share some thoughts.  Andy makes an assumption that there is somehow heart-capturing “magic” in large, entertaining church programs.


We have an interesting situation in America at present when it comes to church.  Like our clothing, our food, our homes and our entertainment, we have countless options when it comes to finding a church “home.”  Even in the smallest mountain-towns, we can drive the winding roads and see multiple churches, some even of the same denomination, within a few miles of each other.  Like vacation Bible school and church picnics?  We’ve got that!  Sweet little ladies’ luncheons?  We do those.  Oh, you prefer loud music with a driving beat?  Smoke-and-lights and a state-of-the-art theatre-like setting?  You can find it.  A preacher who’s bold and loud and entertaining?  No problem!  Prefer a more somber, traditional setting with hymns and a written agenda for each service?  You can find that, too.  It’s like a buffet, and our options are endless to stuff ourselves with “church-ness.”  Instead of having our eyes on the complexity of God and the simplicity of the gospel, we so easily find ourselves looking at the people, the programs, and the potential to make ourselves comfortable on a human level, instead of looking to learn deeply and love even more so, in a setting that fosters a God-centered earthly example of who He is and how He works.


Generation Grace discusses this issue when he calls this method of choosing a church a “uniquely American” problem.  He also addresses an inherent belief that “programs make people love the local church.”  In speaking with others, I often hear them describe their church by the pastor’s personality, the music, the myriad options for social activities, and the decor, as we’ve served on staff at churches and as we’ve searched for a home church as lay attenders/future members.


Recently we were looking for a home church in a relatively new area to us.  We made a commitment as a family to visit several churches, researching them online first, and then attending together purposefully, sharing our thoughts prayerfully together as we looked for a new “home” church.  Each week when we drove away from a service we had visited, we’d discuss with our children our take-aways from the morning.  How was the sermon?  Did it focus on truth with the Bible as its central authority, or was it more the pastor’s thoughts, supported by a few verses?  Was the teaching un-apologetically focused on Jesus and the sacrifice made to save us from ourselves and draw us into relationship with Him, so we could walk alongside others the same way?  Were the listeners engaged?  Did the music have accurate theology woven in?  And how was the music?  Was it well done, creative, upbeat?  Were the musicians prepared and skilled in their craft?  Was the atmosphere aesthetically pleasing?  Were the people friendly and comfortable to be around?  Were the bathrooms clean?  And most of all, were there lots of programs with pretty posters advertising all the myriad options for entertaining, exciting opportunities for every age group, social status, hobby, life season, personality type and favorite food?  Uhhhhh… wait… somewhere this assessment took a subtle-not-so-subtle turn into stuff that doesn’t matter at all, eternally speaking.


big church thoughts


In truth, our family wasn’t looking to be entertained by every imaginable program.  But that’s because we’d been there, done that, and realized it doesn’t always translate to an atmosphere that fosters true growth.  (And to be completely transparent, it was and still is very easy for us to slip into wanting other stuff that’s comfortable to us on the surface, like right away meeting people who look, talk, and act like us.  We’re growing.)  We’ve learned along the way, though, that sometimes having too much “good stuff” actually distracts from what is most meaningful.  Just like having a welcoming home can turn too quickly into feeling a need to live in our own version of Chip and Joanna’s latest trendy and gorgeous redesign (oh, no coveting here, haha!), we can so easily put our eyes – and our expectations – on entertainment within the church.  And this becomes dangerous when that entertainment overshadows the One who wants and deserves all our focus.  It becomes more dangerous when, as kids used to fluffy songs and dance parties, we falter if we’re set in an atmosphere that lacks the entertainment.  When our faith is based on what’s fun and comfortable, it tends to falter when “fun” and “comfortable” are in short supply.

Tweet: Sometimes, having too much “good stuff” actually distracts from what is most meaningful.


This heart-felt response from Kimberly Cummings rang true with my own experience at large churches.  This doesn’t mean that all big churches are bad, just as all small churches aren’t.  God can work in any setting, as long as we are driven first and foremost for His glory and the love (His love) of others… love expressed in helping them “grow up” by growing deep in understanding who He is, through the teaching of His word.


I have spoken at mom’s groups on panels to discuss types of education, and among mamas who home-educated, mamas who sent their kids to public or private schools, I have said the same thing I encourage you to think about now.  Don’t parent your kids by default.  Don’t put them in the school up the road, or the youth group at your local church, because it’s what everyone is doing.  Do it if, and only, if it’s what you’ve researched, and prayed about, and fought for, because you know in your gut after a whole lotta prayer that it is what God’s calling you to.  Will you make mistakes?  Yep.  Ugh, I hate looking at the ones we’ve made.  It’s my prayer that my children will learn as much from my admission of my failures, from my asking God to help me learn and grow and start anew when I see where I’ve failed, as they would’ve had I been perfect.  Because ultimately, my children don’t need to learn from some entertaining Sunday school or preschool teacher, or some big summer outreach program, or even a super-awesome-band with light show and sound system singing praises.  Those can all be tools, but none of them is necessary.  We as parents and as leaders of youth don’t need to create some sort of “relevant” magical formula to win the hearts of kids.  That’s God’s job, and He’s been doing it completely and efficiently for countless generations.  Along the way, he used both talented and not-so-talented people to come alongside Him.  But to be clear, He didn’t need them or their talents.  He gave them a privilege to share those talents, back with the One who gave them.


Recently, a pastor’s wife told me about her morning with a room full of wild-and-wonderful little boys.  It was a dreary day and they were rowdy.  I happen to know this is a joy-filled and lighthearted woman.  But she told me there came a moment when she said to the kiddos she taught, “Ok, guys.  Now I need to teach the Word.  When I share God’s word, there isn’t any more fooling around.  It deserves honor, and we will give it.”  (My adaptation of her quote.)  How happy is my heart to know that a woman of influence in my son’s life cares more about the honor of the one true source of Truth, than about momentary favor with her young students.  Will they love her for being fun, and for laughing with them?  Of course.  But forever-speaking, as God calls to their hearts, they will love her for being a faithful giver of His word.  That’s the only thing that has the hope to transform them completely and forever.