Recently we did our “every 2 – 3 weeks shopping trip” and discovered that our friendly neighborhood grocery store had pork loin on sale for $2.99 a pound. Decent price. However, to get pork at that price, you have to buy a piece the length of your arm. I may have short arms, but that’s still a lot of pork.
Thankfully, we have a large freezer. So once we got home we cut that thing up into four pieces and froze it. This week, one piece of pork drew the lucky straw to be dinner for a night or two! And I was feeling pork with a tropical vibe. So what story from my past would connect with that? hmm…
Giant grasshoppers in the Everglades
Years ago, when my brother Mo was playing first chair tuba for the Naples Philharmonic, my mother and I went to Florida to visit. She and I made a lot of trips to a lot of places, but this trip was unique. We arrived in Naples and had a nice visit, but we just stayed for a few days. For some reason I always feel like if you’re only vacation is visiting family, it’s not a real vacation. Not that I don’t love family, but it’s fun to explore new places and meet new people, too.
I then rented a convertible to drive across the state on “Alligator Alley.” Little did we know it was “Lubber Season”, when giant orange, yellow and black grasshoppers take over the Everglades. Let me tell you, that is not a pleasant time to be on the road. Those things were everywhere, jumping into vehicles, crunching under my tires. I had to use my wipers to keep my windshield clear! And they’re huge, sometimes 3” – 4” long! YUCK!
We stopped at the Miccosukee Service Station to get a drink. A huge semi pulled in next to us. We were mesmerized by the grasshoppers and trying to catch a picture of them standing still. I actually thought they were so pretty I’d wear one as a pin! In our excitement, we didn’t really pay attention to the three burly guys who jumped down from the cab of the truck. All of a sudden, one of the larger orange grasshoppers jumped (they’re not good jumpers or flyers) and landed on the shirt of one of the drivers. He screamed like a teenager at a horror movie and started swatting at his chest and running around in circles.
We couldn’t stop laughing. His friends tried hard not to laugh but later, when we were checking out at the register, we saw the three of them. Two imitating the screaming and the swatting, and one looking very embarrassed. Even big tough truck drivers have their limits, I guess.
A convertible in a hurricane
We continued on to Miami, stopping briefly for lunch, but clouds were rolling in, so we got back on the road quickly and headed south to our destination for the night, Sugarloaf Key. It should have been a 3-hour drive give or take, and it hadn’t truly started raining yet, so we turned on the radio and stopped only once at Knauss Berry Farm as we passed through Homestead. We just avoided a few drops as we got back into the car and put the top back up.
By Islamorada, the rain was coming down in buckets, with lightning hitting light poles on the side of the road, and visibility reduced to seeing just the lights of the car ahead of me. I would have pulled over, but I couldn’t see where we were and knew that much of this ride was right along the ocean. My mother’s recommendation?
“Just keep following the car ahead of you, no matter what!”
Talk about a white knuckle drive! What if the driver in front of me pulled into his driveway? This was worse than any snowstorm I’ve driven in back home. Eventually, the car did turn off and we got to Marathon which is a much larger key. It’s also much more civilized with big street signs, shops, and parking lots. I started to feel a bit better, but as we pulled away from Marathon, the sky got even darker. Street lights went on, and there was no one to follow ahead of me. Plus, if you know the Keys at all, I quickly found myself heading over Seven Mile Bridge! Yes, 7 miles of just bridge and ocean… nowhere to really go but forward… or over the edge!
I gripped the wheel tighter and slowed to a crawl. After 3 or 4 miles of this, my neck and shoulders were tightening up but I started to see a light ahead. Not the kind you walk towards in the end minutes of life, but way ahead, as in the sun was coming out somewhere ahead of us. We could actually see the edge of the storm as we drove, and by the time we got to Sugarloaf Key, the sun was shining, the palm trees were dripping, and life seemed a good thing once again.
Flashback to the 50s – Sugarloaf Lodge
The last time I’d been to the Keys was for a long weekend with a friend and we stayed at a nasty motel that smelled like a litter box and was full of mosquitos. This time I’d done a bit of research and it was worth it. My mom and I were staying for a week after all, no time for litter boxes! Still, we were pleasantly surprised by the Sugarloaf Lodge. All rooms overlooked Sugarloaf Sound. At the time they were rehabilitating dolphins, reintroducing them to the wild. The dolphins were accustomed to performing for people, and we were warned when we checked in, we could look out the window at them, but don’t meet their eyes! Tough to do when you just want to take a photo! One morning we woke up to see the sun come up over the sound and dolphins leaping into the air. It was beautiful.
There was a manatee rehab facility right next to the property and a marina on the other side that rents kayaks, canoes, and snorkeling gear. This area offers one of the best and easiest areas to paddle, fish, and snorkel, with a huge area of mangroves you can paddle through to birdwatch. These days they’re also offering yoga, painting classes and a lot more. After we checked in, we got dressed to go to their “supper club.”
This supper club and the adjacent disco is no longer a part of the lodge. Some things do have to change with time I guess. But when we visited it was your typical 50s kind of place at dinner time, with people dressing for dinner, and a lounge singer crooning oldies but goodies. We returned the next day for breakfast, and the “lounge” had been turned back into your traditional breakfast/lunch place with grits, pancakes and the rest. We were seated next to a window overlooking a huge man-made pool that connected to the sound.
The Good Family, acquired the property in 1973, and interestingly, it came with two resident Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, Dolly, and Sugar. When we had breakfast that morning, nearly 20 years later, Sugar was there, doing her show and playing with one of the sons of the family. He was in his 20s, and it was obvious the two had a deep connection. He and the dolphin had basically grown up together. It reminded me of the TV show “Flipper.” When I returned to stay at the lodge in the 90s, Sugar had passed away, but there is still a memorial in her honor.
And there’s a Tiki Bar!
When I returned for that long weekend in the 90s, the lodge itself had changed a bit. No more dinner club or disco at night, no more Sugar. But we did discover a cute little Tiki Bar out by the swimming pool. It was the perfect way to relax after a long day of wandering the streets of Key West. A perfect view, and a perfect setting for sunsets. If you’re heading down that way, I’d definitely recommend it. Not too far from Key West but much less crowded and definitely a respite after the craziness that can be that furthest point on Route One.
But Tiki Huts remind me of tropical and here’s the recipe I created for dinner tonight!
Tropical Pork Loin in the Crockpot!
- 1 ½ lb pork loin, trimmed of fat
- 3/4 cup apricot/pineapple jam
- 2 1/2 TB pomegranate vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- ¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tsp olive oil (plus 1 TB for browning the meat)
- ½ TB dried basil
- 3/4 cup hard pear cider
- 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- Cooking spray
- Heat 1 TB of oil in a large dutch oven
- Brown the pork on all sides (this helps to retain moisture during cooking)
- Whisk together the rest of the ingredients until well mixed
- Spray the inside of a large slow cooker with cooking spray.
- Set the browned pork loin into the cooker
- Pour the whisked ingredients over the pork
- Cover and cook on medium for 5 hours
I served mine with Coconut Jasmine rice. The juices are perfect to pour over the meat and rice.
You can also add extra dried apricots or unsweetened pineapple chunks if you really want to go fruity! It makes enough for 4 or more servings!