Bonita Springs, Florida

My family has roots in Southwest Florida. On both mom and dad’s sides. So going down there isn’t so much a vacation anymore as it is going home.

My favorite part about getting down there is the gulf air smell that hits you when you step out of the airport. It’s always a windows-down ride to our house.

The upside of going somewhere home in a vacation-y setting, is you can do absolutely nothing. Or you can do everything.

As a kid, we were pretty active. It was tennis, golf and beach every day, all day. Now, I don’t beat myself up for sitting on the couch with the doors and windows open.

I had my heart set on fishing this trip – and we actually managed to get our butts out the door. We headed to been-there-forever Master Bait & Tackle on Bonita Beach Road to rent a couple fishing poles and walked out of there with three dozen live shrimp.

Take a second and read that shop name again.  Cheeky, right?

I love fishing. Even better – fishing that actually pulls fish up. We’ve been on fishing ships with a bartender-turned family friend, self-dubbed Captain Vince, in the past. He boats us out to the highly populated fish havens in the gulf, baits the hook, and helps us reel the fish in. It’s idiot proof, and he does all the legwork. We are almost always guaranteed a fish, or two, or three to bring home. After he guts and filets them, of course.

I had my doubts I’d be able to reel something from the key waters on my own without the help of a fishing pro. I was happy to say I was wrong. After a couple hours of re-lining caught hooks and assessing the intentions of several large birds who decided to watch this clown show, we caught three.

mattbird

I had my suspicions one of the Sheepshead fish we caught once, was the same fella the second time around. But who can know for sure.

meandfish

Note to future fishing self – have a local fishing chart handy with size minimums. I couldn’t be sure if the ones we pulled up were large enough to keep, which apparently they were, according to the guys at Master Bait & Tackle after a quick debrief.

It would’ve taken an extra second to do the research on my iPhone, but we were flanked by an aggressive Egret who was eyeing the shrimp bucket. I worried one look away would’ve been bye-bye bait. Or bye-bye my eyeballs.

Because we went home without fresh fish in hand, I took the 21st century approach to acquiring seafood. Specifically, buying local-caught clams and salmon from the fish shop with my credit card.

I knew what I wanted to make. I’d been salivating over both these recipes since I thought them up. I felt an instinctual hesitation to combine raw egg with shellfish, and parmesan with salmon, but they were home runs.

Lemon was the key ingredient in both. So necessary to cut through the bacon, butter and cheesy richness of the carbonara. Same deal with the fatty salmon and sour cream caper drizzle.

I had fun cooking that night in my parent’s kitchen. But the other meals, we had covered.

We went out to dinner at a local Hibachi place, Tokyo Bay, because I had a flashback to Michael Scott’s trip to Benihana post-breakup around Christmas-time. Our chef, Beto, did not disappoint.  Another night, after some outlet shopping, I ate Culver’s for the first time. I had their butter burger, an Oreo concrete, and most importantly, I had cheese curds for the first time in my life. We went to Doc’s Beach House, too. It’s been there since the paleolithic era, and I have such good memories associated with it.

Altogether, this was not my typical eating routine – I cook dinner every night. That’s what vacation will do to you. With the help of a quick Delta flight, and some sunshine, vacation allows you to throw your obligations out the window.

And make it OK for you to do exactly what you’re feeling like doing. Whether that’s all the things. Or nothing at all.

Salmon Carpaccio

 

Salmon Carpaccio

Serves 2.

I N G R E D I E N T S

  • 1 lb. filet of fresh, fatty salmon
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 / 4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon capers, plus 1 teaspoon caper juice
  • 4 oz. parm reg
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish, if desired
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. With a thin, flexible knife, shave thin slices of the salmon and place them on a platter. Continue to shave until most of the meat has been removed from the filet, cutting off dark red pieces of the salmon for better presentation and taste.
  2. Cut the lemon in half. Combine the juice from half the lemon with the sour cream, capers, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, and a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Stir to combine and set aside.
  3. Cut the remaining half of lemon into slices. Arrange them on top of the salmon. Pour half the sauce over the top of the salmon, saving some for additional use later, if desired.
  4. Shave the parm reg over the salmon, and sprinkle with minced parsley, if desired. Garnish with cracked pepper as well, if desired.
  5. Serve room temperature.

 

Linguini with Clams Carbonara

 

Linguini with Clams Carbonara

Serves 2.

I N G R E D I E N T S

  • 1 / 2 lb. linguini
  • 1 / 3 lb. bacon, small diced
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 dozen clams, washed and rinsed
  • 1 / 3 stick butter, salted or unsalted
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish
  • 2 eggs, whisked, plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup parm reg, shredded

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Boil a pot of water, and cook the linguini according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
  2. In the meantime, brown the bacon in a large sauté pan. Once browned, add the garlic, and sauté on low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the clams, the cup of reserved cooking liquid from the pasta, butter, lemon juice, and cover. Steam the clams on medium heat for 10 minutes or so, until the clams have opened. Remove any clams that didn’t open from the pot.
  3. Off the heat, add the pasta, parm reg, and 2 whisked eggs. Using tongs, stir the pasta until the sauce is thickened and the cheese has begun to melt.
  4. Plate the pasta, topping each with an egg yolk, garnish with lemon wedges, and sprinkle with parsley, if desired.