Confessions of a Former Florida Girl: My Beach Bag Essentials

IMG_2703You can take the girl out of Florida and drop her in freezing cold Wisconsin, but you can’t take Florida out of the girl. I cannot go to the beach empty handed as a born and bred Florida girl. You need to bring sunscreen to reapply, money for ice cream on the pier, headphones, sunglasses, and so much more. It might drive my Dad nuts when when I haul all this to our yearly beach house trip to Ocean Isle Beach, NC, but a beach bag is a must with all that! Here are a few of my beach bag essentials that make every trip to the beach perfect.

glo minerals The Cherry Balm

My lips get destroyed between dry winters in Wisconsin and sunny summers in Florida. The lovely ladies at Velvet Waxing Studio in Madison introduced me to the incredible lip balm The Cherry Balm from glo minerals that has saved my lips from chapping or burning between my two homes. I never leave the house without The Cherry Balm. While you might get some weird looks when you pull this glue stick sized lip balm out of your bag, I promise it is worth the stares. The Cherry Balm protects lips with full spectrum SPF 15 and locks in the moisture with hemp seed oil, meadowfoam, and mango seed butter. The balm costs $14, but it has lasted me over a year. It’s done wonders for my lips, soothing and healing them when I first bought it December 2014 and kept them protected until I ran out of my first stick this past January. It is worth the investment and is a total must for your beach bag when you’re out there lounging in the harsh summer sun. Skip the cheap lip balm next time you’re at the drugstore and order The Cherry Balm instead. Plus, if you aren’t a cherry person, it also comes in mint.

Nyx Soft Matte Lip Cream

After I’ve protected my lips, I need to add some color to them. Yes, I’m that person that wears makeup to the beach. I think some eyeliner, mascara, and a pretty summer lip color brings the whole beach look together. My favorite lip colors lately are Nyx’s Soft Matte Lip Creams. They go on beautifully, and I adore their bright, summery colors like pinks and corals right now. Even after eating, drinking, and chatting during the day, the color lasts with little transfer until I wash it off at night. This one is San Paulo that offered a perfect pop of pink. There are 34 shades of Soft Matte Lip Creams, so I guarantee there will be at least one you will fall in love. They’re small and perfect to slip into your beach bag before you head out for some fun in the sun.

Kaitlin Kendall Design Donut Floppy Hat and Fancy Bands

Etsy browsing is one of guilty pleasures. I love supporting small, independent businesses, and I actually find a lot of them through Instagram and then follow the links to their Etsy stores. Instagram is a great place to find small businesses with unique, handmade products, and it’s also a great place to share your finds so others can support these shops too. One of my favorite finds is Kaitlin Kendall Design (@katiebowhead on Instagram). I saw her post about these handpainted ‘Donut’ floppy sun hats and I had to have one for our beach house trip. It was so cute and I got tons of compliments on it. It also fit perfectly and was perfect for shading my face and shoulders from the sun. Kaitlin (a fellow Florida girl) also threw in a couple knotted hair ties or “fancy bands” with the hat. These hair ties are great because they’re loose enough to not rip your hair out later, but tight enough to hold up against the waves when you go for a dip. She also has the hat in a watermelon design for an even more summery or spring feel.  I recommend checking out her Instagram or Etsy store to see her other gorgeous products like her bow bracelets, wristlets, lanyards, and headbands.

Cheers, Josie 


Buffalo Chicken Dip Blossom

IMG_2487My favorite recipes are the versatile ones. I love food that you can make in big batches to impress guests at a party or as small servings for just you to enjoy during a night in. My mom’s buffalo chicken dip is a great example of this, and I always beg her to make me some when I’m home for Christmas or the summer.

Mom’s buffalo dip is delicious, but takes a long time to cook in a big casserole dish, which doesn’t help when I’m craving it at that exact moment. Luckily, it’s made of pretty simple ingredients, and some tweaking and tossing it into a pan can make it a quick and easy snack for anytime of day. I made enough for two so I could stretch it to two meals, but you can easily double or triple the recipe to serve as many people as you like!

Buffalo Chicken Blossom 

Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 2


  • 1 cup of shredded chicken
  • 4 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup of chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 6 tablespoons of ranch dressing
  • 1/4 cup of mozzarella (optional)
  • 1 bag Tortilla chips


  1. Melt the cream cheese, hot sauce, and chicken broth over medium heat
  2. Add the paprika, garlic powder, pepper, and salt once the cream cheese has melted
  3. Cook until the mixture is creamy and all the ingredients are combined
  4. Mix in the ranch dressing and the mozzarella
  5. Add the shredded chicken
  6. Cook for another 5-10 minutes on low heat
  7. Place the chicken mixture in the center of your plate and arrange the tortilla chips around it, the pointed ends facing towards the dip
  8. Sprinkle some extra mozzarella on top of the dip for some extra cheesiness

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Cheers, Josie 

High tides and good vibes in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are one of Florida’s main tourist destinations, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to them, and the last time was probably 10 years ago. I guess distance really does make the heart grow fonder, and since I’ve moved to Wisconsin, I’ve wanted to visit more of the Florida attractions like Kennedy Space Center and the Keys while I’m home for the summer.


Grandma and I enjoying some frozen, chocolate dipped key lime pie and fresh key limeade at the Blond Giraffe

My grandparents bought a caravan last summer and decided to make a quick trip to Key Largo for some “glamping,” so we decided to tag along. We stayed at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and explored Key Largo. I had to make a trip to the Blond Giraffe for some chocolate dipped, frozen key lime pie on a stick and some fresh squeezed limeade. I also stocked up on key lime juice and cookies to bring back to Wisconsin with me this fall, so I don’t go through withdrawal. We also went to the famous The Pilot House Marina, Restaurant & Glass Bottom Bar for dinner so my Mom, Grandma, and Grandad could get their fix of seafood. I had just seen it featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives the week before, so of course we had to give it a try. The glass bottom bar was so cool, but we only got to enjoy it for few minutes before the torrential rain forced us inside.

My favorite part of the trip was our day excursion to Key West. While Tropical Storm Colin was drenching northern Florida, we were enjoying the sun in the southernmost point of the United States.


Lily, Mom, me, and Izzy in front of Ernest Hemingway’s House 

The best part of Key West was visiting the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum. For $13 (they only take cash), you can tour the house, property, and get a glimpse into Hemingway’s writer’s studio. Many people associate Key West with Hemingway, and even though he only lived there for about nine years, he wrote 70 percent of his works there. He used to get to his writer’s studio by the catwalk connected to the house. The catwalk was destroyed in a hurricane years ago and was never reconstructed, but you can still see where it once was. We learned that Hemingway would write 500-700 words from 6 a.m. to noon every day in his studio. I wish I could motivate myself to be that productive!

There are also 52 cats roaming the property that you’re encouraged to give lots of love and to pet. They have free reign of the whole house and grounds, and they take advantage of that. There was even a cat lounging on Hemingway’s original writing desk in his writer’s studio. Nearly half of the descendants of Hemingway’s cats are polydactyl cats, or cats that are born with unusual number of toes. This gene was introduced into the large family of Hemingway cats after he was given a six-toed kitten from a local ship captain. It was all I could do not to hide one in my bag and take one home with me.


One of the many six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway House

It was so much fun getting to spend a few relaxing days exploring the Keys with my family. Check out the rest of my photos from our week in the Keys at the bottom of the post. Now I’m in Ocean Isle Beach with my Dad’s side of the family enjoying the North Carolina surf and sun. Stay tuned for more of my southern summer adventures!

Cheers, Josie

Going Bananas for Banana Bread Bars

Bananas have always been an inside joke on my Dad’s side of the family. My Mimi doesn’t waste anything: tin foil, wrapping paper, and especially not food. It wouldn’t be Mimi and Papa’s home without a fruit bowl with very ripe fruit and at least one black, shriveling banana. Luckily, my cousin Luke decides to rescue the poor things and turn them into delicious banana bread.


It seems like my sisters are following in my Mimi’s footsteps, considering there were four black bananas pitifully sitting instead of hanging by our banana hanger. I hate bananas, their consistency freaks me out, but I adore all types of banana bread. When I saw the pathetic bananas laying there, I knew I had to do something. I’d seen a few recipes for banana bread brownies on Pinterest lately, so I thought it would be fun to give them a try.

I decided to make my own version by adapting several recipes, but not so much by choice. We didn’t have any regular sugar or all-purpose flour in the house. Come on people, these are basic ingredients! How do they survive when I’m at school? Luckily, I found I had Turbinado sugar and cake flour in the baking drawer. Since I was already curdling my own buttermilk because that isn’t a basic ingredient, why not give these substitutes a shot? It ended up making these banana bread bars even better than I imagined. They’re probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever made, mostly because it became my own recipe from scratch. The Turbinado sugar adds a molasses flavor and crunch to the bars, which tastes incredible with the rich brown butter frosting.


P.S. Making your own buttermilk is much easier than you think! Simply add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for about 10 minutes. I added an extra splash of lemon juice to the top of the milk to make sure it curdled evenly.

Banana Bread Bars

Prep Time: 1o minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total time:  35 minutes
Yield: about 2 dozen medium bars


Banana Bread

  • 1 cup of Turbinado sugar
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • ½ cup of butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cups of cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon of salt

Brown Butter Frosting

  • ½ cup of butter
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons of milk


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and grease a 13 x 9 inch pan.
  2. Beat together the sugars, buttermilk, butter, and eggs until creamy in a large bowl.
  3. Blend in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract.
  4. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and blend for about a minute until smooth.
  5. Spread batter evenly into pan. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. Cool until warm, then frost.

For Frosting

  1. Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, watching carefully.
  2. When it reaches a medium brown color, immediately turn off the heat.
  3. Whisk in a cup of powdered sugar at a time, adding a tablespoon of milk as it thickens.
  4. Add in vanilla.
  5. Immediately pour over the warm banana bread bites and smooth
  6. Let frosting set and cool completely before cutting.

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Cheers, Josie