Sunsets and Shrimp Salad

After 20 years away, I came back to live a life that’s “real” Florida in every way.


By Robin Draper

I think my DNA was tattooed “F-L-O-R-I-D-A” within the womb. Born and raised on Siesta Key, I spent idyllic days on sandy beaches at the water’s edge. The mangroves became my playground, the pine forests my getaway. Sarasota’s magical coastline offered calm, peace and serenity.

After college, I moved all the way across the country in California. It was good to discover a new place and new perspectives, but over the next two decades, I began to long to rediscover the people and places I so dearly loved. My return to Sarasota became a soulful mission, one I planned and worked for, to regain a missing part of me. And once I finally made the move, I resolved to explore and enjoy the “real” Florida I remembered.

We have so many treasures here, many of which are embedded in my memory like old photographs. Sunsets over the Gulf, the scent of orange blossoms, an afternoon rainstorm, a pink roseate spoonbill in flight or even the chance sight of a night-blooming cereus.

“Real” Florida is everywhere I turn. The stillness of a kayak ride, a hike through Myakka River State Park, sand dollars found in the receding tide, horseback riding on a cattle ranch, a secret beach, a flock of white pelicans or a plate of fish caught that very day.

Now I love to live “Florida” in all I do. My kitchen bustles with delightful dishes like roasted Gulf shrimp salad, a tomato-mozzarella tart, fresh Key lime or orange cream pie, stone crab, clams and more.

I relish my time in my garden, creating a landscape that looks and feels like Florida. I enjoy books and art that remind me of the state’s beauty. I also love exercising in the Florida outdoors—hiking, biking, paddle boarding, kayaking and even yoga on the beach. And my husband and I seek out authentic Florida experiences all over the state, including homes and communities that are rooted in our history.

For me it is more than a way of life, it is my life, and my constant source of inspiration.

Robin Draper’s Authentic Florida blog reports on food, destinations and experiences all over the state.