Westgate River Ranch – We visited a Dude Ranch!

We love to travel, and try to take (long) weekend trips as often as we can.  We usually head toward the beach, because it’s close, and there are many options with a coast being an hour in each direction.  We knew we wanted to go away for Colby’s birthday, but wanted somewhere other than the beach for my pale Irishman. He found Westgate River Ranch, and we immediately loved the look of it.  It’s showcased as an “Old Florida Dude Ranch”, and it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s about 70 minutes south of St. Cloud (between St. Cloud and Okeechobee), and in the middle of no where.  The closest grocery store or gas station is about 25 minutes away, so you most definitely get the feel of the “country” – for still being in Florida.

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We arrived, and were immediately taken with the “cowboy” theme – even the security guard letting us through the gate wore a cowboy hat and a badge. We went straight to the welcome center and checked in. Everyone was so nice. Since we travel quite a bit, my expectations of customer service is typically high, and sometimes disappointing.  Every single employee we came across as River Ranch was so friendly and helpful. We were meeting some friends there for the weekend, so the ladies at the front desk ensured our rooms were close, and easily accessible. The rooms were very cute, and also followed the western theme.  There was so much attention to detail, it was impressive. The rooms are spacious, and even though the resort is older, the obvious recent remodel made the rooms comfortable and modern.

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PicMonkey Collage

The property is huge, and to fully enjoy all it has to offer, we would recommend renting a golf cart.  My ONE complaint of this property, is the price of the golf cart rental.  $60 for 24 hours it pretty steep as far as I’m concerned, but we had a toddler and a very pregnant lady in our group, so we decided it was worth it.

The restaurant on property, Smokehouse Grill, has many options, a great view, and a very friendly staff.  Because we were there 4 days, they started to recognize us, and we had the same servers almost every day.  They were wonderful and took great care of us.  The food was delicious.  We were hesitant since there aren’t many options out there, but the burger and the chili were some favorites from our group. The prices are reasonable (especially for having a monopoly within 25 miles), and we never left disappointed.
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Behind the restaurant is a marina, where they have a boat ramp, as well as the option to rent boats directly from River Ranch.  They also offer Airboat rides for purchase, but we decided against that, as it’s a pretty common activity in our area.

The property offers a small “town” type area, with a General Store, a Western Wear store, a post office, a gym, and laundry center. The General Store offers many options, from snack foods, to meal options (mac and cheese, etc.), to bug spray and personal necessities.  Prices are a little steep, but it’s definitely convenient for an ice cream (especially when it’s HOT!), or a late night snack.  The general store also offers a little deli with sandwich and pizza options.
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There are so many activities, it’s hard to list them all! The kid’s pony rides (only $5!) and the petting farm were two of our favorites.  Our friend’s little girl loved this part! We were fortunate to go on a weekend where the property was practically empty, so many times it felt like we were the only ones there.
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The rodeo was awesome!  It’s only held on Saturday nights, and is a legitimate rodeo, with cash prizes for competitors.  People come from all over the state to compete, and the show doesn’t disappoint.  The rodeo has an “American Pride” focus with bull rides, barrel racing and novelty horseback riding – definitely worth the $15 admission fee (it’s only $1 to rent a seat cushion – do it!).  After the rodeo, there is a block party outside the arena, with a live DJ, dancing, mechanical bull rides, saloon specials and a campfire.
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We visited the pool as well, and while it’s not a spectacular pool area, it does its job and was perfectly fine.
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There are a few options to pick from when deciding where to stay at River Ranch.  We chose the resort area, but they also have glamping and Cabins.  Glamping is “glamorous camping” in enclosed tents with real beds and a portable AC unit.  We chatted with some guests who were glamping and they really enjoyed it, but recommended waiting until it was a little cooler to experience it fully.  The cabins looked beautiful, and looked to be perfect for those needing multiple rooms, etc.
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The property even has a beautiful little chapel, with Sunday morning services.
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Overall, we really enjoyed our time at River Ranch, and would like to try some of their different lodging options in cooler weather.  They should be proud of their staff for providing excellent customer service.  The property and the staff truly provided the “Dude Ranch” experience we were looking for.  Great job, River Ranch!

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Chili’s (knock off) Ranch Dressing

I love ranch. Like, a whole lot. Sometimes, I base my like/dislike of a restaurant, specifically on their ranch dressing. When my niece was little, she would dip carrots in ranch, suck the ranch off the carrot, and then re-dip the same carrot.  If that wasn’t considered socially unacceptable for adults, I would consider doing it on a daily basis.  I have yet to find a bottled ranch that I really like, trying various recipes over the years in attempt to find the perfect homemade ranch.  I was starting to think that it would never happen, and I would have to live a life of sad ranch-less happiness (at least I’m not dramatic!)

I finally found a recipe that I really, really like, and it happens to be based off of one of my very favorite ranch dressings – Chili’s restaurant. I read about their “secret ingredient” (pickle juice), and thought that sounded pretty gross. I love pickles, but am not a big fan of pickle juice on its own.  I figured I owed this recipe a chance, and I’m really glad I did.  I did some tasting and tweaking as I went, in order to nail down the perfect recipe. Here it is, my ranch connoisseurs:

1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s – lower carbs)
1 cup sour cream
8 tablespoons of pickle juice (I prefer dill)
1 tablespoon buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon parsley
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of pepper
4 tablespoons finely chopped green onions (optional, but I love the kick it gives)

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the mayo, sour cream and pickle juice.  Use a whisk to get all of the lumps out
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Add in the buttermilk, and whisk again
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Add the remainder of the ingredients and mix well
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For storage, I prefer a mason jar as it seals well – but any container with a tightly sealed lid will do
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As you can see, it makes a little over a pint.  This jar will usually last me a solid two weeks (I eat a salad every day for lunch, and on some other things along the way), and as long as it’s refrigerated, there shouldn’t be any issues keeping it that long.  It actually tastes better on day two, and even better on day three, and so on.  Hope you enjoy!

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Pantry Reorganization

I love looking at kitchens.  When we first looked at our house – the kitchen was a major selling point, and in our case, the pantry didn’t follow too far behind.

Once we moved in, we bought these huge, bulky shelves that over time just became junky and awful and terrible and we hated them.  We shopped around, comparing prices, and ended up selecting Home Depot’s ShelfTrack system. We really liked that the shelves were adjustable, making it easy to create shelves that were perfect for cereal boxes, and others that were perfect for canned goods.

Before we begin, I need you to pinkie promise swear this will be a judgement free zone as  this pantry was straight embarrassing…

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Gross. It was to the point where we couldn’t even walk in there.  Pretty pointless.

First, we cleaned everything out of the pantry.  We could have fed a small country with all of the food in there – it was ridiculous. (*Disclaimer: I’m not the hoarder of our house, but I won’t disclose who is…)

messy kitchen
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At this point, I was already dreading having to put it all back.  I despise packing/unpacking/anythingthatslightlyresemblespacking – and this was just way too similar.

Next, I had my studly handyman (who happens to have a problem hoarding…) start putting the track uprights on the wall.  We used two uprights along each wall, spacing them so that the shelves would be sturdy.  Brackets hook right onto the uprights, and the shelves sit on those brackets. We selected solid shelves versus the wire shelves, so smaller items didn’t fall through or sit unevenly.

At the end of the day, we ended up with this:
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I LOVED it.  It was so clean looking, and used this space much better than before.  I overcame my pure hatred of packing-ish (for an hour or so), and started loading the food.  We tried to have a method to our madness when putting food away.  We have shelf for baking supplies, a shelf for breakfast type foods, etc.  It definitely makes things easier to find. Our final product looked like this:
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Not a bad improvement! We left some space on the bottom for larger appliances/crock pots/etc.

The overall project totaled about $150, which we felt was pretty reasonable for the HUGE improvement to this space.

Welcome!

Welcome!

I’ve been talking about starting a blog that will help me to create, organize, discover and learn, for quite some time. Since I currently talk about the contestants on Big Brother like they are my friends in real life, I figure it’s time to get off my butt and start some useful projects.

I’ll share a little bit of everything:
– DIY projects (simple and more involved)
– Recipes
– Product reviews
– Travel Information/reviews (restaurants, hotels, cruises, etc.)
– Life

I’ve read that in order to have a “successful” blog, you should choose a “niche” and run with it.  Apparently, I have no desire to be successful (in the blog world, anyhow), and I’m going to go against this advice and do my own thing.  Sounds about right to me.

I hope you’ll check in on my corner of the world every now and then, and I look forward to sharing pieces of it with you.

-Stephanie