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French Onion Soup

I am providing this recipe in the spirit of Café Margaux. Lee and I love this soup, especially this time of the year when evening temperatures dip to 50 or so….BRRR. Sometimes, to increase the vitamin content, I add diced tomatoes (fresh when in season or canned when not) and finely diced carrots, to the broth. Once I make these changes, we rename the soup to Solivita Onion Soup.

4 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
2 Tbsp Butter
8 Cups Thinly Sliced Onions (3 lbs approx.)
3 Cloves Garlic Minced
½ cup wine (port, or a dry red wine)
2 Cartons 32 Oz each Beef Broth Low Sodium
½ Tsp Pepper
¼ Tsp Salt
½ Tsp Herbs de Provence
1 French Baguette to slice and toast
¾ cups shredded Gruyere or Swiss Cheese

In a heavy bottom pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onions, cook and stir until softened, about 10-15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and cook stirring occasionally until deep golden brown. This should take about 30 – 40 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook a few minutes longer.

Stir in wine. Bring to a boil and cook until liquid is reduced by ½. Add broth, herbs de provence, pepper and salt to taste, and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered stirring occasionally for about 1 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice baguette and toast on a baking sheet. Turn baguette slices over and add shredded cheese to top and cook until melted and slightly browned.

Serve soup in bowls and float toasted cheese baguettes on top.
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Welcome to Real Estate 101: Determining the List Price for Your Home.

Every seller wants to get the maximum price for their home when selling their property. At Bella Verde Realty, we not only help you get the best price for your home, but as professional realtors we strive to partner with every client and engage each client completely in the transaction. We believe this philosophy is the key to creating satisfied, happy, knowledgeable home owners and sellers.

The sale price of your home is based upon many factors; the condition of the property, the COMPS (comparatives) in your neighborhood, and LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. If you already live in Solivita, your home is in a good location and a good neighborhood. The next factors used in determining the value of your home: the model, the square footage, the location of the property within your community, the condition of your home and the upgrades. The community of Solivita is known as a Production Community. Translation – a community with one builder, with set model homes. Example - if you own an Operetta Model Home, the base value of your home will be compared to other Operetta Model Homes. The next step an experienced realtor will take is to visit you and your property for a listing appointment. During this meeting a good realtor will come prepared with basic information on your home and your lot.

For example, a good realtor will know if you are on an oversized lot, on conservation, or a pond lot, or any other special lot features that may exist. During this listing appointment the realtor will do a walk-through of your home to review improvements and changes you have made, and the general condition of your property; both inside and outside. Your realtor will be looking to see the age of your roof, age and condition of your kitchen and bathrooms, age of your appliances, HVAC, plus any other updates to the floorplan. Once your realtor has completed their walk through, the above factors are considered and a value for sale will be determined. If you feel comfortable with the realtor and the determined price, the next step is to sign the paperwork and clear away any clutter; as your home will be on the market. Photos will be taken for the website and potential buyers will be viewing your home on the web and visiting your property with a realtor. A good realtor will take care of arranging all appointments and keeping you apprised of all developments.
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Day Trip to St. Petersburg

Looking for a great deli? If you go to Mazzaro’s in St. Petersburg, you have come to the right place. Mazzaro’s is not exactly the NY Italian Market of my youth but, about as close, as I have found in Florida. Growing up, great delicatessens were on every corner. The sandwich of my youth was an Italian Hero with fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, and broccoli rabe. After all, Mom always told me to eat lots of vegetables. The deli man would layer the lovely soft, warm and slightly salty, cheese on freshly baked crusty Italian bread, add a dash of olive oil, wrap the sandwich in deli paper and tie it with red and white butcher twine. I fondly recall the deli man reaching over the counter and handing me this delicious treat.

Mazzaro’s does make fresh mozzarella, and for an extra bonus, there is a well-stocked cheese department, so you can get all your favorite cheeses in one stop shopping. The grocery section of the deli is well stocked with a large selection of items ranging from fig jam to imported sundried tomatoes. The selection of groceries is quite extensive, the bread is fresh, and the bakery is always busy turning out cookies and pastries. You can eat in or take out. The deli also offers a nice wine selection and a great list of tasty, hot items. Lee and I make a day of it. Before doing our take home shopping, we buy a bottle of wine and enjoy a delicious lunch. After lunch we enjoy a fun shopping experience. We love choosing specialty items to enjoy at home, and to share with friends and family in Solivita. Mazzaro’s is a bit of a drive, but well worth the effort. If a day at a deli is not your thing, you can always spend the morning at the Salvatore Dali Museum in St. Pete and then drive over to Mazzaro’s for a snack. However, you plan your day, between the Deli and Dali, your day in St. Petersburg will be a true treat for all of your senses. You can visit Mazzaro’s Market online at

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Fun in the Florida Sun at Cocoa Beach

Recently some of our friends and family spent a few days out at Cocoa Beach at the Inn at Cocoa Beach. They returned, refreshed with glowing reports of the wonderful hotel and beach. The weather was perfect, the water was calm, the sand was soft, and the complimentary breakfast and cocktail hour served at the hotel delightful. The Inn at Cocoa Beach is beach front and an alluring area to get away from it all. The rooms are spotless, a bit small, but nicely appointed. Quite the treat to have such a great beach get-away within 70 miles of Solivita. Sarah, a family friend and self-proclaimed restaurant snob, made dinner reservations at Café Margaux in Cocoa. According to Sarah, Café Margaux did not disappoint. The entire group returned with reports of beautifully plated delicious food and good service. Sarah’s restaurant recommendations are usually on the expensive side, but we have never been disappointed in one of her picks. We have added this restaurant to our to-do list for the next time we find ourselves in need of a nice evening out in the Cocoa Beach Area. You can visit the Inn at Cocoa Beach online at
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Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a beautiful day to celebrate love and relationships. It is not just a day for couples to celebrate, but rather a day for each of us to celebrate our beloved relationships with friends, family, and neighbors. It is truly a day to celebrate all of those around us that we love and appreciate. The day originally started as a religious celebration but today has emerged, unfortunately like most holidays, as a day for the retailers to market the sale of chocolate, flowers, and gifts. Instead of concentrating on the commercial side of Valentine’s Day, Lee and I are planning a nice celebration embracing our love of each other and our circle of friends and family. We hope Valentine’s Day is a sweet day for you and yours.
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Snowbird Update

Snowbirds have arrived in Central Florida and are busy looking for new places to feather their nests in the warmth of Florida. If you are considering selling your home, now is the time. Just call, email or text us and we will be happy to perform a free market analysis of your home. Bella Verde Realty is always here to answer questions, provide insight, and help you make the right decision when you are considering the sale of your home.
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Mustard-Maple Roasted Salmon

Have you made your New Year’s Resolution to eat healthier? We have, and since it is only January, we have not yet lost our resolve. Listed below is a delicious recipe that we have both been enjoying: Mustard-Maple Roasted Salmon 2 TBSP Dijon Mustard 2 TBSP Finely Chopped Fresh Cilantro 1 TBSP Light Mayonnaise 2 TSP Pure Maple Syrup 4 – 5 Oz. Skinless Center Cut Salmon Filets Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Mix together the mustard, 1 TSP of the cilantro, the mayo and maple syrup in a bowl. Put the salmon filets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with ¼ Tsp each salt and pepper. Spread some of the mustard mixture evenly over each fillet. Bake until just cooked through, 10 – 12 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1 TSP cilantro and enjoy.
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Fun in Central Florida

During December we had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful historic Howey Mansion in the Lake County community of Howey in the Hills. This home, built in 1925 by William J. Howey, is set back on a wide lawn and was designed by Katherine Cotheal Budd and has become a Central Florida treasure. It is quite possible that the Howey Mansion is the only remaining example of Katherine’s work. William J. Howey was a land promoter and a citrus grower who used the fledgling citrus industry of central Florida as his economic base. William and Mary completed the plans for this home and by 1927 were residents of this lovely mansion. Unfortunately, the Howey Mansion had been long-abandoned and was in dire need of restoration until Brad and Clay Cowherd, Brothers and Florida Natives, waked in and decided to restore the Mansion to its former glory. Their father and grandfather were longtime participants in real estate development in Orlando and the entire family were frequent visitors to the Yalaha Area. The brothers had long planned to restore the mansion and, have taken great joy in restoring the Howie Mansion to the beautiful home it is today. The restoration of this lovely home is a labor of love that has been shared by the entire family. The family loves the home and says It is a privilege and honor to have been able to bring this lovely landmark back to life. This beautiful home is open for tours, an overnight stay, or as a venue for a private event. In addition, the Howey Mansion hosts a music series and seasonal events. Please visit the website and visit the home; I know you will enjoy it.
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Hooked on the Home Improvement Craze!

I am seeing lots of clients following the home improvement craze and re-doing a room or two in their homes. I have been keeping track of the re-dos, and the room leading the pack for the most renovations seems to be the Master Bath. The beauty of our homes in Solivita is every model has a generous master bathroom that lends to an easy renovation. Some of the renovations I have seen are simple - a tile change, a lighting update, or a shower door or mirror change, but I have seen a few extensive remodels. My informal survey tells me that every resident who has changed their master bath loves their redone space. Proving that whatever you decide to do, chances are you will love it. That is, once the dust has cleared. Gray seems to be the color this year; from gray walls to gray cabinetry, this color is still hot. Some of the changes that are quite popular are premium features such as dual showers, one-piece toilets, vessel sinks and floating built-in vanities. I personally love the look of the built-in floating vanities as this style also visually enlarges the size of your space. Seems that lots of mixed metal are currently in style, with gray mixed with matte nickel and polished chrome, shimmering glass and stainless light fixtures being not only popular, but stunning. Contemporary seems to be the way my homeowners are going with their renovations. After meeting with a few homeowners, their advice is to simply add or change your master bath to meet your wants for now but plan for your future requirements. Some homeowners have removed their bathtubs and replaced them with enlarged showers, some have added dual shower heads, rain showers, plus, I have seen one or two steam showers. The other change I see is the bathtub area being replaced with a linen closet, cabinetry, or a dressing table area. One of my homeowners replaced their built-in tub with a free-standing statement tub. Nearly one quarter of my homeowners have changed their bath layout, but every homeowner incorporated accessibility features into their new master bath. Some of the accessibility features include the installation of seats in the shower, grab bars in the showers and tubs, the installation of non-slide floors, and adult height toilets. These changes will not only enhance your daily life but will also increase the value of your home. The cost to renovate a bath depends upon the type of renovation done. The industry estimates you can expect a ROI of about 60% of your renovation cost therefore; do not renovate your master bath to sell your home but rather for your enjoyment now and the ROI later.
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Toy Drive for Foster Children

Our Toy Drive was a huge success! The children of GAL thank you and so do we. This year in addition to delivering toys, we had friends and neighbors bring hand-made quilts, gifts, and blankets for the children. We had friends donate and assemble brand new complete outfits of clothing, in various sizes for boys and girls, and Michele of the NBA pitched in and donated lots and lots of NBA licensed gear. Gifts came from near and far. Wow! How lucky are we and the children of GAL!! Our clients, friends, and neighbors in Solivita and the northeast came through again. A big thank you to each and every one of you. Bella Verde shopped, and shopped, and shopped again to keep up with your generosity. We all had some fun filling up the sleigh. Thank you to everyone who shopped, donated, helped, packed up items, and shared in the collection of gifts for these wonderful children. Santa’s sleigh was certainly full. Solivita is a beautiful community, but what truly makes it beautiful is the folks call Solivita home. Each of you add to the beauty of Solivita and the joy of living our life here.