Monthly Archives for May 2018

Crab Cakes – The Perfect First Meal


Article by Guest Blogger, Deb Panos, first published February 23, 2016 here

Fact:  Everyone loves crab cakes.  Ok, maybe not a fact.  But, for most people, they are a delicious treat.  And so easy to make.  I think people shy away from crab cakes because of the cost of quality crab meat.  Yes, it is not cheap, however, home made crab cakes are much cheaper than restaurant crab cakes and many times, better.

I highly recommend getting your lump crab meat from Costco.  It is pasteurized and in the refrigerated section – where the cheese is.  I’m really not sure who else has it but I’m guessing it is not exclusive to Costco. I think the price hovers somewhere around $20 a pound.  I hear you.  That is more than beef tenderloin.  Keep in mind that one pound of crab meat makes 8 generous crab cakes.  So, for about $5 a person, you have a delicious meal.  Under no circumstance should you use canned crab meat (where the canned tuna is).  You will not be happy.

I love the taste of crab so I like to keep my crab cakes basic.  Here’s the recipe I use.

Crab Cakes

3 slices of white bread, cut the crusts off and crumble or cut into small pieces.  You can even use a food processor to make fresh crumbs if you want
1 egg
6 T mayo (sorry, but please use Hellman’s – crab meat is too expensive to use anything else)
1 T fresh parsley (I have omitted this without serious consequence)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 T Dijon mustard
1 t Old Bay
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound lump crab meat

1.  Make sure there are no pieces of shell in the crab meat but try to keep the lumps as large as possible.
2.  Add all the remaining ingredients and gently toss until blended.

At this point, I put the mixture into a plastic storage container.  Don’t use a bag for this because you don’t want to break up those delicious lumps.  You can do this the day before you travel but I wouldn’t recommend any earlier.  Honestly, as simple as this is, you could do it the morning of departure.  Or, take 5 minutes and do it at the beach while your rice is cooking.

Your rental unit will probably have a cookie sheet, but you will absolutely want to bring parchment paper.  Not waxed paper.  The parchment paper serves two purposes.  One, it will prevent your crab cakes from sticking to the sheet.  Two, clean up is minimized since you just toss the paper.  You can just tear one baking sheet sized sheet and bring that.  No need to bring the whole roll.

3.  Form into 8 equal sized cakes, place on parchment papered baking sheet and broil until nicely browned and heated through.

If you like tartar sauce, by all means bring some.  I could go either way.

Crab cakes are very rich so it is possible that someone will only want one.  (I know…crazy!).  There is no better lunch than a crab cake sandwich.  Just warm gently in the microwave or a skillet and put on a bun (toasted if you are feeling ambitious) with some tartar sauce and lettuce and tomato.  Just the crab cake on a plain bun is not bad either.  Neither is just a leftover crab cake on a plate.

I haven’t tried it but I think crab cake eggs benedict would make a great breakfast.

Rice Pilaf is the perfect side dish to Crab Cakes.  You probably have a favorite recipe but here is the one I use.  You can make this a day or two ahead and reheat in the microwave for that first dinner.  Of course I know that everything tastes better when freshly made but we are on vacation after all.

Basic Rice Pilaf

1/2 cup orzo
1/4 cup butter
1 onion, diced
1 cup rice (I don’t normally use Uncle Ben’s but I think it works best here and seems to reheat better)
2 1/4 cup chicken stock

Brown the orzo and onion in the butter.  You don’t want to burn it but you do want to nicely brown the orzo and onions.  Add the rice and broth, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.  The Uncle Ben’s takes less time to cook which prevents the orzo from overcooking.  Regular long grain rice takes longer.

After the rice cools, you can put this in a bag or plastic container.

Both the rice and the crab mixture will go in the cooler the morning of departure.

Add to this some salad greens with your favorite dressing.  Here is a dressing that I like.
I use a Magic Bullet and then just put the lid on for travel.  If you want to get fancy, add some cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1T garlic – a couple of good sized cloves
1/4 cup balsamic
2 t brown sugar (light or dark) – I think this makes less expensive balsamic taste better
1/2 salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t Dijon
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Put the garlic in the Magic Bullet ( or chop by hand).  After the garlic is finely minced add the balsamic, brown sugar, salt, pepper and Dijon.  Blend well.  Add the olive oil and blend until nicely thickened.

Open a nice bottle of white wine and enjoy that first beach meal on the deck listening to the waves and watching that beautiful sunset!

Deb Panos and her family own a vacation rental in scenic Fort Morgan, Alabama.

For more tips from Deb, visit her blog at
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Eating Well on Your Beach Vacation

alavhr eat healthy fort morgan

Article by Guest Blogger, Deb Panos, first published September 16, 2016 here

As I sit here, working on a menu and developing a shopping list for our next beach vacation, it dawned on me.  Someone really needs to develop a comprehensive guide for planning meals at a beach (or anywhere really) vacation house or condo.  Maybe someone has already done it but I couldn’t find it so I nominated myself.  Keep in mind, this guide is really for those people that drive to their destination.  If you fly, it is a little harder to prepare to this degree.

So what was my motivation?

“At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner…”

When we go to the beach, our favorite time of day is sunset.  We take a few simple snacks, a bottle of wine and our beach chairs and sometimes sit on the beach and gaze at the horizon until well after sunset.  At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner.  Our kids are grown now, but when they were younger, it presented even more of a challenge.  Plus, typically we are staying off the beaten trail so going to a restaurant involves a 20 to 30-minute drive.  Not to mention the cost of eating out for a week.

“Planning ahead is crucial”

However, we are not a “box of pasta and jar of sauce” family.  I love to cook and my entire family loves to eat and appreciates good food.  Plus, when at the beach, we have access to fresh seafood (caught that morning) that we simply cannot resist.  Eating well on vacation, to us, enhances the experience tremendously.  I do realize that this approach is not for everyone.  Many people consider cooking a chore and really want to avoid cooking on vacation as much as possible.  I get that. Maybe I can change your mind.  Just a little.

Planning ahead is crucial if you want to prepare fast, delicious meals at the beach.  I am excited about spending a week at the beach so it doesn’t really seem like work.  More like vacation prep.  Kind of like packing.

It is also helpful to plan your menu for the week and be sure to include dinners out.  You want to be prepared but you don’t want to bring a ton of food back with you or even worse throw it away.  Also, be sure and find out if you’ll have access to a grill.  Gas or charcoal?  If it is charcoal, I wouldn’t haul charcoal from home.  For two reasons.  One, a bag of charcoal takes up a lot of valuable car space.  Two, there is a good chance that the previous renters left behind their charcoal.   Use that.   If no grill is available, consider heading to the local Walmart and buying an inexpensive charcoal grill.  You can leave it for the next renters.


Casseroles (like lasagna) can be prepared ahead and frozen.  Meats can be placed in plastic bags along with marinade and frozen.  Baked good, like cakes and cookies, can be made ahead and frozen.  Or, if you like your cookies fresh from the oven, prepare the dough and freeze that.  I like to review each recipe and make sure I take whatever spices and staples I need.  Otherwise, be prepared for sticker shock when you go to the local grocery store for your favorite spice.  Assuming they even have it.  I even go so far as to measure out the exact amount I need and put it in a resealable plastic bag.  If a recipe calls for multiple spices, by all means, combine them into one bag or plastic storage container.

I try and take small sizes of Dijon, olive oil, vinegar (you’ll probably need that if you steam seafood anyway), mayo, ketchup etc.  Partly because I know I can buy it for less at home but also I like to keep my local shopping list as short as possible.  I also buy one of those disposable salt and pepper sets.  Don’t assume your rental has a Keurig.  Bring ground coffee.

“You’ll want to keep it ultra-simple”

Since the first dinner will likely be on a travel day, you’ll want to keep it ultra-simple.  Last trip, I premade crab cakes (did not form them, just mixed the ingredients together) and brought along a boxed rice mix (not something I normally use but it is vacation after all) and a box of salad greens.  I also premade the dressing.  Alternatively, I could have made a rice pilaf and just reheated in the microwave.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, after unpacking, checking out the beach and toasting the beginning of a wonderful vacation we were not interested in getting back in the car to go out to dinner or spending a lot of time preparing.  I formed the crab cakes and broiled them (parchment paper comes in really handy here – just bring one sheet, not the whole roll), made the rice and added dressing to the salad.  Super fast.  Super tasty.  If you have access to a Costco, their pasteurized crab meat (in the refrigerated section) is excellent.  It isn’t cheap but it is less that you’d pay at a fish market.  And it is less than eating out.


I’m excited to share how we prepare for and enjoy great meals on our beach vacations.

Deb Panos and her family own a vacation rental in scenic Fort Morgan, Alabama.

For more tips from Deb, visit her blog at
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Book Direct with ALAVHR and Avoid Booking Fees on Your Next Alabama Vacation Rental!


It’s no secret – the vacation rental industry has changed dramatically over the last few years and not for the better.  These changes negatively impacted both the traveler and vacation rental owners alike.  As a result, more and more owners are leaving the online travel agencies (“OTA’s”) and listing their properties on regional sites like Alabama Vacation Home Rentals, where there are no booking fees and no commissions.   Most regional websites charge owners much less to list their properties and travelers pay absolutely nothing!    This is how the OTA industry actually started – before they got greedy!

Alabama Vacation Home Rentals (ALAVHR) is a pure and simple listing site that connects travelers and vacation rental owners. We believe in open and direct communication between owners and travelers before, during and after the booking.  In contrast, OTA’s want to control the process by making the rules to their benefit, at the expense of the traveler and owner.   The reason that OTA’s block communication between owner and guest is simple, they want their money.

On February 7, 2018, we participated in the first ever “Book Direct” day. Vacation rental owners, hoteliers and industry related websites are coming together as one common voice to educate travelers and guests to inform them that there is an alternative to the OTA’s.  Looking for tips on how to #BookDirect safely?  Read our article here.

BookDirect to Save Hundreds of Dollars On Your Next Vacation Rental!

So say NO to VRBO!  Other OTA’s that will gladly take you hard earned money are: AirBnb, Flipkey, HomeAway, Booking, etc. All of these websites will charge both the owner and traveler very high fees. Buyer beware!  Ask questions and read the website!   Some sites, like Booking .com, try to hide their fees as commissions tacked on to the owner cost.  In the end, the traveler pays more for the same vacation and often times, the owner makes much less on their own property that the OTA’s.

Why pay more for the same vacation rentals?

Booking a vacation rental on a no fee-listing site can save you money, sometimes hundreds of dollars! Yes, hundreds of dollars!  At Alabama Vacation Home Rentals:     Our pledge to you:  We do not charge a traveler fee and never will!

Receive personalized service.

Vacation rentals are not hotels.  Each one is unique.  In fact, not every vacation rental is for everyone. Booking direct with an owner or property manager allows for open communication so that you can ask important questions before you book.

Want the inside scoop?  Owners are local experts who know their destination the best, the attractions,, the restaurants, the vendors, the happy hours the discounts, etc., and are more than happy to share with you their insider local tips.  Remember, owners genuinely want your repeat business and will go the extra mile to ensure you are happy and enthusiastic enough to come back and tell your friends.   Many owners appreciate returning guests so much that they offer special perks or discounts.

Receive the best possible price.

The cost for an owner to list their property on the OTA’s has become increasingly more expensive.   While many of these OTA’s want you to think that they are offering you the best possible price, the fact is they are not.   Owners have no choice but to pass the increase on to travelers.   Your cost goes up!    Speaking directly with the owner guarantees you the best possible rental price, access to special offers and/or last minute cancellations deals.

No fee regional listing sites are gaining in popularity.  Alabama Vacation Home Rentals  (a member of Vacation Home Rental Network) is one of them.  Owners and travelers can make a difference by spreading the word that there is an alternative to VRBO, HomeAway, AirBnb, Booking etc.

You have saved all year for your vacation, so save some of those hard earned dollars for enjoying your vacation and not lining the pockets of a big OTA.  Make sure it is your perfect vacation rental BEFORE you book.

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3 Ways to Bring Families Closer Together on Your Next Beach Vacation

alavhr grandpa with boy at beach

With so much of our time today spent disconnected through electronics and social media, it’s important to set aside a weekend or even longer to relax as a family.  A beach vacation is the perfect way to time to spend together and really connect. Here are a few tips to help make the most out of your time together.

3 Ways a Beach Vacation Can Bring Families Together

1. Get Everyone Involved in Making Decisions

Use the time planning your beach vacation to start getting everyone involved and excited.  Ask your children to choose one or two activities they are most looking forward to on the visit.  Once you arrive, even young children can help with finding the best spot on the beach, or send teens on an “adventure” –  a list of important shopping items bring back to the beach house.  Family members will feel more involved as they contribute to the trip’s success.

2. Create Unstructured Time Together

If your family members’ daily lives are crammed full of extracurricular activities, work, school, and other important obligations, finding time to relax together is tough.  While at the beach, it’s easier to sit down to meals together, enjoy the sunset, go for walks, build sandcastles, look for shells and simply enjoy each other’s company.

3. Plan a Family Adventure

Whether learning to knee board, looking for starfish, going zip-lining, deep sea fishing or parasailing – the beach provides ample opportunities for your family members to bond together by helping each other make it through new and challenging adventures. Sharing new experiences creates memories you will treasure long after you leave the beach.


To learn more about how renting a beach house or condo can be fun for the whole family, contact Alabama Vacation Home Rentals based in Daphne, AL.  With hundreds of rental homes along the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Dauphin Island, Mobile, Fort Morgan, and Fairhope, they can help you find the perfect family getaway. To learn more about what they have to offer, call them today at (251) 333-6500, or visit their website to see their beach houses and condo listings. 

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