What You Need to Know about dining and shopping in Walnut Creek (Italian Recipes too!)

What You Need to Know about dining and shopping in Walnut Creek (Italian Recipes too!)


Was fortunate enough to spend the day with my dear friend Denise last week to celebrate her birthday. Denise and I met over 15 years ago in a meditation class at St Isidore’s. She is a woman of many talents, yet I love her for her intimacy with God and the Church. Denise is a go getter always involved with the latest philanthropy project. What I love about her is that she is somewhat of a spiritual advisor, helping me get through tough times. I have my faith, but it is nice to have a friend to lend an ear and offer guidance when I need it. I adore her and her husband Don and son Brian and thoroughly enjoy our lunches together.

Neiman Marcus Restaurant is where we decided to meet to celebrate her special day. It’s fun to walk around the store and oogle over their displays. It’s almost Easter so there are exhibits of Godiva’s chocolate eggs and stuffed bunnies everywhere which totally gets you in the mood to shop. The children’s section looks perfectly adorable showing little stuffed zebras and miniature pianos something for every child.

Denise and I arrived at about the same time and greeted each other before having a seat in the cafe’. She was smart to have the ($10 per car) valet park her car so she didn’t have to walk far. I like to get a walk in any chance I can and was able to find the only free 3 hour parking garage with a parking place available. Score!

Neiman’s offers a hot cup of consume when you are seated which was a nice touch. We also were treated to hot popovers with strawberry butter. They weren’t served hot and the butter wouldn’t melt, so our gracious waitress brought us new ones straight from the oven. I was hoping to order their crab salad, but was disappointed to learn they didn’t offer that dish anymore. Instead I had the sauteed salmon filet served w a ginger scallion brown rice w edamame, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccolini in a shoyu-chile vinaigrette. It was cooked perfectly, hearty, colorful and delicious. Denise went for their cabbage soup since she wasn’t very hungry and we were able to take a photo of it after they so consciously wiped the bowl for us. I had mentioned my friend was celebrating a birthday, so expected them to bring out something. Instead they proceeded to make us feel like we needed to order a dessert (which we did). Denise was excited to try their warm chocolate chip cookies. After all that, our waitress also brought out a complimentary banana cake with whipped cream. But we were charged $5.50 for the cookies! It was a little sneaky of them to go about a birthday dessert this way if you ask me, but we were dining at Neiman Marcus and they are known for their high prices. We each had a glass of wine because of the occasion and loved having a quiet lunch together. Over all, we had very nice service, the food and wine was good but a little pricey, the total meal was $70.91 not including tip. The important part about the day was that Denise enjoyed herself and I believe we achieved that. It truly is a one of a kind dining experience and I will go back for special occasions.

A little walk around Walnut Creek was what came next as we proceeded to The Red Box a local women’s and men’s clothing store. Denise has been working with Mojde Esfandiari the owner for their upcoming spring fashion show and luncheon. This event is raising money for the Danville Women’s Club to help kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford college get scholarships. It promises to be a wonderful event and I am planning on going. Modje’s clothes are one of a kind, unique collection of apparel, shoes and handbags many of them European. I wanted one of everything and will definitely go back to try on a few things. It’s nice to know that people like Modje with her clothing line and Denise with her time, are giving back to the community in these charming ways.



One more highlight of the week was entertaining our great nieces Terra 51/2 and Tamra 3 yrs old. Their mommy Tammy and husband Tim are due to have the baby any day, so my husband and I were happy to lend a helping hand for the afternoon. The girls loved being read to, enjoyed running around at the park and snacking on our picnic on a ideal day like last Sunday. Luckily, the weather was warm and we were able to walk to a nearby park. Of course our home is full of love when we get to care for our nieces and nephews kids. How fortunate Ken and I are to have large extended families living nearby.


I will leave you with a nice meal you can make for your own family. Our great aunt Nita and uncle Ted in Point Arena taught me how to prepare polenta many years ago and it has become a staple weeknight meal. They are unfortunately not with us anymore, but their recipe lives on.Here’s a blog from our time spent with them a few years back.

Italian Meatballs, Marinara and Cheesy Polenta



Meatball ingredients:


1 ½ lbs 90/10% fat Ground Beef

6 large cremini mushrooms sliced

1 red or yellow bell pepper chopped

½ white onion chopped

3 cloves minced roasted garlic or fresh

½ C Marsala

1 t herb de Provence

½ t ground bay leaf

1 t Kosher salt

1 t ground pepper

1 t ground parsley

½ C parmesan cheese

¾ C dry toasted bread crumbs (I used toasted leftover biscuits)

½ C Milk

½ C Ketchup

½ C BBQ sauce (I used Korean)

1 egg whisked


Saute’ onions, pepper, garlic until soft about 7 minutes. Add Marsala wine and reduce until evaporated. Cool.

In a large bowl, fold  raw ground beef, cooled veggies and remaining ingredients until mixed well. Scoop onto a sheet pan lined with foil. Bake in a preheated 400 degree convection oven uncovered for about 25 minutes until browned.


Marinara Sauce




1 large 28 oz Can Whole Tomatoes (Puree in blender)

1 14 oz can tomato sauce

3 T tomato paste

2 T Olive oil

1 small onion chopped

½ C chopped fresh basil/ or 1 t dried

3/4  C red wine

1 T sugar

3 garlic cloves sauteed in oil for 2 minutes

1 t salt

½ t pepper

¼ t crushed red pepper



Saute onions, garlic in med size frying pan in oil. Place remaining ingredients including onions and garlic (except for wine) in a blender and puree until mixed. Pour contents into a  large pot and cook for 10 minutes. Add wine and reduce for another 10-15 minutes. You will be adding meat balls to this pot, so make sure there is plenty of room.

When meatballs are cooked, add them to marinara sauce and cook for another 15 minutes on the stove on medium heat.


Prepare Polenta:


4 C chicken or vegetable broth

1 C water

1 ½ C Cornmeal

½ C parmesan cheese shredded

½ C fontina cheese shredded

1 t kosher salt

½ t black pepper

2 T butter

1 T Olive Oil

¼ C heavy cream or milk


In a large pot heat chicken broth, water, salt and pepper over med high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and slowly add cornmeal to the boiling liquid while stirring constantly. Cook for about 10 minutes then add cream, oil, butter and shredded cheeses.


To serve, scoop out a hefty portion of polenta into a large round pasta bowl. Ladle over a good portion of marinara sauce and 4 to 5 meatballs per serving depending on how hungry you are. Sprinkle with parsley or additional cheese.


Enjoy! If you liked this recipe please leave a comment below and follow my blog for more interesting stories and family recipes. You’ll be glad you did. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to try these recipes and spoil the ones you love.  



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Reasons why you should visit Oakland’s Insanely Good Food Scene

Reasons why you should visit Oakland’s Insanely Good Food Scene


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Beautiful graffiti art in West Oakland

Had a fabulous day last Friday exploring Tanya Holland’s Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen Restaurant with my friend Sandra. We also took a walk through of the historic Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, one of my favorite places. We shared stories and got caught up while sipping on Peet’s Coffee and nibbling on treats from Fournee Bakery. All this on a rainy March afternoon, so I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

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The view outside Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland

Firstly, If you haven’t checked out Bravo’s Top Chef competition, it’s a must. I’ve been watching since the beginning and I’m hooked. Of course I love learning as much as I can about cooking and I follow the chefs on Instagram to see what they are up to. Tanya Holland owns an Oakland restaurant called Brown Sugar Kitchen. This place is off the beaten path so lucky I had a Google map to find my way there.

Sandra and I were excited to sit at the counter alongside Tanya herself cooking during the lunch rush. The place was packed, but we were happy to sit and watch the chef making her famous soul food recipes like her Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Cornmeal Waffle served w brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup. Yum. Obviously she was teaching her sous chef a few things because I’m sure she is needed in other areas promoting her cookbook written in 2014 and getting other restaurants up and running. Last September she announced she would be opening a BSKC Brown Sugar Kitchen Counter at the San Francisco Ferry Building, and hopes to expand her brand to the Warriors new Chase Center.

The food was exciting, flavorful and soulful. I ordered the Blackened Catfish served on top of rice with roasted red pepper sauce and pickled vegetables. It was good old fashioned comfort food and a huge portion of which I packed up to bring home for later. Sandra ordered the Creole BBQ Shrimp, basmati rice and baby spinach. She kept going back for more of the spicy dish and we shared the garlic green beans. Sadly, I couldn’t find collard greens on the menu, but loved the perfectly seared green beans.

We didn’t stay for dessert, but I got a close up photo of a banana cake w caramel ganache, a red velvet cake and sticky buns with pecans. This place serves my kind of food and it isn’t stuffy like other East Bay restaurants. The drink menu was limited, but I was happy with Drake’s Hefeweizen and fresh lemon. Sandra went for the Urban Cellars California Viognier. And just today I realized Tanya has teamed up with Humphry Slocombes and is making a brown sugar ice-cream with apple jam and a cornmeal cookie. Delicious!

Well,  if I haven’t convinced you to make a trip to the Oakland/Berkeley area yet then I will tell you about a few more places to visit. The Claremont Hotel and Spa happened to be on our way home and Sandra and I couldn’t help ourselves but to stop in for a look see. My husband and I have stayed here before and loved it. We actually spent the first night of our honeymoon there at the Claremont over 29 years ago. It’s historical because it opened in 1915. Even my grandparents frequented there back in the day. My mother and sister and I spent time at their spa getting massages and relaxing by the pool to celebrate Mother’s Day one year.  Their new bar Limewood looked fun and exciting, has a gorgeous view of San Francisco and features craft cocktails, small bites and afternoon tea.

Across from this gorgeous hotel sits Fournee Bakery where we purchased fresh fougasse and French baguettes for our Friday night supper. They sell seasonal desserts like trifles, a TCHO Chocolate salted caramel cake, tarte tatin, Valrhona chocolate mousse cake, and an orange flavored Basque cake.

Lucky for us, Peet’s Coffee was located right next door to the bakery so we could have our favorite espresso mochas while chatting about our day. Overall, I can’t imagine a more fun way to spend a Friday. I loved catching up with Sandra and hearing about her favorite Greek recipes that her and her husband George whip up. They’ve lived near us for over 20 years and have raised their kids in the same neighborhood as us attending the same schools and swim team.

I’m blessed to have the greatest friends who love to have foodie days with me. I hope I’ve given enough reasons to visit the Oakland Berkeley area. I can’t wait to plan my next outing. Any takers? Leave me a comment below and tell me where you would like to go. But first check out this delicious savory tart which would be perfect served on Easter morning or on any occasion. I made it for my coffee group and the women raved about it and of course asked for the recipe. Here it is.

Fennel, Goat Cheese and Cardamom Tart

Pastry Dough Recipe

1 ½ C Unbleached Flour

¾ Stick (6T) cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes

¼ t Kosher salt

4 to 5 T Ice Cold H20

For Tart Filling

2 large fennel bulbs @ 2 ½ lbs

1 large leek

8 green cardamom pods (or 1 t cardamom spice powder)

¼ C white wine or champagne

¼ C H20

¼ C Olive Oil

1 t Kosher salt

½ t black pepper

2 T unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 large egg yolk

½ C heavy cream

½ C whole milk

¼ C goat cheese

3 Oz (½ C) Taleggio Cheese cut into extra small cubes

Make pastry dough for tart:

In a food processor, blend flour, salt and butter until blended. Or use pastry cutter or fingers just until most of  resembles coarse meal. Add cold water and blend until combined. Do not over mix or pastry will be tough.

Gather dough onto parchment paper or plastic wrap and make into a ball and flatten. Cover completely and let it rest in fridge to chill.

Directions for filling:

Cut off and discard fennel stalks and fronds. Cut out core and cut up fennel into ¼ in thick slices. Wash and cut leek into ¼ in slices using white parts only. Flatten cardamom pods with side of large heavy knife, then remove black seeds and discard pods. Crush seeds with side of knife and chop finely. Or sprinkle cardamom spice powder onto leeks and fennel in a 12 inch heavy skillet. Add wine, water, butter, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer, covered over moderately low heat stirring occasionally until tender about 20 to 25 min. Cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and make sure rack is in center of oven.

Roll out dough into a 15 in round tart pan. I use plastic wrap to  prevent dough from sticking to rolling pin. Trim dough so that it is flush with rim of pan. Lightly prick dough with a fork, then chill for 30 min. Line shell with foil (I spray with Pam first)and fill with dry kidney beans, rice or pie weights.Bake on a large baking sheet for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake 10 -15 min longer or until tart shell is golden brown. Remove from oven.

Whisk together eggs, yolk, until foamy and add milk, cream, goat cheese, salt and pepper. Transfer fennel and leek mixture into pastry shell spreading evenly, and dot with taleggio cheese. Pour custard into shell and bake until set about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving. Serves 6-8 people




Cinnamon Rolls with a Boosey Twist Recipe and (Bay Area Restaurant Reviews)

Cinnamon Rolls with a Boosey Twist Recipe and (Bay Area Restaurant Reviews)


A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went for a bike ride into downtown Walnut Creek for Valentines Day. I had issues with my Apple iPhone that needed to be resolved so we decided to enjoy the day by riding into “the Creek.” It was a beautiful Spring like day and we both needed some exercise. Since we are practically empty nesters we aren’t running our kids to basketball games, soccer practice or baseball tournaments anymore. Instead we can leisurely take our time on the weekends and go on a hike or bike ride together. Last weekend was no different. The photos above were taken while I worked as a preschool teacher at Tassajara Learning Center.


After our iPhone appointment, we took a chance for a quick bite to eat at True Food Kitchen. This place is usually packed, but we got lucky and landed two spots at the juice bar. I have heard great things about their restaurant from my hiking friends who frequently come here to celebrate birthdays. Excited to learn about the menu, the bartender walked us through the gluten free, naturally organic vegetarian, and vegan menu offerings explaining that they focus their food on anti inflammatory dishes. Dr Andrew Weil believes that by eating this healthy diet, people can avoid Alzheimer’s, heart disease and many cancers. I’m all for that.

What I was most excited to learn more about was their fresh juice drinks. They actually have a hangover drink  that has fresh pineapple juice, orange juice, honey, and coconut water. I have no idea if that would help a hangover, but I bet it is a big seller. Of course, I saw plenty of a few Bloody Mary’s being served which looked gorgeous with watermelon radishes used as a garnish.

I ordered the “Bright Eyes” which consisted of fresh pear, ginger root, beet, pineapple, turmeric and carrot juice, and it didn’t disappoint. We also tried the Inside Out Quinoa Burger made with hummus, tzatziki, tomato, butter lettuce, cucumber, red onion, feta and avocado. It is served alongside a generous portion of roasted butternut squash which my husband loved. I tried the Toast with winter squash, brussel sprouts, caramelized onion, lemon, saba and roasted hazelnuts. It was an unexpected delight being crunchy and yet sweet from the squash that was probably roasted with honey or maple syrup. Yum. I had to order light so I could make it back up the hill to our house on my bike!



Chicken Pita w Greek village Salad

I have to say, I’m usually not a huge proponent of these restaurants since I think they are a “fad” or “trend” to for the younger generation. After all, I love a good burger. But it’s nice to eat extra healthy once in a while and my husband was thrilled with his Mediterranean dish. We found Opa Restaurant last week for a quick weeknight dinner. Ken was so happy to find this place because they serve lamb, chicken and beef sandwiches in a warm pita bread with tzatziki sauce tomatoes, onions and mint. He said it was his very favorite new place and that says a lot because he can be finicky. 

While I’m at it, I may as well give a review of a fairly new restaurant located in Danville called Harvest. My friend Barbara and I met there a few weeks back after quick jont on the Iron horse trail. This place does things right. Barb and i met several years back when we our kids were at San Ramon Valley High School together in the choir. We also were both involved in the Vista Oak Chapter of the National Charity League. She volunteering with her daughter Lauren and me with my niece Jasmine. We had many good times together when our kids were young and now continue to meet up and have an occasional lunch or breakfast together. Barb recommended Harvest so we gave it a try.

First our server brought us a platter of their delicious wheat bread with a dollop of creamy butter with smoked sea salt and chives. I judge most restaurants by their bread and theirs  was to die for. For lunch, I ordered Di Stefano’s Burrata Toast cause I have to have burrata whenever I’m at a restaurant. This dish was the perfect balance of sweet, salty, creamy and chewy presenting the burrata along side prosciutto, figs and well dressed arugula. Delish! Barbara and I also shared the Harvest Cobb which the chef was nice enough to divide. The chicken was brined with a lemon sweet tea before it was flawlessly grilled and served with avocado, hard boiled egg, tomato and bacon. We passed on dessert even though their warm apple cobbler sounded appetizing. Over all, I have to give all three of these restaurants a thumbs up and we will definitely make it back for future visits.

It’s a good thing my phone is repaired and I’m back to blogging and taking photos again. I’d better get myself back home now and prepare a little something for the family.

But first here’s my recipe for Cinnamon Rolls with a Boosey Twist



¾ C Sourdough starter (I made my own from 2 C pressed grapes in a tea towel, 2 C flour and 2 C water and let ferment for 1 week in a large glass bowl stirring every day) Not needed to make recipe, but adds a nice sour note to the recipe. Place in stand mixer fitted with flat beater. Mixes better than dough hook)

½ C warm water (warm to touch)

1 T yeast (Red Star Rapid Rise or regular dry yeast)

1 teas honey or 1 t granulated sugar


Mix these ingredients together in a small glass bowl with your fingers and let get bubb


1 egg

3/4 C Milk (warm on stove until luke warm, not hot)

2 T soft unsalted butter (plus 1 T to smear on glass bowl)(plus 1 T for baking dish)

1 T Kosher Salt (do not forget this!)

¼ c granulated sugar (plus 1 t more for yeast)

1 ½ C All purpose flour (maybe ¼ c more for kneading and rolling out)

1 ½ C bread flour


Filling for Cinnamon Rolls

½ C unsalted softened butter

½ C granulated sugar

1 C brown sugar

1 T cinnamon

1 t ground ginger

½ t Maldon Salt

½ t ground cardamom

½ t ground espresso powder

1 T tapioca flour

3/4 C toasted pecans


¼ C Grand Marnier

½ C water

¾ C black raisins (Dried cranberries, dried strawberries or dried blueberries make for a fun new breakfast treat)


(Heat water in microwave in glass 2 c measuring cup and add grand marnier and soak raisins or dry berry fruit mix until soft) Drain and throw away liquid. This step allows the raisins stay moist and juicy in the cinnamon roll.



1 T spiced rum

1 ½ C powdered sugar

¼ t Maldon salt




After placing Sourdough starter in stand mixer, add bubbly yeast mixture.

Add milk, egg and mix. Add in 1 C flour, mix and let stand for 5 minutes.

Then add salt, sugar, softened butter and mix again.


Little by little add remaining flour and mix on low speed until combined. Keep mixing on med speed until dough is soft to touch and springs back when touched (about 6-8 minutes mix time) Or knead by hand until dough feels soft.


Place in a warm spot and let rise for a few to several hours (overnight works well) in a buttered glass bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap.



Assemble rolls:

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle until about ¼ t thick. Spread softened butter onto dough.

Sprinkle with both sugars evenly, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, espresso powder, salt and tapioca flour.

Sprinkle soaked and drained raisins and pecans over dough.

Roll the dough tightly by starting at long edge and form into a long log. Cut with a pastry cutter or serrated knife into 1 Inch pieces. Place in a buttered baking dish or sheet pan with rolls touching. Let rise in a warm place, or fridge if you can possible wait.

Otherwise place in a preheated 400 degree oven and bake until brown and bubbly about 17-22 minutes.

Cool slightly and spread rum glaze over rolls. (if you prefer a cream cheese frosting use 4 oz or ½ pkg cream cheese, ½ C butter, 1 ½ C powdered sugar, ¼ t Maldon Salt, and 1 t vanilla- Or Rum!)

I especially enjoy making these boosey treats for my husband and son on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning. They love waking up to the intoxicating smell of these yummy treats and I do too.



Hope you try my recipe and leave me feedback about your results in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. It means a lot!




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My New Improved Espresso Maker, Sweet Adeline Bakery and a Coffee Shop you won’t want to miss

My New Improved Espresso Maker, Sweet Adeline Bakery and a Coffee Shop you won’t want to miss

Are you into your coffee ritual every morning like I am? I hate to say it, but I need my special two shots of espresso, steamed and frothy milk and 1 teaspoon of sugar before I do anything or go anywhere. My coffee makes me happy and that’s why I was so excited to pick up my espresso maker yesterday from Kanen Coffee.


I was frustrated a couple of months ago when my Intuita espresso maker wouldn’t work. I called the manufacturer and found a few places that would repair it, but I would have to drive to San Jose or Livermore. That didn’t sound super easy, so I Googled Espresso Maker Repair and ran across Sam Kanenwisher from Kanen Coffee Co in Berkeley. Sam made my day yesterday, by returning my machine repaired and ready to go. I had to wait a few weeks, because they have lots of machines to repair. When it was finished they sent me a YouTube video showing me the working coffee maker and a print out of my bill. Brilliant!


Sam was friendly and outgoing and even helped carry the machine out to my car for me. He said his background was in the CoastGuard repairing radios, etc.. He also got his Masters from The Graduate Theological Union studying various religions, but that career wasn’t for him either. Instead he decided there was a need for repairing espresso makers and began his journey as Co-Owner at Kanen Coffee. Was there ever! People NEED their coffee. They even give out a free samples of Verve which I’m excited to try.


While I was in the neighborhood, I decided to walk around and explore this side of Berkeley. I stopped in Sweet Adeline Bakeshop for a ginger cookie. I wasn’t that hungry, but the vegan focaccia with shallots, garlic, tomato and butternut squash looked amazing. They also had an artichoke, red pepper, herb and cauliflower variety. This shop has been around for thirteen years and the locals are in love with this place. I was too when I tasted the perfectly chewy and gingery cookie.

I feel I should disclose that there was a homeless encampment across the street. I was approached by a woman trying to sell me something, but she left me alone when I said I wasn’t interested. One never knows what they might stumble across in a new unfamiliar neighborhood. My heart is heavy for these people and their circumstances and I’m grateful every day for my blessed life. Moving on…

Nearby was Alchemy a Co-op coffee Cafe. This article sums up what this place is all about even though the article is a little outdated since they are now located on Alcatraz Ave.  This place is as hipster as Berkeley gets offering flavorful coffees and specialty teas. For example “Strength for the Long Haul” offers organic nettles, oatstraw, red clover and lavender. Or you could order “Stress Slayer” and take a break from the chaos that has organic lemon balm, oatstraw, skull cap and rose. I was just as curious as you are but went for my tried and true mocha served with Guittard chocolate. Delicious!

Alchemy also offers egg toast with Moroccan style house made Harissa spread, or a Firebrand French Batard topped with prosciutto, arugula and pickled red onions.There was also almond butter,chia porridge, and  granola baked buy Way to Life Co. and served with Strauss yogurt. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and packed with locals working on their computers. I can’t wait to bring my husband here sometime. He attended UC Berkeley over 30 years ago and enjoys these types of coffee shops.

Definitely drive to Berkeley get a taste of the culture and vibe by checking these local businesses. I did. And I’m totally loving my espresso maker making sure I have time to make my special drink before I blast out the door in the morning. Thank you Kanen Coffee for introducing me to your business and those in the surrounding area.

If you have a favorite place that you would like to learn more about, leave me a suggestion below. I’m always looking for an excuse to get away and eat new trendy food.


Tampa Florida Foodie Trip and a Vegetarian Recipe

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Last October, I had the rare opportunity to treat my aunt Teri to a vacation in Florida. We travel together on occasion whenever her vacation time off from work allows which isn’t often enough. We flew to Florida to visit my good friend Sherri, whom I participated in the Avon Three Day 60 mile walk with in 1998. We walked and raised money for breast cancer awareness and bonded from our mutual and in Sherri’s case “toe nail losing” experience. But that story will be saved for another day. The three of us couldn’t wait to run around Tampa, see the sights and eat our way around town. Oh baby, did we have fun!

Sherri took us on a tour of downtown Tampa which included walking along the Tampa Riverwalk, checking out the Tampa Museum of Art and eating lunch at U le le Restaurant. It was a great day checking out the local scene and eating and drinking fancy cocktails to get the whole Floridian experience. We missed out on tasting their craft beers made on site from their Brewmaster Tim Shackton.  Their Fresh From Florida Mojito was made from Patron Citronge Orange Liqueur, fresh  lime juice, simple syrup, muddled oranges and mint was refreshing and just the right amount of sweet to quench my thirst.

Each of us picked something from the menu to share. Sherri ordered the Roasted Beet and Poached Pear Salad which was outstanding offering poached pear,  saffron roasted beets, balsamic charred red onion, whipped goat cheese, blackberry honey gastrique, toasted almonds and watercress.Aunt Teri ordered the crispy fried north Atlantic calamari, Amarillo chile lemon dressing and a sauce piquant which didn’t disappoint. The last dish was vegetarian called Three Sisters Stuffed Portobello showcasing oven roasted marinated portobello, grilled zucchini, red onion, red pepper, sauteed spinach, cranberry beans, and Manchego cheese with crispy carrot ribbons. Yum.

We couldn’t leave without sharing U le le’s famous Key West Key Lime Stack served w bruleed meringue. It was to die for, but of course i’m a huge fan of Key Lime desserts. Here is my version of Key Lime Bars.  It is worth mentioning their Toasted Coconut Ice Cream since another patron we sat with couldn’t stop talking about it. They have a similar recipe they make in their catering company. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that info or I would pass it on. Our new friends also recommended the Florida Cane Distillery . Hoping to make it back there sometime to check out this place. Sounds like a great spot to hang out and taste rum and vodka. And apparently Hamburger Mary’s has a fun atmosphere and delicious food if you are interested in gay bars. All this info was offered up from the locals we were dining with. Good stuff!  


Our Florida trip couldn’t have gone any better. Sherri was generous enough to open her home to me and my aunt which saved us a ton of money and made our time together even that much more special. Aunt Teri loved seeing what Florida has to offer and I’m hoping my friend Sherri will take a trip to California soon so I can return the favor.


I will have to tell more of my Florida story for another blog since I am off to make dinner for my family. I can honestly say I am inspired to cook something vegetarian tonight. After writing about U le le’s vegetarian rice and beans dish, I’m ready to take on a grilled polenta and wild mushroom and zucchini dish. Hope you will get inspired to make delicious and healthy meals for your friends and family. Do you have a favorite vegetarian dish your family dreams about? If so, please write about it in the comment section below and tell me why they love it so much.


Polenta Wild Mushrooms and Roasted Vegetables in Marinara


1 ½ C Polenta

2 ½ C Veggie stock

½ C Heavy whipping cream

½ C Parmesan Cheese

½ C. fresh mozzarella sliced or shredded

3 T unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste


1 White  or Red Onion sliced in quarters

1 Red Bell Pepper sliced in 1 “ chunks

1 Yellow Bell Pepper sliced  “ “

2 Zucchini Sliced “  “

1 C Sliced Mushrooms (Shiitake, Crimini, Portobello)


Optional: Marinara Sauce or Leftover meat sauce which makes it not so vegetarian.



Heat Veggie Stock to medium high in a medium size pot. Slowly add polenta stirring constantly. Add cream, cheeses, butter and salt and pepper to taste and cook until done about 10-15 minutes. Pour hot polenta into a 13X9 baking dish and refrigerate until cool. When ready to serve get your grill pan hot, slice the polenta into large squares and sear to make grille marks 1 minute on each side. I opted for skipping this step so we could eat sooner.


Place cut veggies on a roasting pan, coat w olive oil, salt and pepper and bake uncovered for 20 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven.


Serve in individual shallow bowls by placing cooked polenta down, marinara or meat sauce next, and olive oil roasted vegetables down on top. Enjoy!

For More vegetarian menu ideas check out my Heirloom Tomato, Basil Pesto and Mozzarella Salad



Posted by on January 31, 2018 in Uncategorized


My Guilty Pleasures: Dark Chocolate Truffles, Magic Cookie Bars and Biscotti

My Guilty Pleasures: Dark Chocolate Truffles, Magic Cookie Bars and Biscotti


As I’m sitting here writing I decide to check my purse for a little something sweet. I usually have dark chocolate on me at all times. It’s insane, I know. But who doesn’t love chocolate? Instead of eating the Dove miniature that I usually embibe in, I was happy to discover I put some home made chocolate truffles in my purse this morning. My dark chocolate truffles are the perfect treat when you need a little pick me up. They are my “go to” guilty pleasure in a pinch. Recipe here for Ganache


Some folks require ice cream to satisfy their cravings, and I’m not opposed to that at all.In fact, a scoop of coffee ice cream with chocolate chunks is just the right amount of sweet and a nice boost in the mid day if you like coffee.


Speaking of desserts, I met a few friends last month at a nearby restaurant called Parada. Sharon, Elyse, Linda and I were celebrating Lisa’s birthday during lunch on a quiet Saturday afternoon. I’ve known these women for over 20 years since our kids attended the same elementary school and swim team. We spent time at boy scout outings together camping and hiking. It was nice to get together and share stories, lunch and get caught up.

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The food at Parada was delicious. We shared the roasted chicken, had a few salads and a couple of appetizers. The only disappointment was finding out that they didn’t offer dessert for the birthday girl. What’s up with that? Why would I go back to this restaurant again knowing they choose not to surprise their guests with a little something sweet at the end of their meal? Luckily, I brought everyone individual servings of my magic cookie bar that I had made the night before. You see, my family is not big on chocolate. Hard to believe, huh? So I happened to have a huge pan of these delicious treats to share and celebrate Lisa’s birthday. And I like to get these wonderful goodies out of my house before I eat them myself. Lisa was thrilled!


Here’s Elyse and Lisa entering the Peruvian Restaurant Parada.
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Magic Cookie Bars


2 Pkgs of Graham Crackers crushed in food processor

1 stick unsalted butter melted

1 tsp cinnamon

½ C sugar


2 Cans Sweetened Condensed Milk

2 C Chocolate Chips High quality like Ghirardelli, Valrhona

1 ½ C Shredded or flaked coconut

1 C toasted and chopped Walnuts


Melt butter in small saucepan. Place graham crackers in food processor (or crush in a extra large ziplock bag with a rolling pin). Add sugar and cinnamon to crushed crackers and blend. Add melted butter and blend again.


Place mixture in a foil lined or parchment lined 13 X 9 pan. I used a slightly larger pan my Pampered Chef Bar Pan. Smooth. Sprinkle chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts over crust. Pour 2 cans of condensed milk over the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30- 40 minutes until brown and bubbly. Cool. Cut into squares and serve warm if possible.

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Bonus Recipe:

My friends on Instagram are waiting for my cranberry orange and pistachio biscotti recipe. I made these crunchy and tart cookies to bring to Tom my step Dad. He has been suffering from the lousy cold that is going around so these cookies are sure to cheer him up. Here’s the recipe:


Cranberry Orange and Pistachio Biscotti


2 C All Purpose Flour

1 C Sugar (Plus 2 T to sprinkle on at end)

1t Baking Powder

3 Eggs

2 T Brandy

2 T Cointreau Liqueur

1 t vanilla

1 t Anise extract

Zest from 1 large Orange

1 C whole fresh cranberries (Can substitute dried)

1 C toasted Pistachios


Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix flour sugar and baking powder together in a large bowl.

In medium size bowl, whisk eggs, brandy, cointreau, vanilla, and anise.

Add egg mixture to dry ingredients until combined. Mix in pistachios.

Transfer dough to a prepared lined sheet pan. Shape dough into a 5inch wide and ½ inch high loaf. Sprinkle on 2 T granulated sugar.

Bake until firm and dry about 30 to 35 minutes when it is golden brown.



Remove pan from oven and slice loaf on a diagonal into ¼ to ½ inch thick slices. Arrange cookies cut side down onto the sheet pan and bake again until golden brown about 7 or 10 minutes. I prefer them not too crunchy, so I don’t bake them too long during the second bake only 7 minutes.

If you have any questions for me or you want to talk about your guilty pleasure, leave me comments below. I’d be honored.

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Blackberry Turnovers and My Secret Get Away Spot

Blackberry Turnovers and My Secret Get Away Spot

A little known fact about me that most people don’t know is that I write my blog at my gym. I belong to  Club Sport one of the nicest gyms in the Bay Area. It’s located about 20 minutes from my home and I like to come here to decompress. I know. Most people go to their gym so they can work out and get a good sweat on. Not me. I like taking an occasional spin class, yoga class or weight class here, but most of all I like to sneak away from home and write my blog.


No one interrupts me here. At home, I have to contend with my animals, kids and husband. I’ll be honest, my pets are high maintenance. As soon as I walk in the door, the dog and cats are dying to be fed. We have a doggie door that they use to come in and out of all day long. They have plenty of dry food to eat, but they demand canned food the instant I walk in the door. And it doesn’t stop there. My two cats are 12 years old. They will meow when they want to come in your room even if it is 6 AM. We could leave the bedroom door open, but my 14 year old dog has a doggie dementia and he walks around the house tapping his little paws all over the wood floors and it wakes me up.


This is why I am sitting in a comfortable chair at my gym near the hotel entrance where I’m not taking up a chair at the bar or cafe. It’s fairly quiet and I’m able to focus on the task at hand, writing my next blog.


People ask me why I post pictures of my food and write a blog. I guess at  some point I would like to own a bed and breakfast place. Maybe I will work in a professional kitchen again or teach cooking classes again. I’m not sure what’s in my future. For now, I love to bake and cook and share recipes.


Currently and for the past 7 months I have been working as a nanny. The job kind of fell in my lap. I wasn’t looking for an opportunity like this but it came along and I went for it. The baby is super cute and we are buddies. She loves spending time with me and I can’t wait to see her read her my newest children’s book. She’s the best baby, sleeping through the night for many months now and her parents are really cool animators at Pixar. They are wonderful people and I am lucky to share in taking care of their little one.


Many mornings last July I would walk the baby and pick wild blackberries from the running trail and make blackberry hand pies. These turnovers were to die for especially warm from the oven.


Who knows how long they will need me or if they will have more children. At least I have a job for now and am enjoying every minute I get to spend with the little one. Babies are a ton of fun and this one in particular has my heart. I’m finally able to cook for her some meals which makes me happy.


Here is my recipe for Blackberry Turnovers.



3 C. Flour

3 T granulated Sugar

1 tsp kosher salt

8 Tbsp cold unsalted butter (1 stick)

¼ C. Shortening

3 Tbsp  H2O

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tsp white distilled vinegar


Directions for making Pastry

  1.   In a  large bowl combine flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry blended and working quickly to prevent butter from melting into flour, cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (or put mixture in food processor and pulse until combined) Another pie recipe here:Strawberry pie
  2.  In a small bowl combine water, egg, and vinegar. Stir to mix. With a fork, mix egg mixture into flour just until dough clumps together and moist enough to pat together. If dough is dry and crumbly, add more water 1 Tbsp at a time. Dough should not be wet or sticky. (I use the food processor and pulse until combined.)
  3.  Wrap and place in fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
  4.  Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll with pin to flatten


Blackberry Filling:

Pick two or three cups of blackberries (or purchase 2 fresh packages/ or buy a package of frozen blackberries and defrost and drain). You can substitute blueberries, apricots or peaches. Use whatever is in season.


Sprinkle 1/2 C granulated sugar (more if not as sweet), 1/8 C tapicoa flour, ½ t Maldon or Kosher Salt, 1 T lemon zest, and 1/2t nutmeg in a bowl of washed blackberries. Place about 1 t unsalted butter on each pastry before sealing w egg wash  (1 egg whipped in a small bowl. You can add 1 tsp water or milk if you wish. I don’t)


After rolling out pastry, cut into large circles or squares. Separate them by placing on parchment paper or tin foil on a baking pan leaving a little room (about an inch) in between. Scoop about ½ C onto each pastry and dot with 1 t butter. Fold over, seal, crimp with your fingers of with a fork before slashing with a knife in two places, brushing with egg wash and sprinkling them with a little turbinado sugar. Pop into a 400 degree preheated oven for about 14 min or until brown and bubbly.


Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or a cold glass of milk. These are great after school snacks or a quick breakfast on the go. They never make it till breakfast in my house.

Or make a blackberry pie!

Do you have a secret place you like to sneak off to? Leave your comments below and thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate my readers who inspire me every day. It means a lot.




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