Venice’s Fish Market

I don’t need any excuses to reminisce about Venice. However, we had a terrible snow storm yesterday that for me, led to one of those white knuckle driving experiences. There were cars stranded on the roads in what was a pure ice storm. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was shaking from cold, or the stress of being out at a dangerous time.

This morning, safe and sound as the world outside recovers, I fancy that I live in Venice where I don’t ever have to drive in dangerous conditions, because there are no cars. Where would I go, car-free this morning? The pescheria!

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Living in the middle of the U.S., I crave fresh seafood. So whenever I travel close to the sea, all I want to eat is fish and shellfish.

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With its place on the sea, Venice draws in fresh seafood every day for its restaurants and citizens to pick from. The variety of creatures for sale are amazing, leading to endless dishes!

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Always clean beds of ice; assured that your seafood is kept cool and fresh.

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I’m attracted to food displays where colorful fare is laid by type in heaps. The bounty and organized clutter looks like art to me! I always have to pull out my camera, whether tables of cheese or piles of shrimp.

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Those long crustaceans to the right are canocce, a kind of shrimp. They look like they have big black eyes, but those spots are actually at the end of their tails…maybe to frighten predators with?

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These are seppie (cuttlefish), which produce black ink to ward off predators when they are disturbed. In Venice, you can order spaghetti nero di seppie, which is pasta mixed with the ink of the cuttlefish. The pasta turns black, and though I haven’t tried it, it is said to make pasta whisper fresh flavors of the sea. Cuttlefish dishes are abundant in Venice; the animal is often stewed in its ink and served with pasta or risotto.

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Seafood heaven, what more can I say? I’d learn how to cook it all if I lived near a market like this.

What I especially love about seafood is how simple it is. When it is fresh, it doesn’t need a lot of fancy cooking and sauces. A little roast or steam, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of green garnish; let me sit to that table for a while!

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Ah well, I’ve enjoyed this momentary respite from the weather by thinking of Venice’s fish market. But alas, I must now bundle up and see how much ice remains on my car.

A chapter of Venice is dedicated to this fascinating place, where the boats pull up from the Grand Canal to deliver such bounty. If you want to take a stroll through the market, but can’t get to Venice just now, I hope you’ll enjoy my storytelling as you amble through the market in my book.

And as for those of you in Venice just now, please share something special about the market in the comments! We’d all like to know your favorite part about this spectacular, cultural, Venetian jewel!

A Basket Full of Kittens

This is 6 month old Sasha, and one very sweet kitten!IMG_1922.JPG

My folks have big hearts, this is the third kitty they’ve adopted recently and their home is filled with kitty play and joy. It definitely warms a home!

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I love, love, love cats. We’ve had them all my life. After my folks lost their last cats to old age, they said they wouldn’t have any more. If you’ve had a pet, you know how much love you have for them; it is very difficult when they pass on.

Knowing that they wouldn’t be adopting any more, I was shocked to discover on one visit that they’d not just adopted one, but two young black cats, Midnight and Peanut.

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And then on Christmas, this little one hops up on the table and I wondered how one of the other cats had lost so much weight? But then I immediately realized it wasn’t one of them at all, but rather a third addition.

I always say on Christmas, or my birthday, that I’d be happy to receive a basket full of kittens. If I ever become an eccentric old millionaire with a huge house and kitty sitters to help me attend to them all, I’d welcome a few baskets full. But for now, my Tiddo is the apple of my eye!

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Though Sasha is welcome to come over for a play date!

Food & Fellowship

On Christmas evening, I enjoyed a homemade dinner at my mom and step-dad’s house. I am an only child, so it is often just us three. We had a casual picnic using used wrapping paper as our tablecloth over a low coffee table.

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My step-dad steamed up a big pot of crab legs, and baked us each a potato and some hot buns. I’d made coleslaw, which was the perfect fresh and crispy compliment to the meal.

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Mom and I had some chilled white wine and my step-dad enjoyed some beer that handsome sent over for Christmas. We ate on paper plates and enjoyed every delicious second of hunting for our meat. It was sweet and fresh!

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As you can see, the meal was thoroughly enjoyed. Since there were no claw-crackers, or nut-crackers in the house to be found, pliers and a hammer may have been used, and chopsticks too, to push the very last little morsels of crabmeat out of their shells. We take crab seriously.

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A big bowl of empty shells and a roll of paper towels later and we were lounging relaxed and merry, listening to holiday music. In our family, when crab is served, we mean business!

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I’m very happy to call my folks my best friends. We always have animated conversation and a lot of laughs when we get together. And though on Christmas, we tend to spoil one another with lots of gifts, this year we took it easy and just offered a few presents (I got a bread maker and I’m making a wheat loaf this very minute!!).

This meal reminded me however, that all the good restaurants and a pile of gifts can never beat good food and fellowship. How thankful I am, all the year long, for special occasions like this one. I could ask for nothing more.

Here’s wishing you many blessings this season, and well wishes for the approaching new year! May you enjoy every moment of food and fellowship that come your way!

Chicago’s French Market

On Friday evening, I attended the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre here in Chicago with my best friend. The performance is dazzling every time, and this year was made more special in that it is the last to be performed in Robert Joffrey’s version. His choreography and style for this ballet was one of the first to create a version of the Nutcracker that looks American and has been replicated throughout the country. Head to the Joffrey site to learn the interesting history.

But as is our norm, we must always eat before heading to the ballet or opera. One cannot truly appreciate the arts without a full stomach, or so I believe. We met at Chicago’s French Market which is located underground of a bustling train station. IMG_1904.JPG

What is fun about the French Market is that it has a cozy, European market feel with a lot of local vendors. Deceivingly however, it isn’t filled with French fare, though you can certainly get a crepe or a French pastry. It is simply called the French Market to stir up the feel of such lovely places. Even the isles between kiosks have names like Boulevard Saint-Germaine and the open dining area looks a little like you are sitting near the Eiffel Tower at an outdoor cafe.

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I have never been fond of shopping, but shopping for food is another matter. I love it, and of course, I love artisan, good quality, fine food. You can pick up quite a number of such things at the French Market, like fresh seafood, vegetables, cheese, meat and wine.

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The location is perfect for the thousands of train commuters flowing in and out of the city, which I personally appreciate. I like places of quality that are also convenient when you must be a part of the hustle and bustle.

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Nice too, are all the little restaurants serving food that is fast, yet finer than fast food. One stand offers scrumptious grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with delicious and unique fillings, another serves up perfect lobster rolls, another excellent sandwiches on artisan bread. I had a lobster roll from Da Lobsta. If I’d been alone, I could easily have eaten three of them. Who am I kidding, I’m sure my best pal wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d ordered three. She’s seen me polish off some pretty large meals before.

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You can even grab fresh flowers, which definitely adds to that open market feel. So pretty!

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I was personally overwhelmed by the selection of handmade chocolates at Lolli & Pops and stood staring at the display for an embarrassing amount of time while waiting for my friend to arrive. I just couldn’t pull myself away.

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If you are a Chicago commuter and in need of a small holiday gift, you can’t go wrong with a box of these chocolates. The looks of them alone would put a smile on anyone’s face!

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Oh heavens! I mean…Oh la la, how lovely is Chicago’s French Market!

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons is here! The adventure is yours…but beware of the red dragon!

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After his courage shines through during one unexpected act of valor, young Lambert finds himself knighted by the wise King Gerald of the Kingdom of Echoes. After five years of knightly training and surprising adventures, Lambert and his heroic brothers receive an urgent request from the King; all knights must go in search of a magical text that has gone missing from right under the King’s nose at Halves Castle.

This isn’t just any book however. It is the Book of Dragons, a text filled with magic. In the wrong hands, the peaceful Kingdom of Echoes could be destroyed forever.

As Sir Lambert embarks on his quest to return the book to King Gerald, he learns that its magic would be nothing without living, breathing dragons!

Join Sir Lambert, who with the true heart of an honorable knight will do anything to protect the good people of the realm. Even if it means he has to fight one ferocious red beast!

The Book of Dragons is available here! Also available on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Robata Heaven

Date night took us back to Roka Akor and what an amazing meal and excellent service it was once more! I observed that we had bouts of silence over our plates, which isn’t like us. On date night, we tend to keep it pretty chatty, that time in the week to catch up. But as we devoured each bite, we just stared around vacantly and dreamy eyed. Nothing existed but each exceptional bite.

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To start, Butterfish Tataki with White Asparagus and Yuzu Shallot Dressing. So beautiful to look at, incredibly fresh little bites!

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Crispy Fried Squid with Serrano Chili and Lime. So good, I would have had a chopsticks duel with handsome if he even tried to get one more piece than I had. Selfish? Greedy? Taste this dish and you’ll sharpen your dueling skills.

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Also, Forest Mushroom Salad with Truffle Citrus Vinaigrette and Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. We had four appetizers? Uhm, yes. Confession, I’m a  pescatarian. I don’t eat meat, though I do eat seafood. But sometimes, on vacation, or at Roka Akor…I might take a nibble. Well, I might have nibbled half of that pork belly. I wasn’t strong enough to withstand this particular temptation; this grilled meat was like butter.

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For the main course, I had the Barramundi with Miso Butternut Squash Puree. Handsome had the Lamb Chops with Korean Spice and Grilled Eggplant. I died and went to Heaven, that’s where I’m writing this blog post from. For the sides, Chinese Broccoli with Ginger Shallot Dressing and Sweet Corn with Soy Garlic Butter. Let me tell you, delicious corn. Grilled so that there was that perfect, crisp pop to each fresh kernel. The soy garlic butter…wow! And as I’ve said about Roka Akor before, I love when my fish has that perfect crisp on the top while the meat remains tender. The barramundi was just right!

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I didn’t nibble on my date’s lamb chops…but now that I’m reviewing the photo, perhaps I should have made another pescatarian’s exception?

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Wait, let’s look at that luscious pork belly one more time. You understand how I might have faltered in my reserve and gobbled a row?

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Dessert. Purple Sweet Potato Pot de Creme. Oh, my, goodness! Like creme brûlée with a tart, fruity, sweet potato twist. Life is good!

Hats off to the phenomenal service once more! Roka‘s staff are like fluid dancers giving one perfect performance. You are never inconvenienced with clutter, or served the next dish too soon. Our server Jennifer was thoughtful when making recommendations (keeping me on track when I was about to order everything that was fried/rich on the menu…I can’t help it). A balance of light and rich dishes was the right decision. Very thoughtful, knowledgeable, professional service; thank you!

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If you’ve got one near, get to Roka Akor. You’ll thank me for the recommendation when you’re in robota heaven! But more importantly, it’s the season to enjoy a moment with your loved ones and be mindful of all your blessings. Here’s wishing you’ll enjoy each meal, those precious pockets of time you have with your family and friends, and a little restful time to yourself too!

What The Scone Said

“Well hello Ms. Lemon. Haven’t seen you here for a while!” Says Mr. Blueberry Scone while taking a discreet sniff of her pretty, lemony perfume.

“Oh, hi Mr. Blueberry, yea…they’ve been so fancy with those buttery croissants lately that I don’t come here as often…ooop, there comes that hungry looking man! That’s my ride, see ya’ around!” Replies Ms. Lemon, wishing she could have chatted with Mr. Blueberry a little longer. He’s such a nice scone.

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“Give me a kiss, Ms. Latte!”  Says Mr. Espresso, smelling like freshly roasted beans and leaning in with a smile.

“Hurry, before the cat sees Mr. Espresso! He’s hiding behind those house plants Smmmooooch!” She blushes, Mr. Latte is so handsome.

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Tiddo looks on from behind the houseplants. No one believes him that the weekend pastries and coffee have a chat when they get together. Ah well, who would want that sort of breakfast anyway when you can snack on green?

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Pink Skies

The morning sky was beautiful from my bedroom window as the sun rose this morning…

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The pinks, golds and purples brought beauty to the start of a new day!

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The trees looked proud in the glow and the sun smiled as it climbed.

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But in just a few moments, the beautiful light faded away. I was disappointed to see how quickly it left…

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It reminded me that when I see a pink, glowing sunrise, to stop and enjoy the few minutes that it lasts…the world can wait a moment!

The Itty Bitty Littles

Hello delicate dandelion…

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Soft, quiet, beautiful…swaying in the wind in a warm grassy field…

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But wait! What just bumped into you and disturbed your little seedlings?

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Who’s there? I think I hear tiny footsteps crunching through the grass…

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Oh my! An itty bitty little! What a pleasure to meet you!

Coming soon, teeny-tiny friends on a big adventure!

A Beautiful Clutter

The mask shops in Venice are filled with a beautiful clutter…CIMG0886.JPG

The disguises, the puppets, the paper dolls staged in boxes, the mirrors…CIMG0883.JPG

There are lamps, wall hangings and sconces…smooth leather gloves, lace and pearls, soft embroidered pillows too…

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Ornate headpieces, gowns, feathered wings and crowns, sumptuous accessories and glorious scenes that move one’s imagination…CIMG0953.JPG

You are in this gondola heading toward a masked ball during Venice’s Carnevale. Which of the masks in that beautiful clutter are you wearing? In Venice, the choice is yours!

The Island of St. Lucia

Last spring, we visited the island of St. Lucia and took an amazing walk through the jungle. The plants were incredible!

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This is a Pink Torch Ginger, considered a highly beloved flower. It can grow to be up to 15 feet tall! This one was just a little taller than me.

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What I find remarkable about tropical flowers is how big, strong, colorful and oddly shaped they can be. Looking at some of these made me imagine for a moment that I was on another planet. The landscape and plants are just so different from what I’m accustomed to. I imagine that is how people who have never seen snow feel when they see a snowy landscape for the first time.

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What I also found incredible was how abundant the fruit was! Everywhere you looked, there were mangos, papayas and fruit that I have never seen or heard of before. I took note of a sign that read beware of falling mangos and breadfruit and proceeded to be a little paranoid that a mango would fall on my head. That would be unpleasant.

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Loved the blue-green color of this unique flowering plant!

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I’ve seen ferns unfurl from the ground but never growing into plush, soft trees. The branches weaved on the trunk and were fuzzy. The leaves looked as soft as cotton. There was a little green snake in its branches that mesmerized me.

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I couldn’t get over the enormous hummingbirds flying all over the place. They are apparently some of the world’s largest. They looked more like blackbirds than the itty-bitty hummingbirds we see at home. Their long beaks appeared useful in getting nectar from such big tropical flowers.

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We were having such a lovely time, until handsome suggested that we climb one of the local mountains…the Grand Piton. I would share photos of me at the top of that mountain, but I look like I’ve just narrowly survived torture. I had no business climbing that mountain. It was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. At least a hundred times, I breathlessly gasped “I’m not going to make it.” The running joke has been to try to get me to admit I’m proud I made it to the top and that it was worth it…I’ll never admit it, I frown when I remember that harrowing climb.

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On the mountain, I saw a giant slug nearly as long as my foot. Awesome! And I saw several elusive mongoose bounding around (introduced to St. Lucia to control the snakes). I’m a sucker for wildlife.

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We also took an incredible catamaran ride and I saw flying fish for the first time. I couldn’t believe my eyes! They jump out of the water, spread their fins and catch the wind. They can really fly a distance and even turn directions! I pondered whether a local fisherman had ever been hit by a flying fish out in his boat…that would be worse than a falling mango.

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There were nesting seabirds altogether in several trees with their fuzzy-headed young. That was a special sight! We also went snorkeling and the coral and tropical fish were so unique…I again felt like I was in another world. The only fear I had were the jellyfish. Was I stung? Oh yes. The jellyfish always get me. Their touch is very distinct, like burning, electric, bee stings. I may have said some curse words…but I was under the water, so only the jellyfish heard.

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St. Lucia is a stunning island! The people were so welcoming, the tropical waters amazing, the jungle incredible. The local food was delicious and the wildlife inspiring! And though I will never step foot on another mountain, I’ll admit it was an unforgettable experience…in that, my poor heart muscles will never forget the memory!

A Thoughtful Gift

It is the season for cheer and goodwill, a season for family, friends and thoughtful gifting to all those we care about!

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As a writer who loves a good adventure, I am always pleased to be gifted with a book. Books allow us to use our imagination and travel far from where we live, they often provide hours of inspiration long after they are given, and are (usually) stress-relieving, intellectual and a pleasure!

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And so this holiday, I humbly recommend the gift of Venice for a lady in your life, whether sister or daughter, grandma or mother, best friend or colleague or neighbor. This delightful trip to the beautiful city of Venice, Italy, through its interactive choose-your-own-adventure style (you choose what you will see and do in the book by making selections at the end of each chapter), will be a treat for any reader and lover of adventure and travel!

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And for the young ladies in your life, please consider A Festival Day in Bristol and Princess Liliana and the Dragon! These tales are light history for some learning fun, contain positive moral themes and are entertaining!

Thank you for all of your support! My books are written with a passion to inspire, entertain and enlighten, and I hope that you will enjoy them. Here’s wishing you a bright and peaceful holiday season with all those you love!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway II.

It’s December 1st! It’s the season of cheer! It’s the season of giving! I woke up this morning with a smile on my face before I had my coffee…I’m off to a good start! The sun just came out of those dim, sad clouds here in Evanston and the cardinals are flitting about in their red glory!

It’s a beautiful day, a day for a giveaway!!

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Pearls are my favorite adornment, I wear them almost every day. I think pearls are beautiful. Pearls are precious and perfect and so unique in many ways!

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Today I am giving away these precious beauties! Sterling silver, freshwater drop pearls (pink-gold color) by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

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To enter the pearl earrings giveaway, write one thing that makes you smile in the comments! A random winner will be selected this Friday, December 4th, 9am (Chicago time) and I’ll announce the winner here on Inspired By Venice.

*Fun fact!!! Did you know that all mollusks can produce pearls? And did you know that octopus and escargot snails, mussels, squid, slugs and scallops are all mollusks? It’s true! Check out this octopus pearl!

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Coconut Octopus

*Photo from wikipedia, found here. This handsome little dude carries around shells and coconut shells for protection, very smart!