Michelle’s Musings…

Hello dearest Friends, Family, and Readers! I hope with all my heart that this message finds each and every one of you well. I know it’s hard right now. I know.

God bless you.

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I figure we’re in for a longer post today since it’s been a few weeks. Just some Michelle musings, with no particular order or theme, and which will no doubt be eclectic. As always, I only wish a smile, a chuckle, a “that’s curious”, or an Amen! in it for you

Here we go…

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As you may remember, I started a teeny-tiny kitchen herb garden weeks ago. I have since been daily brooding over my little pots like a nervous mother hen. Cluck-cluck-cluck! Do they need more sun? Less sun? More water? Was that too much water? Oh geez…

Truly, I’ve no green thumb. However, I was born with my toes in the dirt. Where was that hospital? I’m delighted by anything in nature. So, when my first sprout peeked out, I was brimming with excitement…

I’ve got cilantro and basil growing at a snail’s pace…

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But no chives or parsley. I tried to keep the faith a little while, but I don’t think those are coming…

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I’m tickled by how the cilantro is sprouting these itty-bitty leaves. How tempted I am to clip one and take a nibble. I hope the basil grows full and strong. I’ll replant it and let it get out of control. I’m bonkers for basil

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[Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay]

Michelle fun fact: I have an allergy to cilantro. This is unfortunate, because I really like the herb. In general, I’ve already bad allergies. I sniffle all day long, medicine or no medicine. I’ll blow my nose in my sleeve at this point, in drapery or table linen, anything made of cloth or paper really. I don’t care. I’m so over allergies. I’ve got that respiratory system that screams No Ma’am! with great clout, the moment I so much as toe near something to which I’m allergic…

Oh that delicious, emerald-green, bright, fresh, cilantro! Sniffles, congestion, and itches! I get so itchy! The more I eat in one sitting, the louder the No Ma’am! Once, my palms itched so bad after eating a healthy portion of cilantro, that for at least half an hour, I thought I’d go crazy!

True story. Except the part about linens and drapery. I use tissue…mostly.

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Ok, I have a mystery for you!

But first, I must digress to say…look at those little flower paintings my mother Lita did! Aren’t they so pretty! They were just so cheerful, I propped them on my writing desk to celebrate spring. Love you Mama!

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Ok, back to the mystery…

Do you know what sea glass is? I honestly didn’t until recently. See, I grew up around small bodies of water, and I don’t remember ever seeing any, or it ever being introduced to my vocabulary. So, as an adult, I’ve discovered the joy of searching for this on the beach…

At first, I think I genuinely thought they were some sort of stone. Natural. Yes, go ahead, feel free to have a giggle on me! I was just ignorant of what they were. But now I know that it is actual glass, tumbled around in the water, for a long, long time. When it washes up on shore, it’s lovely.

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So, living a few blocks from Lake Michigan, let’s just say I’ve now added this to my list of mini-hobbies. And, as I’ve just learned, sea glass is only from salt water, beach glass is what we have here.

So what’s the mystery? Well according to Wikipedia, it can take many decades for these to form. I might be collecting pretty-bitties that have been tumbling around for 100 years for all I know. So, imagine how curious it was to find this one…

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Of all the billions of stones and shells and grains of sand along our shore…I found this oddity. A piece of frosty-white beach glass, etched. Now, from this photo, it may look like XXI. But I think it may have been XXX, with the right-most part of the etching fading away. I’m not entirely certain.

Roman numerals? The symbolic X’s of kissesAnd this etching isn’t new. It is worn. I can’t say how old it is, or who etched it, or simply how. But, believe me…my imagination could come up with a few stories. Perhaps I’ll write a short book of tales one day, each a possibility stemming from this one piece of glass.

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Another recent and curious mini-hobby I’ve picked up…quite literally…pennies.

You know, my step-dad Charlie always had this knack for finding money on the sidewalk, in parking lots, anywhere really. That’s always made me smile. “Look! I found a dollar!”

Well, with recent stress (to which we are all enduring), I’ve tried tricking myself into being distracted. Small amusements. I still walk to and from work, and am during this time, considered an ‘essential worker’. I have for some weeks, worked almost entirely alone. At first, this was kind of eerie (I’ve been playing a lot of classical music in my cozy little nest of an office – I helps me feel calm and focused). But now, I’ve adapted, just as each of you has had to do in one way or other…

In any case, I always delight in noticing birds, or budding flowers, along my walk. But then, I all of a sudden, started to feel both distracted and amused, by searching for pennies along my route! Instead of fretting about uncertainty, I began making a game of spotting coins. And, don’t they say to find a penny is good luck?

I’m now collecting a jar of good luck. And, I’m going to buy something special with them someday! Probably cookies…

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In other news, wearing a mask took some adapting to as well. In Evanston, it is not only suggested, but now mandatory for essential workers to do so. I don’t have to all day (thank goodness – I’d quickly become claustrophobic – God bless our medical workers) as my interactions are few. But, I wear them around others.

This specific mask with flowers on it…was left on the doorknob of my office. A gift, made by a colleague’s wife. That really touched my heart. How sweet are small gifts. Sometimes from those who know us, and sometimes from someone we hardly even know. I am so humbled by that. It reminds me to be kind to others, even in little ways, whenever I can…

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I even wear it out for walks when I am treading the urban sidewalks. Who says your mask can’t be pretty?

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With that said, I’m going to try and make one for myself. I’ve some fabric from a dress that never fit right. I’ve needle and thread. I’ve a hot iron for ironing. Yes, you read that right. I don’t own an iron. I embrace my wrinkles. So, let’s just see if my hair straightening iron can’t do the trick for this small craft? I’ll let you know! Don’t they say that necessity is the mother of invention?

I may be tempted to sew some loose pearls on it. Too bad I don’t have any spare sparkles around. Hmmm….

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As for other DIY projects, I repaired my vintage medicine cabinet door with a glue gun. A glue gun I pulled out of a box from my younger, more craftier moments. Cause I love my classic medicine cabinet. I’d use bubble gum to keep it together if I had to!

Once, I made a pair of angel wings for myself, glue-gunning every feather. It was, crazy. The very best crazy.

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[Image by congerdesign from Pixabay]

Another time, when really young, I left a glue gun plugged in on a holiday. I realized this, while on a family visit, away from the empty house where said glue gun was oozing fiery glue…

There is no worse fear for a youngster, than believing you may have just burnt the house down, while away eating mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie at a family gathering. I snuck into my aunt’s bedroom to dial my house several times. Because, you know, in a child’s innocent mind, this must mean my house was still there. I never said a word to my Mom, and was terribly anxious to get home again. When she smelled the house as we entered, that very distinct smell of burning glue and metal that can only come from a glue gun (which had miraculously caused no damage), she knew who the culprit was. The glue gun disappeared for a little while. Probably a few years…and then there were angel wings – 1996 Romeo and Juliet style baby!

In other news. God’s been good to me. Tea and cookies good…

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Fresh fruit and green juice good…

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Fill my belly good…

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Fine health, and a soft bed to rest my head, good.

What more could I need?

If you’re reading, say hello friend! Leave a comment! Share a few lines of your DIY, a beach-glass mystery, a blessing you’re thankful for, a funny story, or your favorite tea-time treat! What’s blooming in your garden? Love it!

And wherever you are in the world, I wish you ever well. Hang in there! All things have a season. From out of hardship and gloom, there is always rebirth and renewal.

So I say again, and always will…

Stay Inspired!

 

Lord, Hear My Voice…

Taking a peaceful moment today, I started a little kitchen herb garden. It will be a delight as the days go by, to watch it grow…

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1: 11-12: KJV

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They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

Psalms 126: 5: KJV

In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

Psalms 120: 1: KJV

Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.

Psalms 130: 2: KJV

Pray for one another. Lift up one another. Take care of yourself. Keep faith and an inspired heart.

Holding Down The Fort…

Hello, hello! Are you staying inspired today?

Some days, I’ve got to dig a little deeper for my inspiration. Like today. I can’t look outdoors for it, that’s for sure. Here in Evanston, we’ve got a snowy, wet, blustery, dismal ick going on. But that’s the Midwest in January!

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Want to know the not-so-nice place my non-stop-imagination-crazy-brain went this morning? I was thinking about how quickly the snowstorm blew up yesterday. I had mentioned to a co-worker late yesterday afternoon, that I believed we were expecting 3 to 5 inches. That’s what the report said anyway. At that moment, there wasn’t a snowflake to be seen. Within ten minutes, I kid you not, the world outside was going white, we were in a snow globe, a layer already on the ground. Within about an hour, the conditions were bad and the snow already quite accumulated…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

I walk to and from work, so I was worn after a long week, and a great trudge through the cold and snow last night. I was so thankful for the safe, warm, cozy little home I have. And, I’d just picked up some new and very delicious vanilla black tea! As I looked out the window, sipping away, spreading out all the things I’d traipsed home in to dry out, I thought yikes! What a storm!

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[Image by Lense_n_Pen from Pixabay]

So, what was that awful thought I had this morning? I was thinking again about my cozy nest out from the elements. And then, I thought about how hard it would have been for pioneers back in time, who built their little homesteads in the middle of nowhere, out on vast flat fields, with nothing to see for miles around…

Well, I’d learned as a kid in school, just how life-threatening instant blizzards were for pioneers. How, a hapless individual could walk just a short distance out from their house, and be immediately lost, unable to even see well enough to get back to their front door. Uhm, that’s terrible…

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[Image by mbll from Pixabay]

So, which teacher when I was a kid, put that everlasting, horrible thought into my head? The idea that dozens of homesteaders who’d stumbled out of their doors in a blizzard, to tie up a horse or a cow or something, froze to death in the snow, mere feet from their houses. And there, a loved one was waiting, fretting from the threshold, unable to step out from the safety of the shelter, lest they became lost too. That’s really tragic.

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[Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay]

Well, I guess I’m inspired today that I’m not a pioneer from the 1800’s…

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[Image by Successful4 from Pixabay]

It was probably that same teacher who gave us the most awesome assignment ever! Each student had to pretend they were a pioneer, traveling across the U.S. in a wagon with their family. We had to write a journal, and draw pictures, of our imagined journey. It had to be filled with both the good and the bad. A fatal snake bite one day, a swim in a refreshing stream the next. A broken wagon wheel alternating with making new friends with another caravan, etc. I had a field day imagining all the wild things that were happening to my little pioneer self!

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[Image by Jackie Samuels from Pixabay]

Moving on from luckless pioneers…

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Do you know what smell I think is amazing? Another item sparked from my childhood. Tomato vines. They have this spicy, earthy, strong scent that is difficult to describe. I remember it from my Grandma Ina’s garden on a hot summer day. And now, I sniff my tomato vines when I make a salad…

That may, or may not, be a true story.

Moving on from sniffing tomato vines…

I wanted to share a film that I thought was a real gem. The Good Catholic.

A new priest covering a late night confession meets a young woman who confesses something unexpected. His life gets a bit of a shake-up from there, as he continues to encounter this gal. All the while, his interactions with the two other more senior priests that he works alongside, add another interesting layer of things for this priest to ponder…

I liked it so much for the way it spoke on faith, love, and compassion. Also because it was funny and witty throughout. I thought the acting between the three priests was perfectly executed. And too, there’s a sweet friendship. A really nice movie.

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To digress, have you ever paired walnuts and cheddar cheese together? Best snack ever.

Well, I’m off to get things done, while staying cozy in my house. I’ll just hold down the fort right here. Most likely with a veggie pizza…

Stay Inspired!

Go Get Yourself A Cup Of Coffee…

I was pondering this morning, how many years I have lived in Evanston, for I didn’t originally come from here. By my calculations, it’s already been about 13 years in this town. It seems like a twirl of a wand, but a lot of life happened in that time…

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[Downtown Evanston, Dec. 2019]

Evanston abuts Chicago to the north, along Lake Michigan…

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[View of Chicago from Evanston]

It’s urban, yet comfortable and traversable. I prefer walking to my destinations however, or sometimes taking the L train, rather than driving. Seems the parking, and the bustle, give me the nerves these days. Things like that didn’t bother me all those years ago, but sensitivities can change…

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[Evanston mural below the train tracks. L train or Metra, either shortly gets you to downtown Chicago]

I remember once all those years ago when I hadn’t been here all that long, living in a studio apartment above several restaurants, I experienced a bout of sadness and ennui. My mom reminded me of what was right outside my door. She told me to “Go get yourself a cup of coffee.”

 

Newport Coffee House in Evanston is a real treat.

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[Sandwiches at Newport Coffee House-Evanston. I tried the salmon-egg-avocado. Really delicious!]

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[Healthy house-made choices at Newport Coffee House-Evanston]

[Newport Coffee House]

She told me to walk around, look at the shops, maybe get myself a new sweater. She was right. I was young, lived in a nice city, so many adventures yet ahead of me. And for a little distraction, all I had to do was take a walk

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[Evanston’s beloved Bennison’s Bakery]

[Bennison’s Bakery Treats]

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[Every delight you’d wish for at Bennison’s Bakery-Evanston]

All these many years later, seems I’ve quite adopted her advice. Whether anxious, restless, down, needing exercise, frustrated, want some fresh air, adventure, or to notice something new. Or even, just because

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Taking a walk is a wellness-booster in general. And though I don’t always get myself a coffee (have to watch that afternoon caffeine nowadays), mom’s wisdom is as applicable today as it was a decade ago, and it always will be. What she was saying was, no matter what’s going on in your life, you’ve got to take advantage of what you’ve got right now…

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However you apply that to your life, Go Get Yourself A Cup of Coffee is a catchall for…go turn on the music and dance a song…go relax by making yourself a meal…take 30 minutes to read a book you enjoy…go birdwatching…make a call to a friend you miss…get out for an amble on a nature path…go sit in the coffee house…

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[My cozy Evanston safe-haven in life’s wilderness! Love my home.]

Just remember to do something that makes you feel happy, well, thankful, and in the moment…

Thank you Mama, for your wisdom!

Stay Inspired!

…would love to hear from you friends! Do comment and say Hello! Tell me of some of your favorite delights in life! What makes you happy and inspired?

An Inspired Heart…

Hello All! How are you today? I hope you are finding ways to stay inspired?

With the holidays surrounding us, sparkle, joy, and inspiration would seem naturally about. But, I know that this time of year isn’t always glitter and gold for everyone. Whether it’s lack of money, the drearier weather (at least in these parts), the absence of a supportive family or friend circle, or thoughts of a new year (and new decade!) and all the things one is still hoping to achieve…

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{Painted wall, Milwaukee, WI}

But, you know what I think, dear friends?

I think, no matter what time of year, we should just try our best, to keep an inspired heart…

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{Me in Milwaukee…La Croix in hand…of course!}

What keeps me inspired? I’ve a little treasure of ways…first, adventure

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{Painted wall, Milwaukee, WI.}

I presently don’t have the funds for faraway travels, something I really enjoy. However, I’ve always just as equally cherished, the adventure to be had, at my own back door

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{Summer street festival, Milwaukee, WI}

Whether it’s a ride to a nearby town for a bite and a stroll. A peek about a new neighborhood…

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{A lakeside trail, Milwaukee, WI.}

A nature walk…

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{Street festival delights, Milwaukee, WI.}

Or a display of sprinkly donuts, well I just love it…

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{Mom & Charlie at Bristol, Kenosha, WI}

I’m thankful too, that I always have the adventure of Bristol before me! Mom (Lita) and step-dad (Charlie), always help me set up my little shop each summer, The Quill and Brush. We stage it all, and then have a bit of picnic lunch…

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It’s a treat each year to see Bristol in the weeks before opening day!

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So peaceful and green…

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I’m already anticipating the 2020 season!

I’m also ever inspired and thankful for all of my wonderful Bristol friends. To name a few…

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{Tammy & Dino, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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{Priscilla & Nic, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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{Stephanie & Bryan, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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{Stephanie & Bryan, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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Thank you to all who have supported me as an author. I can only hope that my tales will bring even a portion of the magic to your life, as your friendships have inspired in mine…

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Well, it also seems I find adventure and inspiration no matter what the course of my day. Yesterday afternoon, for instance, was my regular 6-month cleaning at the dentist. I go to Smileworks in Chicago, and have for years and years. Recommended by a trusted friend, they are hands-down, the best. And they gave me a pink toothbrush in my swag bag yesterday, so…

Well, Smileworks moved offices recently, and now have a spectacularly trendy spot! Yesterday was the first time I’d visited the new office. Located right in the middle of one of Chicago’s Lincoln Square ‘community areas’, I was wowed by the old-timey meets hip-urban block. I didn’t have the money for shopping, and wanted to get home for a rest, so I didn’t stroll after my appointment, but let’s just say it’s a destination. If you live local, and want to have a day adventure, this is a gem. I’m going to make a point of planning an exploratory visit at some point…

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I did however, stop in one store, Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen. I wish I’d taken photos, and next time will. It was a dreamland. An utter dreamland. I bought myself some weekend dinner, zesty quinoa salad, cucumber salad, chilled fried perch…

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A block of Northwoods Cheddar…

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Heaven. Truly heaven.

This might be the most beautiful photo I have ever taken. I call it, Cheese and Cracker.

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Isn’t that an inspiring plate? Oh my word, it was delicious too!

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I’ve also been finding inspiration lately in everything chocolate and mint!

I have always loved chocolate mint. My mom was eating chocolate-chip mint ice cream when I was in her belly. I know this because I’ve loved chocolate-mint since birth. It’s my favorite. I could eat a box of Andes Mints in one sitting all by myself. I’m pretty sure that I have.

So, Christmas-time means chocolate-mint time. Matt’s limited edition double chocolate peppermint cookies? I swoon. Superior on Main’s chocolate mint brownie bites? I faint…

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Excuse me? Mint and dark chocolate KitKat? Crying tears of Christmas chocolate-mint joy…

I’m so silly.

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To share, there’s a verse in Proverbs that I’ve been dwelling on the last few weeks, because I have plenty of moments (and hours, and days) when my joy and inspiration flicker…

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Proverbs 17:22 KJV

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And so, in this season, and in every season, I’m wishing you too, a merry heart. Find the joy you’re given in each day. Try not to worry. Love yourself. Love each other. And so especially…

Stay Inspired!

Come Along On My Adventure…

For me, any outing can be an adventure, planned or unplanned! Last night I had a little trouble falling asleep, in part because I was excited for what was to come today. The opening of Evanston’s outdoor farmer’s market for the season! And, Evanston’s Unitarian Church’s annual rummage sale! I woke up before 6:30 a.m., and there was no going back to bed. Adventure time!

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Evanston was blessed with a beautiful day today! Still a bit chilly, yet sunny, green, and full of birdsong. I’ll take it!

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I figured for the first day of the farmer’s market, it would be packed with a crowd. But I was there pretty early, so I had first pick of the Swiss chard and radishes (my favorites)…

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The fresh air, the flowers, the veggies, the baked goods…love it!

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I was even able to purchase my city beach tag early with a discount! With as busy as my summers are, I don’t get to swim as much as I’d like, but I’ll be sure to fit in at least a little time on the sand. I’ve already got my beach pass! All set!

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Don’t you just want to swoon over these potted lovelies? Might pick up one of these next time…

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I did grab a cold pressed juice (the more it smells and tastes like a freshly-cut front lawn, the better) from City Press. Amazingly fresh and delicious! I think I’ll try a different juice each visit to the market…

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I walked away with some veggie goodness for supper tonight, and happiness in my soul. Next up, the rummage sale!

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The rummage sale felt much busier than the farmer’s market. Rooms full of used goods, at bargain prices. You never know what you’re going to find, and the fun is in the hunt! Clothing, furniture, dishes, books…oh my!

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Unfortunately, I have to say that I got a little claustrophobic right from the start. The tables can be close together, with a lot of folks searching for treasures. So fun, but more and more, I find I can get a little dizzy in such situations. Still, I managed to catch a glimpse of all there was to see, and walked away with this basket to use at faire for one dollar!

A morning full of adventure, and I was already home before noon! Nap time…

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What else has been keeping me inspired? Editing, writing, writing, editing. I go to places far away, and all of my own imagining…

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Trying on costume pieces that my mama made, to see what fits for this summer…

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Ever trying my best to eat my healthiest…

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Chicago’s Soul Vegan lasagna makes my heart sing…oh heavens, that lasagna!

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And delighting myself with the little things. My small local grocer had some pink roses that were looking a bit droopy. The gal at the check-out was encouraging me to look at other flowers, probably thinking I’d get the roses home and they’d fail overnight…

I wanted them anyway, and they perked up and smelled so pretty once I put them in water. I buried my face in them one million times. Small pleasures are my whole world.

Thanks for joining me on my adventure! Stay Inspired Friends!

Finding Inspiration!

Hi Folks! So, yesterday was beautiful! Warm, sunny, blue skies, lovely spring flowers lifting their heads…and today we have a blizzard here in Evanston. Crazy snow. I scraped all the icy muck off of my car to take a quick trip to the grocery today, and by the time I got out of the store, I had to do it all over again. I’d almost think this was unbelievable, if I hadn’t lived in northern Illinois all my life. I’m trying not to cry. Keep it together, Michelle…let’s stay inspired!

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Well, while having a sip of cold brewed coffee and a blueberry muffin today, the words God is Good went through my mind, and I really meant it. I’m very inspired by blueberry muffins. I love blueberry muffins. Blueberry muffins are at the top of my list of things I love above all things. How can a mid-April snowpocolypse get me down when I have blueberry muffins?

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I’m also sorting through a box of costumes my mama handed over. Beautiful things that she made for me to wear to the Bristol Renaissance Faire many years ago. Most of the pieces I can once again (miraculously in spite of my insatiable love for blueberry muffins…and all things bread…and cheese) fit into. I’m going to puzzle together some fun costumes for this summer!

Hey RENNIES! How long until the Bristol Renaissance Faire opens?! Opening day, July 6th! I CAN’T WAIT! Huzzah!!!

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Speaking of the faire, I’m already so very excited that I’ll be sharing a handful of new tales with readers at my shop The Quill and Brush this summer! Who’s ready for some new reading adventures?! And for those of you looking forward to getting lost in my Ancient world…my author’s proof just shipped. I’ll be having a read of it later this week, which will better gage the exact release date.

Know what it’s like when you finish writing a book, and then the first copy shows up in the mail? It’s BETTER than Christmas morning, my birthday, and an Easter basket combined. Just sayin’…

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And now you can have a little laugh on me. So, anyone who knows me knows, that everywhere I go, a can of La Croix is in my hand. I love fizzy water. It is also on the top of my list for all things I love above all things. And, being a total quirkster, I enjoy lining my cans of La Croix up in the fridge. My own little army of fizzy waters. Love it!

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So this week, always having my La Croix all nice and in a row, I open the fridge and one can is like…way aways from the other cans. Hmmm…I live alone, so how’d that La Croix get way over there? I decide that I must have just bumped some things around and didn’t notice? So I move the can back and go about my day…

The next day, I go in the fridge and what? Another La Croix has taken a road trip. Another day, 3 cans have shifted. Being Michelle, I of course initially wonder if I either don’t have a La Croix drinking ghost, or if someone has been in my place. Yikes! (I only imagine these things because I apparently enjoy creeping myself out).

I digress, but it actually mentioned the paranormal in my horoscope the other day. And though I don’t believe in horoscopes myself, they really are quite amusing…

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[Image by Rirriz from Pixabay]

Truth is, my fridge is on the fritz. It’s making noise, which I assume is causing vibrating, which I assume makes La Croix cans skate across a cool surface. But what was fun about the La Croix mystery? It reminded me of the Sailing Stones in Death Valley, California! If you don’t know what those are, I entreat you to read about them! So, so fun! Science is so cool…

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[Image by Jon Sullivan on Wikipedia]

So I’ve shared a little bit of what’s keeping me amused and inspired. What’s inspiring you? My very best wishes to each and every one of you today!

At least the sky is blue…

Hello, hello! The sky here in Chicago is blue, and for that I am thankful! What could be more uplifting than a blue and sunny sky?

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It is at least offsetting the fact that I’ve come down with my second virus in a single month. Simply terrible, I say! Who sneezed on me?!

There is this line in the 1996 film Emma (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) that always makes me chuckle. Mr. Elton (played by Alan Cumming) says, “There is nothing worse than a sore throat. Its effects are exceedingly bleak.” Very true, Mr. Elton. Very true.

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But before I settle in with tea, edits, and a nap, I wanted to share a simple and delicious salad that I made last weekend. It would make a great weeknight meal, if you need an idea! In winter, it is of course the first temptation to eat all the heavy comfort foods. I’ll have a slice of Chicago deep dish pizza, one plate of roasted potatoes, and a slab of lasagna please. Oh, and a slice of tiramisu…and some french fries. This salad was my attempt to still try and keep some focus on the veggies. It was delicious!

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Start with some rice, arugula, and veggies of choice. I went with a roasted red pepper & basil quinoa & brown rice mix, fresh red pepper, onion and cucumber…

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Start up your rice (which I cooked in my handy-dandy rice cooker since I lack the talent for making a proper pot of rice without it)…

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Cut up your veggies and let the rice cool off…

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And then mix it all together! For two days, I enjoyed this wonderful salad for lunch. Healthful, and the recipe cost less than $10! I plan to make this again, perhaps even as a meal prep when I know I’ll be on-the-go and will need something healthy to come along…

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So…Chicago is expecting severely low temperatures tonight and tomorrow, after the blizzard-like conditions we had the last few days. Did I mention two saintly dudes on the street helped me push my car out of the snow yesterday? Thank you, you good Samaritans you! Tonight will drop to negative 20, and tomorrow will be a high of negative 12. Additionally, the wind chill will make conditions even more dangerous. I might just have to have that slice of deep dish pizza for supper tonight, as buffer against the cold, and for my sore throat of course.

Stay warm! Stay safe! Eat your veggies! Don’t sneeze on anyone and give them a sore throat! Be a good Samaritan! Stay inspired!

Waiting For Spring…

Here in Evanston, I’m sure waitin’ on spring! I’m awful tired of wearing a big coat with all my winter trappings and sloshing around through the snow and slipping around on the ice. I want some sun on my face, I want to wear my flip-flops, I want to walk through a garden! Know what I mean?! I’m doing my best to be patient!

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In the meanwhile, I’m working on getting back on the vegan bandwagon, and let me just say that lunch was pretty delicious today! Nowadays there are so many great vegan products out there to help you craft a satisfying and healthy meal, it just takes a bit of getting used to…

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Today I had two crispy Boca vegan chicken patties topped with melty vegan Chao cheese, a spread of Vegenaise, some crisp Pete’s Living Greens lettuce, sliced yellow onion and tomatoes. On the side, celery sticks and a can of cucumber melon fizzy water by Soleil! Just some of my favorite brands when I’m eatin’ vegan!

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In other news, I moved into a new home back in early January and things are quite cozy! I’ve figured out most of the quirks and charms of my new house and Tiddo the cat has adjusted with ease. One of my favorite parts are the large vintage windows that let in so much bright light!

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When Tiddo isn’t scratching up the furniture or racing around like the road runner, he quite enjoys the windows and light too. It’s impossible to believe that he is 18 years old, which means he’s 88 in human years. Let’s just say, he doesn’t act his age!

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In my new home, there is a charming nook for my writing desk. I’m still arranging my home office just how I would like it to be, but I’m loving this quiet little alcove to write in and it gives the room a little more space with the desk set into the wall…

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My newest novel is coming along swimmingly (out early July). It is a romantic odyssey set in ancient times. The title, quite fittingly, is Ancient. Tiddo frequently offers writing advice. He thinks there should be lots of mice in the story. I’m not so sure I can fit that into the plot, but if I devise to add a plague of some sort, I suppose mice could do in place of locusts or pestilence?

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And here’s a sneak peak of the cover art for Ancient before the title and author name are set into place. The screen shot doesn’t do it justice, but it’s really attractive. I can’t wait to share the finished cover and synopsis for Ancient, as the next few months progress!

Beware The Ninja Pepper…

Hello folks! Today, I invite you to enjoy a good chuckle on my expense. After all, we all need to laugh more, it’s good for the health!

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Last night, I was perusing the produce section of my local grocer. Often there are appealing ‘ready-made’ options along with the vegetables. In past weeks, I’ve tried two kinds of stuffed portabella mushrooms from this section, filled with garlic, spinach, cheese and such. They made some rather delicious vegetarian dinners for me!

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I’d once noted some stuffed green peppers and thought I’d like to give them a go. The next time I saw them in the produce section, I was going to pick them up. A little spread of cream cheese over crisp green pepper, some cheddar sprinkled over top. They looked bright and fresh, and some melty cheese would make them even more delicious…

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Last night, I saw the peppers and snatched them up. When I got home, I heated half of the peppers up for supper, excited to try something a little different. Right when I was the hungriest for dinner and the peppers were hot, I portioned out a plate and cut a very big piece of pepper. I then forked it up, and put it into my mouth…

Now, in hindsight, I question why I didn’t realize that those peppers were not regular green peppers? They plainly looked like homemade jalapeno poppers. The peppers were long and not round. But when I opened the package, they sure smelled like fresh-cut green peppers! Was I just willing them to be what I wanted them to be?

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[Photo of the offending peppers uncooked]

So I take that first good crunch right into the mouthful and immediately understand that there has been an error. I glance down at my dinner plate, full of jalapenos, while this first bite makes me want to pass out on the kitchen floor. Call me a baby if you want, but I have no tolerance for a mouthful of jalapeno. I’m now in Hades and my nose and eyes are starting to run. But then something even crazier happens…

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No lie, I went deaf. I was still standing there trying to swallow the first bite, and all of the sudden my hearing goes from normal, to as though wads of thick cotton were in my ears. I’m underwater, and all the background noise is muffled out. I was of course too distressed over the fire in my mouth to be much concerned with my hearing, but the sensation of deafness was memorable…

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“My ears feel funny! Do they look normal to you?”

It took about 20 seconds for my hearing to return, just as I was frantically dumping the steaming peppers into the trash and running for kleenex. Dinner was foiled! Ninja peppers! Sneak attack! You tricked me!

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“Guys? Guys! I can’t hear anything! Where’d everybody go?”

Once fully recovered and munching on an alternative meal choice, I knew I had to look this up. Temporary deafness from eating a hot pepper? I certainly couldn’t be the only one.

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Turns out, I’m not. “Could Spicy Foods Cause Temporary Deafness?” By Hearing Wellness was an enlightening article. Granted, sounds like digesting some of the world’s hottest peppers would more likely cause such a thing. But just a shout out to otolaryngologists…I didn’t eat a Ghost, Viper, Reaper or Komodo Dragon pepper, just a wimpy Jalapeno, and it happened to me

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“Get it out! Just get the hot pepper OUT!”

*An otolaryngologist is an ear, nose and throat doctor. I learned how to pronounce that word here.

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To summarize the article, there are two theories. Either nerves are temporarily affected, or mucus buildup (which rushes in to save you from the burn) is the cause. If I were to take a good guess, it felt to me like some nerves went berserk!

*Berserk: Violently or destructively frenzied; wild; crazed; deranged. (Dictionary.com)

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“I’d rather eat this table than another jalapeno!”

Yikes! But you know, let’s just say this was karma. For, once upon a time when I was a kid (but old enough to know better), I told a much younger cousin to take a big bite of a pepper from our grandma’s garden. I told her it was not the hot kind, even though I knew that it was. Yes, even nice girls play not so nice (albeit harmless) jokes for a giggle! When the poor mite bit into the pepper and began to cry, grandma scolded me knowingly, but I claimed innocence. Naughty indeed! Well, I received my comeuppance…

 

To Travel, To Eat!

I’ve discovered that I really enjoy culinary travel series. You know how folks get caught up binge watching their favorite tv programs? Well, I’ve got to say that I’ve been swept away with several shows that focus on cooking and trekking the globe. Primarily because they combine two of my favorite things, eating and seeing new places. If you’re as nuts as I am for travel and food, you may want to check these out…

Somebody Feed Phil is a Netflix original. I consider this show to be vibrant, cheerful and upbeat. The host Phil Rosenthal is hilarious. You’ll definitely enjoy a few good chuckles! Some of the destinations are Saigon, Lisbon and Mexico City, just to name a few. If you’re looking for an entertaining food program, I highly recommend this one!

Another food-travel show that I highly recommend is Ainsley Eats The Streets. I like Ainsley Harriott’s zeal for trying culturally important street food from around the world. He also creates dishes along the way, inspired by the places he visits, places like Iceland, Istanbul and Barbados. His sideways glances at the camera when something he’s ordered isn’t so tasty, will make you grimace and laugh. Great show!

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and Parts Unknown are both excellent travel programs with more than you’d expect on the menu. More than just new food in new destinations, these shows dig deeper into history and culture, giving you new perspectives of our world. They are each sprawling shows that take you anywhere you’d ever imagined. I find this host grittier and more serious than the others, but so are many of the themes. Endlessly traveling to so many far-flung corners of the globe, must have proved difficult for everyone involved in production. These shows deserve some serious credit!

Happy eating! Safe travels! Stay Inspired!

My Herb Kit: A Poem

Oh goodness, oh my! A package for me! From a dear thoughtful cousin, oh what could it be?

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A housewarming gift! Something special, I know. Oh where are the scissors, let’s not open this slow!

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Such a festive bag, and one special note too! Shall we see what’s inside? Oh yes, let’s do!

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Tiddo, my Tiddo! Is it something real good? Something you might like to nibble, even if I won’t like that you should?

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Oh heavens! Oh my! It’s just what I need! Some fresh bright herbs, how delightful indeed!

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There’s basil and chives, parsley and cilantro too. I’ll always have fresh greens on hand to use!

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Thank you to my cousin, you really are so kind! Stay tuned as I plant, much green in my kitchen we will soon find!

All you need is a rice cooker and some imagination…

As the proverb goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing was truer last night when I made a complete meal, all in my rice cooker! Now why would I do that? Well, I moved two weeks ago and suddenly realized I was without a microwave, toaster, or an oven that I deemed safe enough to use until it was replaced. It is quite an older model and I’m not taking any chances fussing with gas, pilot lights and matches…

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I never knew how much one could miss a hot meal until I had no appliance to procure one. Especially as it is winter. Of course, there’s always the temporary fix of ordering a meal for delivery, like the Chinese takeout I enjoyed one evening. But delivery isn’t often the healthy choice, nor is it economical for regular meals. Further, how would I reheat any leftovers?! I’ll be having a new oven installed soon, but in the meanwhile, I needed to make a hot meal for myself, no matter how simple. But how?

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As I was considering how I might get away with lighting a bonfire on the public sidewalk to roast up a medieval feast (seriously needing a hot meal that isn’t pizza delivery), I thought I vaguely remembered that the rice cooker my mom bought me some years back mentioned ‘steamer’ on the box. Hmmm, could I steam up a meal in my rice cooker?! Could I make, salmon? What I wouldn’t do for a piece of fish!

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So as the snow fell last night, dark and chilly out of doors, I remained cozy while experimenting with my Black & Decker rice cooker. I placed a piece of salmon on the steamer dish that I found (never used) in the rice cooker box, poured some water into the pot, put on the lid and eagerly awaited the outcome…

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How disappointed I would be if the experiment failed! How I kept my fingers crossed! But one of the pictures on the rice cooker box showed shrimp being steamed. If you could steam shrimp, why not salmon?

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Meanwhile, I poured some peas and beans into a mini tin. I was hungry. Couldn’t I steam up some sides too?

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I plunked them in…

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And then put the salmon back on top to keep warm…

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The result was a delicious hot meal, simple in every way, but wonderful to me. The salmon was perfectly cooked and very tasty! I grinned mightily with my cleverness as I left not a bean or pea on my plate! This meal was frugal too, $3.99 for the salmon, $1.25 for the beans and $.99 for the peas. Less than $6.25 for dinner! Ha-ha-HA!

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Thank you to my mama for this rice cooker! She bought it for me when I’d mentioned how terrible I was at cooking a proper pot of rice. A rice cooker took care of that, perfect rice every time. Tonight, I’m going to attempt some other experiment! A baked potato? Steamed rice and veggies? Perhaps a hot bowl of soup? The sky is my limit now! Me and the Black & Decker are best buds forever!

What should I make? Stay inspired folks!

Delicious Mushroom Toasties, And Some Decadent Bruschetta Too!

As you might recall, I consider myself the Mad Hatter of toasties. I’ll put almost anything on a piece of bread and throw it into the oven for a good crisping up. Especially on a freezing winter night! I’d had a craving recently for some mushrooms, and thought to make a creamy pasta dish with them. But instead, I made the most delicious toasties imaginable…

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First I sautéed red onions and a bit of fresh minced garlic in a wee drizzle of olive oil and Earth Balance vegan butter, low heat, stirring frequently until they were cooked and soft. Add extra olive oil if more moisture is needed…

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I then tossed in chopped mushrooms, the common white button variety, and splashed in balsamic vinegar. I’m crazy for the sweet tang of reduced balsamic, and toss my veggies in balsamic in the skillet all the time. It will burn though (which tastes terribly icky), so again, low heat while tossing often. Let those veggies soak in the flavor and allow the balsamic to steam out its bitterness…

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Top pieces of Italian bread with this colorful, flavorful, appetizingly-smelling concoction and sprinkle on sea salt and pepper. Try not to spoon it all into your mouth directly, because that can happen. Place into the oven until the bread crisps up and the whole house (not just the kitchen) smells like Heaven…

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Or, if it is a sub-zero winter evening, dark out at only 4:30 p.m., and you can’t pass up that half-tub of parmesan shavings calling your name from the fridge, do what I did and pour liberally, your mouth watering as you await the cheesy melt. Vegans, look away…

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I spent a little more prep time on these toasties to allow the onions, garlic and mushrooms to really cook down and get flavorful. It was worth babysitting the pan, for they were absolutely amazing. Very inexpensive to make, vegan if you don’t add cheese, a hearty vegetarian dinner if you do. Add some simple mixed greens to the side, and a magnificent meal awaits you!

And now for the most sinful bruschetta on the planet…

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What are you trying to do to me Maggiano’s?! My life will never be the same…

Maggiano’s Little Italy is a Chicago-born Italian restaurant that you can now find across the U.S. They are known for large portions and their warmly-lit, family-style dining rooms. I’ve always enjoyed eating there, and especially love their salads. Their house dressing is dreamy (and so is a basketful of their soft bread if you please)…

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While recently enjoying Maggiano’s salads to-go, some of their new ‘bruschetta bar’ options were given a try, and holy cow. I now sometimes dream about what you see on this plate above. I literally picture these bites and salivate at random times of the day. The to-go order has been repeated, more than once. Each bite of bruschetta a transcendence into the realm of the ever-pleased tastebud. You can peruse the menu here, but be sure to try it for yourself if you spot a Maggiano’s. Truly decadent and delicious!

What’s cookin’ in your kitchen? What’s your favorite take-out lately? Happy eating!

Lovin’ That! Grandma’s Slaw In 5 Minutes

So many of the best things I’ve ever eaten came from my Grandma Ina’s kitchen. We spent a lot of time together when I was young, so I got to eat a lot of her wonderful cooking. Whipped mashed potatoes, meatloaf with sweet ketchup glaze, bbq ribs, rhubarb pie, zucchini casserole. I admit that I didn’t appreciate her stuffed green peppers the way I would today (cooked peppers were a bit bitter as a kid), or her garden salads straight from the garden with fresh-made dressing shaken up (I’d love that now…but I was young). But one of my favorites will forever be her coleslaw, which I fondly just call slaw

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Grandma Ina took this photo from her kitchen window. That’s me! I was reading a book on the swing. Probably Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps a Choose Your Own Adventure. Obsessed with books. Still am! Wonder if Grandma was making some slaw in that kitchen when she snapped that photo?

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Now, my grandma moved down to Southern Illinois some years ago (where she was originally born). She lives in a renovated one room school house (I have to tell everyone this because I think it’s neat), with an outhouse out back (no, it’s not in service…but I’m sure a snake lives in there). She’s loving life in the countryside, just as she did living here up north in the countryside. But I digress…what is to be done with grandma so far away all this time and no access to her slaw?! I guess a gal has got to put on her big-girl breeches and make her own!

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I’ve made it now a great many times. However, I’ve gotten quick about it. This gal does not have time to finely chop up a head of green and a head of purple cabbage (and carrots too!). Time draining, and makes your hands turn purple. And anyway, I recall grandma using a coarse chop in the blender with just a head of green cabbage for her slaw, so I feel quite ok with using shortcuts!

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After previous chopping toil, I now buy the precut package of slaw at the grocery. No chopping at all! Chopping is torture! Don’t do that to yourself, unless you find the act of an hour of chopping cabbage relaxing…

In a bowl, mix a few heaping tablespoons of mayo (vegan or regular) with a splash of milk (almond or regular), a pinch of salt and a ton of pepper. In my opinion, you can’t have too much pepper. It can’t be possible in slaw…unheard of.

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Mix up the dressing with a wire whisk to make sure there are no clumps, then pour over the slaw and stir well. I find that a little dressing goes a long way, even in a big bowl of sliced cabbage…

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Cover in wrap (but maybe sprinkle on some more pepper first). Then let settle in the fridge for a bit (slaw tastes even better the next day). This process takes all of 5 minutes, and makes multiple helpings. I like to bring this dish anywhere I’m invited. The fresh crunch compliments most any meal, and cabbage is good for ya’…

This recipe isn’t exactly grandma’s, but it is just as simple and almost as delicious, and makes me think of her. Lovin’ That!

Lovin’ That! Pete’s Living Greens

What’s next on my list of Lovin’ That!? Pete’s Living Greens. Some of you might remember when I got really sick with food poison back in January. I’d thought I’d gone to Hades and back, in such misery was I. The culprit was prepackaged lettuce, the kind that comes in a plastic tub. Usually it’s prewashed and it is of course, convenient. That’s why I liked buying it…

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Unfortunately, it can also be very dangerous to your health. Please check out my previous post, Prepackaged Lettuce, Let Us Not! After that terrible incident, I’d been making the effort to regularly purchase a fresh head of lettuce, to rinse and chop up myself. But I have to say, that too has had its frustrations. You bring it home in a thin plastic bag and it’s already moist (because they mist veggies with water in their display at the grocery), and so it goes bad just as quickly. If you take it out of the bag and put it back into the fridge, it wilts immediately. Argh!

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As a vegetarian…and now what I’d like to call a 98% vegan, I eat a lot of greens. I can’t have that fresh lettuce going south in one or two days. And I’m tired of wasting money! What to do?

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Introducing Pete’s Living Greens (and yes, I like to match the color of my drinking straws to the color on my soda water cans…I’ve gotta be me). Pete’s Living Greens do come in a plastic tub, but it is different

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It is plucked out of the dirt with the roots attached, neither precut nor prewashed. The label claims you get seven extra days of freshness because of the roots. I eat my lettuce far faster than seven days, so I can’t attest. However, I am very satisfied with Pete’s Living Greens. It stays bright, fresh, crisp, until I’ve eaten it all. Not one leaf going to waste. Lovin’ That!

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There’s very little moisture in the package, just a tiny bit of condensation. I pluck off as many or few leaves as I wish, and let the rest of the lettuce remain attached to its roots. Voila! Fresh lettuce for days. And affordable too! This head (which was much larger before I ate half of it) cost about $3.50…and remember, not a leaf goes into the trash. Finally, my lettuce woes have been solved!

*Pete’s Living Greens did not fund my lettuce eats. All opinions of lettuce love are my own!

Gobble, gobble! Go gobble your greens! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay inspired!

Lovin’ That! Soul Vegan Lasagna

Next on my list of Lovin’ That! is Soul Vegan’s vegan lasagna! Soul Vegan is a wonder food provider in Chicago that makes the most amazing, healthy, tasty dishes…

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Even as a vegetarian, I indulged in their lasagna regularly. They sell pre-packaged slices, wraps and full meals at the Whole Foods in my area, and according to their website, they also provide for the local Mariano’s…

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The first reasons why I love this lasagna is that it’s delivered to the store very freshly made, is only chilled (not frozen), and provides a perfect portion size that doesn’t leave me hungry…

Further, I like meals that can be thrown together quickly. I get home, slide two or three bake dishes into the oven, and done. Especially on a chilly, dark night! (I’m not a fan of microwaves when I can help it. I prefer putting a few things into the oven and stepping away to relax before supper). When I return to the oven, voila! The perfect meal!

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I also love this lasagna because someone else made it (lasagna takes quite a bit of time to make). I enjoy it further because it’s a healthier version of this dish. But most especially, I love it because it tastes AMAZING. I prefer this delicious slice to any lasagna I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. It’s so good, I could eat it every day. I even served it to handsome and he said, “Mmmm, this is better than real lasagna.” That’s coming from a meat eater…

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What I also really like is Soul Vegan’s message. Love life. Live life. Care about your community. Lovin’ That! You can check out their values and offerings here. If you are in Chicagoland, be on the lookout for Soul Vegan’s delicious meals. Try this lasagna and tell me it isn’t simply divine!

*Soul Vegan did not fund my obsession with their crazy awesome lasagna. I stumbled on these addictive slices all on my own! All opinions are mine, all mine.

Love Life, Live Life! Stay healthy! Stay Inspired!

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

I’d set aside today as a strict writing day and nothing was going to pry me away from my desk, nothing! I’m working on my newest novel, a romantic odyssey set in ancient days, and the perilous passages were just ready to spill from my fingertips (because I’ve decided a romance needs lots of peril). But then I got a text from a girlfriend across town. I brought the garden for you today!!

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My friend doesn’t have a garden. These greens actually come from her friend’s garden. My friend is house sitting and some greens were just calling to be picked and eaten before they went to waste. And if anybody has any extra greens, I’m all too happy to eat them. Granted, I finished the chapter I was working on before I hopped in my car to zoom across town…

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I was gifted with a bag of lettuce, Swiss chard, dill, rosemary, chives and itty bitty tomatoes. Life is good! Have you ever sauteed Swiss chard with a little olive oil and garlic? Takes 2 minutes and tastes heavenly

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Tiddo the cat was checking out the herbs before I even knew he was in the kitchen with me. He wanted to see if the greens were some of that fresh catnip I nab from neighbors’ front lawns from time to time…

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Earlier in the week, this said friend also gave me some zucchini from said garden. Tonight, it took me all of 10 minutes to prepare supper. I made a vegetable tian with one zucchini, some Campari tomatoes I had on hand, and the fragrant rosemary. Drizzled over a little olive oil, sea salt and balsamic. It’s in the oven now…

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Rinsed the Swiss chard, plucked off the veiny tough stems, and will toss in the skillet just before the tian is ready (it wilts like a side of steamed spinach, but tastier)…

Goodness is it a blessing to have a friend with a friend who has a garden!

Stay inspired, eat your veggies, show someone you care!

Lovin’ That! Mercato At Starbucks

I’ve always gotten a kick out of reading other bloggers’ favorite things lists. Lists such as my favorite beauty products, or my favorite places to get a donut, or here’s what I got for for Christmas this year, or my list of best food trucks ever! I guess it’s entertaining to see the spectacular diversity in what others cherish and enjoy. These lists are always colorful, amusing, lighthearted and often informative…

So, I’m starting a new string of posts called Lovin’ That! to share some of my favorite things with you!

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First up, Mercato At Starbucks. Mercato is a new lunch menu that Starbucks recently launched in Chicago and Seattle. Now, I usually don’t stop at Starbucks because I make my own coffee each morning. But occasionally when I’ve run out of grounds and I’m in a hurry, I stop to treat myself on the go…

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That’s what happened a few weeks ago, and while waiting in line, I spotted what looked like some pretty tasty salads. I snatched up a cauliflower tabbouleh side salad with vegan written clear on the label and decided to try it for lunch. It was delicious and very healthy. I wondered if there was another salad that might be vegan too? Well, if you don’t indulge in the little cup of creamy salad dressing served with the green goddess avocado salad, then you’re good to go! A second green and healthy favorite on the menu!

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The point of their new menu serves two purposes. One, adding lots of tasty variety, including lovely looking sandwiches. Their roasted turkey and dill havarti sandwich sounds dreamy, along with everything else. Starbucks planned delicious new items that covered a variety of tastes and dietary considerations. Lovin’ That! But the second part of this menu, is that Starbucks donates all leftovers at the end of the evening to the hungry. Lovin’ That!

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The Mercato menu is a tasty step up from their past on the go lunch offerings, are made fresh daily, and any extras are given to those in need. Even though I don’t frequent Starbucks, as someone trying to eat a plant-based diet, I was very happy to find something that I could grab on the quick when I’m out and about. Eating vegan is tricky. It’s hard to find fresh, fast options. If you’re not in Chicago or Seattle, I hope they extend this to a city near you, so you can try it too!

*Starbucks did not fund my eats on the go. All opinions are my own.

Rock on friends…stay happy, stay healthy, stay inspired!

Holy Beets And Brussels Sprouts!

Hands down, the best plant-based meal I’ve eaten of late was at one of our local favorites, Roka Akor in Skokie. This Japanese grill smells heavenly, the ambiance is always hip and relaxing, the service is excellent, and the food is ever amazing…

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The amuse-bouche was a beet puree topped with a hint of greens. I’m nuts for beets, so I was very pleased to start the meal with this flavorful spoon. I could have eaten a bowl of this…

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Handsome started his meal with tender grilled scallops. I’ve had them before at Roka and know just how exquisite they are. Though my chopsticks did not sneak across the table to steal one this time, I was very tempted…

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The amuse-bouche had me wanting more beets, so I started the meal out by going to town on this salad. Not an almond sliver, or carrot shred, or beet medallion was left on that plate. Isn’t this dish so colorful? I could eat this fresh salad every day…

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For the meal, I ordered up the mushroom hotpot. Inside this cooking vessel above, the metal of which is inadvisable to touch due to its lava-like temperature, a steaming mushroom and rice mixture awaited. As our server dished out a bowl for me and a bowl for my date, I secretly wanted to snatch up both bowls. NO sharing the mushroom hotpot…mine, all MINE! Ha-ha-HA!

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I also had grilled vegetable maki with broccoli and sweet potatoes. You could taste the grill on those potatoes…

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Handsome ate a lobster. It was pre-cracked to display the most succulent morsels of meat for ease of eating. Though I did not partake, it was another temptation. I envisioned a snatch and run. My partner would later find me in the parking lot, broken lobster claws scattered around my feet, a crazed look in my eyes, not a single bite of lobster meat left…

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But I did not exact my shellfish fantasy, and instead inhaled a plate full of Brussels sprouts. The marinade on these sprouts rocked my taste buds! These sprouts also had a hint of seafood flavor to them. Ethereally thin bonito flakes (a Japanese tuna) were lightly sprinkled over the top. Definitely not a plant-based topper…oops!

Another fresh and savory meal at Roka, with plenty of options for this veggie lover! The smell alone coming off that Robata grill keeps us ever coming back for more. Holy beets and Brussels sprouts!

Sometimes Satisfying, Sometimes Not!

As I wrote in my last post, I am working on acclimating myself to being the best gobbler of greens I can be (aka, mostly vegan). I’ve been a vegetarian for some years, and am now trying to cut out more animal products, and eat even more plant-based foods…

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After 5 weeks, I wish I could say that I feel amazing (light as a feather and as glowing as Eve of the garden), but I don’t. To be honest though, I think that’s probably because this gal needs to get her booty to the swimming pool for some swim aerobics and stretching in the therapy pool. Let’s get these muscles moving! Where’s my goggles?

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As for my food adventures, I’m finding that some meals are quite satisfying, and some are not. Yesterday, I threw a quick lunch together using some leftover dinner veggies. Corn, asparagus, onions and vegan *cheese* shreds made for some ‘interesting’ veggie tacos that turned out to be quite blah. Thank goodness I’d packed some cruciferous crunch to accompany them. Radishes saved the day!

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I am proud however, that I used up my leftovers and stuck to a vegan lunch. I have to remember that not every meal I eat is going to rock my palate, especially when I’m experimenting with new veggie concoctions…

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But ooh, did I have a delicious meal at Terra & Vine in Evanston last week! We sat out alfresco, the weather being unusually warm for this time of year. Even where we sat for dinner, being close to dusk and in the shade, I was amply glowing from the heat (not perspiring, only dudes do that)…

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I’d perused the menu online in advance (a gobbler of greens needs to know what their options will be…though I also generally just enjoy salivating over menus). I was quite pleased to see a section title for Vegan (as well as Vegetarian). I thought that was quite thoughtful! But when we sat down at our table and I looked over the paper menu, those choices were missing. I asked the waiter about it. Unfortunately, they’d discontinued those particular menu options. Aww man!

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But very kindly, the server said that the kitchen could absolutely prepare the pasta dish I’d had a hankering for. Yea! In most restaurants, it’s not too hard to make menu choices (without becoming a terribly annoying, picky diner). For many dishes, just asking for no cheese or sauce does the trick (or on the side if you’re sharing). Now, I did try a bite of blue cheese on the salad, and a bit of aioli on the artichokes, toppers that weren’t vegan. But I’d usually have covered and slathered every fork-full of my meal in cheese and creamy sauce. So, let us just say I successfully reined in the cheese monster that lives inside me…

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I might have eyed that cheesy dish across the table with a bit of longing, but in the end, was 100% satisfied limiting my non-vegan intake. I mean, pasta and fried artichokes…what’s there to miss?

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All of this to say, whether you’re cooking at home, or dining out, eating mostly plant-based can occasionally be a gamble on taste. It’s also not easy to always make healthier choices. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. That’s ok.

As for me, I’m excited to keep experimenting, keep cooking, and keep playing with the menus I’m sitting to. And if a meal doesn’t turn out to be all that satisfying, well there’s always another one around the bend! Now If I could just find my swimming goggles…

I am the Gobbler of Greens!

Nope. I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan, and I’ll tell you why at the end of this post. But I’ve read a lot of books, and watched a lot of health documentaries, and after being a vegetarian (and aspiring vegan) for 6 years, I’m leaning harder in that lifestyle direction. It’s what I think is best for me

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Do I enjoy eating meat, dairy, eggs and seafood? I love it. I could plant myself next to a cheese tray for hours (and I have). I think my grandma’s meatloaf, buttery mashed potatoes, and homemade coleslaw slathered in mayo is a dish sent from Heaven. My mom’s fried egg sandwiches…omg. I’ll devour plates of all-you-can-eat steaming crab legs drowned in drawn butter, and then steal the crab legs out of your hands and make a run for it. I love it…I love it all

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But I think as a general rule, eating my fruits, nuts, grains and veggies, while skipping the animal-based products, is the lifestyle choice for me. Thankfully, I’ve always loved veggies, or else this would be a bit tricky. I’ve got my grandma’s garden while growing up to thank especially for that…

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the newest documentary focused on the correlation between poor health and what we’re eating, I greatly encourage you to watch What The Health. It is a film that I believe everyone should see, if only to open up more thought, and dialogue, about the Western diet and our food industry. It is currently available on Netflix…

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For me, eating vegan means not only trying to eat all plant-based, pure, whole foods. But also that I should try to avoid the ‘processed’ stuff (vegan or no) more often than not. For instance, Oreos are vegan, and I like them. Especially the mint ones. But I’m not going to make a habit of snacking on them…

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With that being said, it can’t be helped to crave and want to ‘replace’ the animal-based foods I’ve always enjoyed. I personally would find the vegan diet difficult to sustain without a few veggie protein (fake meat and cheese) tricks up my sleeve!

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So, I’m sharing with you what I made for lunch today. I was craving a classic BLT. I haven’t eaten a ‘real’ BLT sandwich in who knows how long, but I will never stop liking them. The vegan BLT I was planning turned into an even more magical sandwich, because I couldn’t stop dragging everything out of the fridge…

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Toasted Italian bread, Earth Balance organic/vegan mayo, sliced red onion, tomato, a dash of pepper…

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Heinz natural yellow mustard, Lightlife vegan veggie bacon strips (oh yes they get crispy in the pan), lettuce…

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Next, a few slices of Chao vegan ‘cheese’. This is some wonderful stuff. ‘Coconut herb with black pepper’ or ‘creamy original’ (munster anyone?) or ‘tomato cayenne’. These slices make a sandwich or veggie burger sing! I’m pretty sure they punch a few itty holes into the slices on purpose to make you believe you’re eating Swiss cheese. I’m convinced…

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My mouth was watering as I layered up this sandwich, and the kitchen suspiciously smelled like I’d really just made up a skillet of crispy, sizzling bacon…

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I think the key for me to eating vegan, and in eating as healthy as I can generally, is to learn how to cook plant-based meals that I enjoy (and that won’t leave me feeling deprived). As I continue on in this lifestyle choice, I want to learn lots of things. I want to learn how to make my own vegan meatloaf (out of lentils). I want to simply take joy in a roasted veggie pizza (learning to be just as happy without that thick layer of cheese I so adore). I’m even going to try and make my own sour cream (out of cashews) to plop over my veggie fajitas! The sky is the limit, and I’m having fun!

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But why did I say that I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan? Well, I’m going to be open and honest…

If you see me eating alfresco oceanside in Massachusetts, I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a faint over the world’s freshest lobster roll. Or, if you spot me sitting aside the lagoon in Venezia, I very well may be intaking a generous plate of fruitti di mare. And if I ever find myself in the Swiss Alps, it is highly possible I will try a nibble (or two) of every local cheese available…

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And on Christmas Eve, I just can’t promise that I won’t be devouring crab legs and drawn butter with my folks. It’s become a special tradition. And…well…I’m not sure I can live the rest of my life without crab legs…

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But generally speaking, I’m going to do my best to remain the best gobbler of greens that I can be, and that’s a good enough goal for me!

Best wishes friends! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay you, stay inspired!

What’s New, Shelly-Poo!?

Shelly-Poo was my older cousin’s nickname for me growing up, a term of endearment. Shelly is short for Michelle of course. And poo? Well that word is added onto names sometimes as a sign of affection. “Oh, your little puppy-wuppie is so cutie-poo!” Oh goodness!

So what’s new, Shelly-Poo? Let’s see…

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Guess where I was today?! Setting up our shop, The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We’re so excited for our 2nd season! Opening weekend is next weekend, July 8th. We have moved locations, but are still on King’s Landing. We can’t wait to see all of the friends we made last year, and all the new friends we are yet to meet! It is the 30th Anniversary of this beloved festival, and one beautifully tended park awaits you!

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Now, I do not consider myself clever with crafting/decor, but don’t you think the little ‘book case’ I put together to display my fairy tales is cute? I was pretty proud of myself…

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My business partner and artist mother Lita, will be displaying some lovely painted canvases this year, along with her illustrations. I don’t have a sneak peak for you here, but can say that when I first saw them, I wanted them all for myself. But then, we would have none for our sweet little shop! Come by, and peruse…

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Maid of Honour and The Mermaiden will be available starting first weekend!

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Veleno will be available for Marketplace Weekend (3rd weekend) through the end of the season. Official release date just around the corner (with convenient availability through Amazon). This one’s for mature readers only…

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In other news, I love cheese. The word love hardly begins to describe my craze for cheese. But being in Wisconsin setting up shop today, the very state that won the World Champion Cheese Contest in 2016, I was made a very happy woman. Ellsworth Garlic Cheddar Cheese Curds, Buddy Squirrel Cheezzzy Cheddar Popcorn, and Sartori MontAmore (the size of a small brick). I’m in Heaven. If you’re ever in Kenosha, WI, stop into Tim and Tom’s Cheese Shop. Attached to a sizable antique shop, and with cheese galore, it’s a field trip…

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In other, other news, I have a pet jumping spider who lives on my writing desk between my book Venice, and Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. He’s hopped out during 3 consecutive days of writing hours to keep me company. I must say, he has good taste in books!

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Speaking of great books, I’m currently reading The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Life Of The Last True Hermit. A true story…hermit Christopher Knight of Maine…written by journalist Michael Finkel. Order this book right now, and thank me later…it is too spectacular to put down…

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In further, further, further news…this vegetarian is still cookin’ up the veggies! Whatever I’ve got in the fridge. Look at those healthful veggie tacos! Summer is fresh veggie time! Love it!

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And, after all my veggie-loving years, I’ve gotta say that radishes are the apple of my eye. Read my previous ‘Swimming Radishes’ post here. I think I love radishes as much as cheese! Gasp! Is that possible?

Here’s to your daily good health and happiness, and to your taking delight in simple pleasures every day! Here’s also to the joys of an excellent read, and to the deliciousness of your table favorites! Best Wishes!

I’m lovin’ your style, Newark!

With a recent flight to New York, we flew into Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Now, I’ve seen quite a few airports throughout the world. Some are comfortable, some are not so comfortable. Mostly they are simple, functional, designed to get you where you need to go. Perhaps you’ll do a bit of duty-free shopping, and get a decent bite to eat along the way…

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Well I just want to say…Newark, you’re one happening airport! I love your style! As you walk through the terminal, there are colorful, internet accessible, chic places to grab a seat. Ambient music plays, which I’m certain keeps travelers calm and relaxed…

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There were a variety of places to take your ease, and plenty of t.v. monitors for folks who need their daily dose of sports. The airport was clean and well, hip

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At the newsstand, there were no lines, for there were plenty of monitors for self-checkout. I tend not to like self-checkout because it never goes smoothly for me and an attendant has to come running to help. But here, things seemed to be running well…

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Further, their selection of products in the quick-grab area were so interesting! Lots of fun foods, healthy items, unique snacks. Plenty of fresh choices, whatever your tastes…

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I enjoyed the colors and the lights, and the unique flow…

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Instead of looking travel-worn and agitated, folks were catching up on work, studying, chatting, relaxing. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like people were enjoying being at the airport. That’s a new one!

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There were interesting paintings, cool chairs, patterned tiles, thoughtful lighting…

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And I would have been content to sit at any of the restaurants we passed. As we walked past Riviera, it appeared as a peaceful oasis serving gourmet food. In…the…airport.

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In any case, I got a real kick out of this airport’s modern design. It made for a fun entry into our New York outing. The designers clearly had the comfort and amusement of travelers in mind when they made such updates. Pretty cool!

Insomnia Cookies

I want you to pretend that it’s two o’clock in the morning and you are wide awake…

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Unless you’re 21 years old on a Saturday night, or work the night shift, or have trouble sleeping, I don’t know why you’d still be up, but just pretend that you are. Not only are you awake, but you’re having a craving that you just can’t beat…for cookies! Only, you have no cookies in your house. This is very bad. No cookies to eat at 2 a.m. What to do?!

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Just call Insomnia Cookies! They deliver fresh made cookies (I’m guessing still warm), pizza-box style…until 3 a.m. in the morning. How do I know? Was I up ordering cookies after midnight like a crazed cookie monster? Heck no!

On Friday evening, we decided to skip dessert at dinner and walk over to a new business. I saw it buzzing earlier as we drove past toward our reservation. The canopy over the window read Insomnia Cookies. So of course, I had to know what that was all about…

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My date tried vanilla ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookies. I’m nutty for anything mint, and so had mint ice cream smashed between two mint chocolate cookies. We should have grabbed spoons, because they were tricky to eat as we walked with them back toward the car. The cookies were very soft and warm, so the sandwiches didn’t stay in tact. I ended up licking ice cream off of the paper plate in a very unladylike manner, another one of my pretty looks…

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So what did we think? The cookies and ice cream were a fun treat and we enjoyed trying it! Our returns will be on a whim rather than as regulars however, as the place itself offers no seating and it’s awkward to eat ice cream cookies on the run (though I enjoyed a good laugh at myself). I would use their delivery service to send cookies to cheer a friend if the occasion arose. Nothing makes people smile like a cookie!

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About that insomnia part, I’m curious how popular their after-midnight deliveries will prove; we do live in a university town! However, even if the kiddos are up late studying, students often don’t have extra dough (pun intended) for such novelties. Nonetheless, I wish this cute little business success! If I’m up at 2 a.m. and in need of a cookie, we all know who I’m calling. Never say never!

Here’s wishing your days filled with smiles, and sprinkled with sweet moments!

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

I’ve just finished reading another masterpiece by one of my favorite authors, Mary Roach. She’s a science writer and a New York Times bestseller, and one amazing researcher! Myself a writer, and as someone who geeks out on research and fascinating fun facts, I really admire her books and the enormous amount of time she must put into her works. You rock, Ms. Roach!

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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal takes the reader on a journey through their own bodies. You put something in your mouth, you chew it up and swallow, and then it follows a path until it reaches the far side. It seems pretty simple, we do this everyday. What makes this book so fascinating however, is the breakdown of that journey…

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Did you know that the pet food you buy might be manufactured to please you, more than be what your pet needs? Did you know about the antibacterial and antiviral properties in your saliva?

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Do you know whether or not a goldfish could survive in your stomach if you swallowed one? Do you know what would happen to you if you were swallowed by a whale, like Jonah in the Bible?

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Do you know what terrible things happen to people who swallow drugs to smuggle them? Do you know what lengths prison inmates will go to, to smuggle items in their bodies?

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Do you know what would happen if you overate in gross quantity at one sitting? Do you know how life-threatening it is to walk past a manure pit? Do you know what a fecal transplant is and why it’s a miracle?

I didn’t either, until I read this book.

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Now, I must preface, Mary Roach’s books are not for the weak of stomach (ha-ha). The face above is the look I perpetually have as I read them. First, you’ve got to have your thinking cap on. Her books are science books, though she does an excellent job of breaking things down so that the topics are digestible (tee-hee). Her wit also makes the difficult concepts easy to swallow (giggle)…

But further, her books have a visceral affect. When I read her Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, I was jumpy and nervous whenever I picked up the book, like a ghost was lurking near. And when I read her Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, I perpetually had vertigo and became terrified of space. While reading Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, my gag reflex was constantly on high alert and I had difficulty eating my lunch.

This isn’t to dissuade you from reading her works, it’s more of a “Put your seatbelt on, you’re going for a wild science reading ride. Weeee!”

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Next up, Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and…

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Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Because it seems I like getting my brain scrambled by science, and learning about things that freak me out! Read one of Mary Roach’s books and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Here’s to the great wonders to be found in a book, and to learning something new, each and every day!

Caprese, Caprese!

Caprese, Caprese! One for me, one for you! Make in spring or in summer, anytime! Just do! 

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Caprese, Caprese! One for you, one for me! So fresh and delicious! Makes life better, you’ll see!

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Caprese, Caprese, I adore you, you’re mine! I’ve loved many a’ salad, but must say, you’re divine!

Here’s to the small pleasures in life, and to your good health and happiness!

Hollandaise…Proceed With Caution!

Last Friday evening, handsome and I were too exhausted to go out for our usual date night, but still wanted to order something that would be really satisfying after a long week. We decided on Pete Miller’s in Evanston, a steak and seafood restaurant with a Chicago feel that always offers a great meal…

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I was going to order something simple; I enjoy their fish tacos. But as my eyes perused the menu, I saw the words crab legs and there was no going back. I wanted crab legs, I needed crab legs, but that isn’t an easy order for takeout. To truly enjoy it, we needed to get a seat! Thankfully I’ve got a fella who is flexible with plans; we hopped in the car and were on our way, grabbing a table just in time as the Friday dinner rush was beginning.

Changing up plans can prove surprising, exciting fun! We’d started out too tired to move from home, and then were suddenly having lively conversation to the tunes of a fabulous live jazz band! Of course, the excellent food also had an effect on our perking up! I started with the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail served with cocktail sauce and lemon. The dollop of horseradish in the cocktail sauce burned my brain and caused me to make really unattractive expressions, but was too delicious paired with the shrimp to stop eating…

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My date had the Roasted Bone Marrow served with a side salad and crostini. Bone marrow is like eating a rich, fatty, flavorful butter when spread on a crispy bite of bread. Though considered a delicacy, it is said that eating bone marrow has many fortifying health benefits. As a vegetarian, I’m not suggesting you go gnaw on a bone. However, I’ve tried it several times and there’s a reason folks love it…

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With our main course, we ordered the steamed Asparagus & Hollandaise as our side to share. Ever dipped your asparagus in hollandaise sauce (same rich sauce poured over Eggs Benedict)? It’s sinfully delicious, but according to this article, terrible for your heart. Indulge with caution…

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My dinner companion enjoyed the 14oz Delmonico Rib-Eye served with truffle fries. I may have eaten the greater portion of his truffle fries (dipped with abandon in the hollandaise there on his plate…yikes, my heart!). Truffle fries…in hollandaise…dreamy…dangerous!

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For my supper, I did a face-plant into a full plate of delectable Alaskan King Crab Legs served with drawn butter, lemon and garlic mashed potatoes. There are no words.

After this meal fit for royalty, I should have committed myself to eating only a carrot for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the month to follow. However, at least in my world, good living is about good food and great fellowship! And hey, I know a little about moderation…I didn’t eat the leftover truffle fries for breakfast the next morning like I wanted to!

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

I’m fascinated by nature, and very much so when I’m traveling. The sight of a unique plant, or spotting unfamiliar wildlife, is always exciting!

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By the looks of the markings on this yellow bird, I believe I captured sight of a Jamaican Oriole while recently in Jamaica. Even from the first hours after our arrival there on a recent trip, I was in awe of the thriving bird life and all of the beautiful songs they presented…

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This hearty bird hopped about in the foliage so constantly (in search for seeds it appeared) that I could hardly get a proper picture of him. Only a few photos from many offered more than a flash of yellow…

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Though Indian Peafowl are kept in the U.S., to see this fella dancing about a potential mate (a peahen that fled from him into the bushes) was such a treat. Look how handsome he is! On several evenings, we noted a peahen taking safe perch for the night upon a thatched roof. It looked quite the comfortable nest…

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Hey little dude! Hunting for some juicy bugs? Carry on!

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Though Northern Mockingbirds can breed in Northern Illinois, they aren’t regulars. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen (or heard) one in the wild. In Jamaica, they are everywhere and their songs are simply incredible!

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Tropical flowers grew abundantly, their colors so vivid! They invited an army of hummingbirds to drink of their nectar…

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And when I saw this fruit ripening in a tree, my first thought was of how delicious it might be to pluck one down and take a bite! Any tropical fruit so pretty must taste divine! Good thing I didn’t follow my instinct…

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This, is the ackee (not to be confused with the acai berry), the tree of which migrated from Africa to Jamaica (most likely upon a slave ship) in the late 1700’s. It is the national fruit of Jamaica. However, to pluck it down and take a bite could prove fatal. At the very least, you would become very, very sick…

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[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

In order to eat of the fruit, it must first be fully ripe (splitting open on its own) or bad things will definitely happen. The fruity flesh is then to be removed away from the skin and seeds (these carefully discarded lest your beloved pet or child grab hold of the remnants and put them in their mouth). Next, the fruit is to be boiled for at least 5 minutes, or bad things yet could happen. The water is to then be immediately discarded, the fruit rinsed and then boiled a second time, because if not, bad things could still happen…this is one dangerous fruit!

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I therefore had to take a walk on the wild side and eat some. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. I had it for breakfast one glorious sunny morning to the sound of rich birdsong. With each bite, I had to wonder if this was like taking the risk of eating toxic puffer fish? I mean, what if the cook didn’t boil my ackee twice?

Just kidding! I wasn’t scared at all. What did it taste like? Like fish and fruit, looking like scrambled eggs masquerading on my plate. A little spicy, a little fishy, a little sweet. I liked it!

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Handsome on the other hand had pancakes made from a unique grain that morning. Fish for breakfast wasn’t quite to his taste, though he did take a nibble of my ackee and saltfish to see what it was like…

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How I love to travel, and how I love nature! However, I am ever being reminded to control my urges to simply grab out, or pet that cute insect (I think I was raised a little bit wild). Not everything is innocuous, some things are quite dangerous indeed. For instance, when I admired strands of cherry-looking berries hanging from one tree, a local said not to touch them, for the juice will burn the skin of your hand. Yikes!

Nature must be respected

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Of course, I still swam but a few feet away from a puffer fish while snorkeling in the shallows. He watching me, me watching him (terrified he might bring out the spines but too fascinated to swim away). And of course, I still had to get up close to this enormous insect nest, unable to live without knowing what was in there (I’m an entomologist in my heart)…

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But the point is, look don’t touch! Remember Eve of the Garden of Eden who grabbed out for that fruit? Nope, not every fruit is as sweet as it looks. Unless perhaps, you boil it twice!

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Date Night in NYC!

On our way to Jamaica for our recent vacation, we took the roundabout way of flying first to New Jersey from Chicago, spending one night and then heading on down to the Caribbean. We could have flown straight to Montego Bay instead, but handsome was shopping his preferred airlines (which required a layover). This stopover proved very exciting, and I won’t forget our adventurous evening for all of my days…

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Though this photo is blurry, I love it. It is of my old haunt…

Once we arrived at our hotel in Newark, we inquired how long it would take an Uber to deliver us to Manhattan. The desk attendant did not sound optimistic. Disappointment was written all over my face. We could see the city, but hours of traffic would make waste of an evening. I remained upbeat however, for handsome had booked dinner at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey!

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However, after hopping in an Uber on our way to dinner, I couldn’t help looking longingly toward NYC. See, I lived there a decade ago, and I love New York City. So I asked the driver how long he felt it would take. Only an extra 20 minutes. Handsome canceled our dinner reservation and we were on our way to the Big Apple…

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We directed the driver to Washington Square Park (amidst the campus of NYU where I am an alumna). He proceeded to drop us on Washington Street some distance away. However, the Uber driver’s mistake proved a zesty, exhilarating NYC walk for us! Block after city block built my anticipation to see my old neighborhood (and grew our appetite for dinner). Once there, we traversed my old memories while stamping a new NYC memory into my heart with our fun evening together…

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Now, if you know anything about Manhattan, you know that it offers a bazillion restaurants (and shops, and cool things in abundance) in its 13.4 by 2.3 miles. Every other doorstep offers something you want to explore, something good to buy or to eat or to see. As we power walked approximately one mile from drop-off point, I blurted “I could eat my way around this city.” It might take me a little time, but I think I’d be up for the job…

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After our explorations (and in spite of all the enticing eateries we noticed along the way), handsome expressed a hankering to visit Little Italy. And so, we hopped in a cab and headed on over to that delicious neighborhood! As you walk through Little Italy, gentlemen from various restaurants roll out, singing for you to come and take a seat at their tables. All of the menus looked so good, it was hard to walk away from many of them as we passed through. Finally, we settled upon Da Gennaro Ristorante

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We had a pleasant view of Mulberry Street from our table, glasses of Chianti to warm us up after our evening walk, and a meal that blew us away!

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To start, tender calamari fritti with a fresh sauce and a cool squeeze of lemon…

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I must say, I’ve been blessed to try a great many amazing dishes during my life, and amongst my many unique travels. I can say without hesitation, Da Gennaro’s fettuccine (meaning ‘little ribbons’ in Italian) with shrimp, salmon and a creamy tomato sauce was absolutely one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten…

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What made this evening so special was the fact that it hadn’t been planned, yet turned out so surprisingly delightful in every way! It was random, refreshing, and reminded me how very much I love adventure!

Here’s wishing you many such wonderful adventures, whether they be within your own neighborhood or far from home…

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” ~Anonymous

Cruciferous Crunch, Compostable Containers!

Some of my favorite local restaurants that serve healthy food options also provide earth friendly containers to take your food away in. Who wouldn’t be pleased to take their food to go, and eat out of, a container that is both compostable, but also serves up less chemicals to the body like plastics and styrofoam items?

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In an effort to cut back on a run of unhealthy lunches (and an insatiable daily craving for potato chips) after the holidays, I revisited thoughtful lunch prep. I also purchased a bulk of earth friendly bowls and lids from World Centric. These bowls are fantastic, for they are roomy, stackable and convenient…

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For lunch, I like to toast up some healthy wild rice or grains and let cool. Next comes a plentiful handful of greens, covered in whatever chopped veggies I have on hand…

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I also plop on a good spoonful of hummus or guacamole (or both), and maybe some pine nuts or almond slivers for crunch. I also love to put sriracha sauce on my hummus to jazz things up! Some fresh cracked pepper, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and I’m ready to eat my veggies!

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I find that when I prep ahead in the evening when I’m cooking in the kitchen anyway, it frees up precious time in the morning and I don’t feel so rushed and grouchy at the start of a new day. And though I love eating out for dinner when I’m not cooking (evidenced by dozens of my posts), I prefer to make my own lunch. I make my lunch almost every day of the year…

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Now, I’m no expert on healthy eating (or on chemical-laden tableware and environmental practices for that matter), but I thought I’d share one small way I tried to do better for myself. More veggies for lunch, in a plant-based, less toxic, compostable container that I don’t feel guilty tossing…

Now who’s ready for some delicious, good-for-you greens?! ME!

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Here’s wishing you good health today, and everyday! And here’s a pat on the back for making even little changes that lead to a happier, healthier you!

A Glowing Seat At Firefly Kitchen

With a recent itch to try out some new restaurants and add a few more favorites to our list, we made a reservation at Firefly Kitchen. Located on a busy road that I often traverse, I’d spied this ‘Brooklyn Style Bistro’ many times in the last few years since its opening. Finally, after catching my hundredth glimpse of its warm glimmering lights from the road at night, we secured a table…

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Our reservation was at 7:30 on a Saturday evening. When we first walked in, the bistro was buzzing with every table filled and plenty of folks taking their ease around the bar. The warm lighting, pleasant babble and soft clinking of plates made for a pleasing entry…

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From the street, Firefly is a bit of a mystery. Set on a busy road with tricky curbside parking, the restaurant first appears just a classy, cozy bar that might present few tables and a trim menu. Though certainly classy and cozy, Firefly is much roomier than first meets the eye, even supporting an event space on its upper level. The menu itself is well-rounded and plentiful; a delectable list of small bites, entrees and extras. We were delighted!

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We started the evening swirling and sniffing one deliciously aromatic glass of red, while also sharing one of their signature cocktails. The Firefly Rye with High West Rye, Abricot De Roussillon, Lemon and Cedar was exceptional. Warm yet bright with citrus, honeyed and fruity with apricot while not overly sweet. Each sip was a treat!

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We then appeased our palates with the Portabella Carpaccio with Pine Nuts, Balsamic Marinated Portabella, Arugula, Smoked Tomato Sauce, Bleu Cheese and Port Vinaigrette and also the Kale and Baby Beet Salad with Quinoa, Goat Cheese, Dried Cranberries and Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette. While handsome preferred the smoky plate of marinated mushrooms, I couldn’t stop devouring the beets, soft goat cheese and crisp kale…

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My date ordered the Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Nueske’s Bacon, Sweet Potato, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Orange-Balsamic Gastrique. The presentation alone looks carnivorously impressive, accompanied by a sauce appropriately rich for a winter’s night meal. I cannot say exactly how it tasted, only that my fella appeared pleased as he dined upon his choice. I should have inquired, but I was too busy filling his ears with chatty-random-nonsense. I’m quite the gabby grackle when I’m relaxed and enjoying date night. To hear how I sound at the dinner table, click here!

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I ordered the earthy and flavorful Roasted Root Vegetables

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And the crunchy, satisfying House French Fries

And the Truffle Mushroom Risotto. Three full orders of carb-o-liciousness. I couldn’t help it. After all, Firefly was new to us. I had to taste more than one thing on the menu. Also, I love leftovers!

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While initially reviewing the menu, the woman seated at the table next to ours received her entree of risotto. I was immediately struck by the enticing smell of truffles and knew that I had to have a plate myself. The distinct smell of that fungus is heavenly! The Truffle Mushroom Risotto with Mushroom, Asparagus and Red Pepper Vinaigrette proved toothsome, fragrant and very satisfying…

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All the while, Firefly’s ambiance was dreamy and comfortable and the service excellent. As we enjoyed the soft glow of the bulbs, reminiscent of fireflies in the night sky, we were pleased to agree that we’d found another new favorite!

Firefly has much more than a dinner table to offer. They also serve brunch, provide catering, offer take out during select hours, host an outside back patio for warmer weather, and hold events in their loft. If you live along Chicago’s North Shore, add this bistro to your list to visit. We’ll certainly be back, and soon! I’m already perusing the brunch menu…

Prepackaged Lettuce? Let us not!

I haven’t eaten a single bite for nearly 42 hours. Right now, I’m gingerly sipping on veggie broth, hoping to work my way up to food. On Sunday evening, I started feeling not quite right and didn’t really want to eat my dinner. When I woke up Monday morning, I felt like my feet were heavy and I was very fatigued. By 10:00 a.m., I knew something was working on taking me down…

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The flu was my first thought, for it is highly contagious and is working its way around these parts like wildfire. For all my hand-washing precautions, the flu can get you airborne style. No one is safe. I spent last night in agony. I went to Hades and back in my feverish dreams, praying for deliverance. I was quite sick. This morning, I knew that it wasn’t the flu. Food poisoning had come to pay me a visit…

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And though I don’t have a lab working on it right now, I can pretty much say with certainty where I got it from. Prepackaged lettuce. As a vegetarian, I eat A LOT of lettuce. I throw the greens over everything…sandwiches, soups, as a garnish. The prepackaged, prewashed stuff is obviously convenient…

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However, I have lately felt very dissatisfied with my prepackaged salad purchases. I buy the plastic tubs, and even though there is always plenty of time before they expire (as per the date on the packaging), when I open them, I frequently find unsavory lettuce. Slimy lettuce…eww. Black, rotten bits…gross. Some healthy, while much is wilted and distressed…not for me!

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Just this Saturday, I’d made a sandwich and had to pick the best pieces from a package that ought to have been entirely fresh but wasn’t looking all that great. I even thought, I hope I don’t get sick. Handsome came home with a fresh package from the grocery, and I promptly told him how annoyed I was getting with the packaged kind (as I threw away the bad lettuce from the fridge). We were wasting money on convenience…

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It only takes a few minutes of online research to learn of the risks of prepackaged lettuce. Recalls are rampant, and pre-washed on the label holds no certain safety value. As I lay fitful and feverish all night, unable to even sip water without nausea and sharp pains, I thought to myself, I’m pretty strong and healthy, but what if an elderly person or child got this? They would be at serious risk…

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I won’t be purchasing ready-made salad mixes anymore. Apart from the bacterial risks, I was losing money anyway with as quickly as they were going bad. Henceforth, this lettuce lover will be buying a fresh bunch/head every few days, and taking the extra time to prepare it myself. But as for just this moment, another cup of warm broth and a long nap is calling my name. Be safe, all you gobblers of greens!

Blogger Recognition Award!

I am absolutely delighted to be nominated by the very talented food blogger, Pooja Tameshwar of Smart Veg Recipes, for a Blogger Recognition Award! Thank you!

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As someone who tries to cook a mostly plant-based diet for my own good health, I enjoy perusing recipes that focus on the good things of the earth…

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I’m also ever fascinated by different cultures and cuisines from around the globe. That’s how I got hooked on reading Pooja’s posts! Not only are her veggie-based dishes from around India unique, pleasing to the eye, and mouthwatering, but she also writes insightful descriptions about what makes each dish culturally special. Be sure to visit her site!

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Blogger Recognition Rules:

  1. Write a post to show your award.
  2. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and share the link to their blog.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog got started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Nominate 15 bloggers of your choice for the award.
  6. Comment on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to your post.

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How did Inspired By Venice come about? With the publication of my book Venice, a choose your own adventure that takes the reader on a journey through that enchanting Italian city! At the end of each chapter, you decide where you will go next! Enjoy the adventure!

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But books aside, I also wanted to share my passion for good food, culture, travel, history, nature and costuming…

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And of course…

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Tiddo the cat…

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What I share is meant to be eclectic, uplifting, inspirational, silly, informative. Most importantly, it’s written to brighten your day! Thank you for reading!

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My advice for new bloggers? If you have a passion you want to share and you start a blog, don’t give up if readers don’t show up overnight! Yes, writing posts is a time investment, and you may sometimes wonder if it’s worth it if there aren’t a lot of visitors to your site. Just remember that blogging shouldn’t focus on how many likes, comments, and followers you have. It’s about your sharing something unique with the world, just because it’s a joy to do so. Just keep writing, and you’re bound to inspire others, and gain readers, in time…

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My second bit of advice to new bloggers comes from me as a reader of blogs. I find it hard to stay focused when reading super long posts that look like one eternal paragraph without any pictures. I prefer posts that share a story that flows, keeps on track, and has a little eye candy! One of the hardest things for a writer, is to keep words succinct while still fully communicating your story. Those who do this best, are artists with the pen!

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And my nominations for the Blogger Recognition Award are (in no particular order)…

  1. The Third Planet
  2. La Venessiana
  3. Agreeable Things
  4. Fashion Through History
  5. A Cupcake For Love
  6. JessDidWhat
  7. SawaWorld
  8. Meandering With Misha
  9. Michael Philip Atkins Travels
  10. Japan etc.
  11. Melinda Little Blogs
  12. Lisa’s Project: Vegan
  13. The Wifey’s Corner
  14. Fed’s Life
  15. Getting The Picture

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

Miramar Bistro: A Helping Of Cuban Music With My Pommes Frites!

For New Year’s Eve, handsome booked a reservation at a restaurant we hadn’t visited before, in Highwood IL, along Chicago’s North Shore. I think we’ve both had the itch to explore for some new favorite dinner spots, so it was a fun surprise. Especially as we understood this Miramar Bistro to be a French restaurant, much like our beloved Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston…

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The first thing that caught us by surprise as we entered Miramar, was the Cuban music that was playing. We were enjoying it of course, Cuban music is delicious and has a wonderful energy. But I was a little confused, “That doesn’t sound French.” My date suggested there might be a theme night going for New Year’s…

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We began by sharing the Chilled Artichoke with Mustard Vinaigrette and were very pleased. I never ate artichokes before handsome walked into my life (or kitchen rather). I thought they were intimidating. He buys them at the grocer from time to time, throws them in a pot, whips up a vinaigrette and then cuts out their tender hearts like a pro. We’ll have to try chilling ours the way Miramar does. Absolutely delightful and refreshing…

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My date then moved on to the Salad Lyonnaise with Poached Egg. Frisee, soft egg and salty lardons make for one rich salad…

What we discovered is that Miramar is in fact a French bistro with Cuban highlights. I would not describe it as a fusion restaurant. French food and Cuban cuisine don’t combine, but they can both be found on the menu, along with a few American classics sprinkled in. Whether you’re in the mood for a Cuban sandwich, a Croque Monsieur, or a cheeseburger, they’ve got it…

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I can say without reservation that the Soup Du Jour was the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted. I could easily have been satisfied with the fresh, crispy, chewy bread delivered to the table along with a double portion of this soup for my New Year’s dinner, but who am I kidding. Of course there was more…

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For his main dish, my partner selected Steak Frites with Black Peppercorn Sauce. We were intrigued by how very thin the pomme frites were, like long matchsticks. And though we are accustomed to this thin style of French fries, we both prefer our pomme frites to be just a wee bit thicker, to enjoy more of the potato flavor and for soaking up sauce. This steak was definitely well received!

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My date specifically ordered his steak with the black peppercorn sauce because of a quaint memory from his childhood. Growing up in the south of France, home cooked meals were his family’s norm and dining out was an exception. On those rare special outings, he came to believe that steak served with a peppercorn sauce was a luxury, fancy. So as a wink to this childhood notion, he ordered this during our New Year’s supper, tying in his old memory to make the meal feel particularly special. We chuckled about this on the way home. But I suppose if I think about it, peppercorn sauce is fancy; I certainly don’t whip it up at home!

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I selected the Gnocchi with Tomato Basil Sauce (which just made me realize that Italian is on Miramar’s menu as well!). The gnocchi was certainly handmade, and was tender yet had a comforting chew. The sauce was simple, fresh and just right! After two bites, I didn’t think it would be possible to really make a dent in the dish. I was certainly going to have leftovers. That was not what happened. I ate it all…

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Another childhood memory was shared the moment my date laid eyes on this metal sign decorating one bit of wall. Byrrh sounds like it might be describing a beer, but it is actually a wine aperitif (to be enjoyed before eating). It was quite popular in France in days gone by, first produced in 1866…

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As the story goes, when just a little boy, he lived near the medieval village of Thuir at the feet of the Pyrenees, where Byrrh was produced. He had a cousin who lived in Thuir and loved to go around boasting that his village owned the largest barrel of Byrrh in the world!

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It is hilarious what kids will traipse around boasting about. I inquired whether he’d ever tasted Byrrh, since he lived so close to such an enormous barrel of it? Nope. In his words, “We were just kids.” And here I thought French children came forth from the womb suckling wine from their baby bottles? Non?

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For dessert, the Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel was ordered up with a shot of espresso for the gentleman. I love to sniff espresso (smells like heaven), but I don’t dare even taste it. I’d be up all night having a solo dance party…

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I’m actually surprised I wasn’t up all night after gobbling down one sizable Creme Brulee, with it’s sugary hard topping and rich buttery custard. Oh la la!

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On the way out, we had a moment’s chat with the proprietor and chef, Gabriel Viti. He’s an avid traveler to Cuba, and was a chef in France, and around Europe. It was neat to hear from his point of view, what he was aiming for when he opened Miramar (after the name of a district in Havana). Basically, I gathered that his goal was to bring things he loved, together. Good food, charming culture, and people. It’s clearly working, for the restaurant was packed with a jovial crowd while playing great music and providing an excellent menu. This restaurant doesn’t need the largest barrel of anything in its cellar, it has reason enough to boast already!

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

Last week, handsome asked if I’d be up for seeing Hamilton (the insanely popular musical showing in NYC and Chicago at present). Since its debut in 2015, Hamilton has had incredible success, winning many fine awards. Thus, tickets are difficult to get, and pricey too. My immediate reply was, “But won’t that be expensive?” Let’s just say there are some experiences worth the price of inflation!

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We started out the evening with a scenic ride on Lake Shore Drive. The lights heading into the city are beautiful at night. I love sitting cozily in the passenger seat. My partner said something quite true, “Chicago is a happening place. We’re lucky!” And we are, so many great cultural experiences to be had, and so much great food…

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We had a reservation at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. Guests find it a unique experience because this style of restaurant delivers cut after cut of tender, grilled meats, right to your tableside. As I don’t regularly consume meat, I did not partake. Fortunately, they have a spectacular salad bar!

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Papaya, fried yuca, marinated mushrooms, plantains, marinated vegetables, pear salad, potato salad, deliciously dressed greens…this was not your average salad bar!

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After such a filling, decadent meal, I found it incredulous that anyone would ever order dessert at Fogo. When my honey asked to see the menu (just to take a peek), I gasped. We then promptly ordered the caramelized pineapple and ate it all…

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We then hopped back in the car and zipped on over to the Private Bank Theatre (known as Broadway in Chicago). The energy outside of the theater was awesome! Ticket holders were excited, the camera lights were flashing, the Hamilton sign aglow. We joked about keeping our eyes peeled for celebrities with everything so abuzz. As we entered inside, I was as giddy as I always am upon entering the theater…

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…and then the show proceeded to knock our socks off from our front row seats upon the balcony. Being such a revered musical, I walked in with no idea of what to expect. I wondered how they would take the dry bit out of telling a complicated life story in America’s history. How would they make it as wonderfully entertaining as Broadway musicals tend to be? Yes, history is fascinating (I’m nuts about it). However, it can also be complicated and dry, hardly whimsical…

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Hamilton however, accomplished something very difficult. This musical took the complicated, and using perfectly timed movement & dance, unpretentious yet excellent costumes, a bare yet full-of-life stage, powerfully driven voices, extensive wit, a script beyond compare, and hip-hop…turned Alexander Hamilton’s life (1755-1804), this American statesman’s incredible story, into a palpable experience for us today…

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There is much more to be said about Hamilton, but I’ll leave that to those better versed in history, politics and musical theater. What I can say is, it’s a wonderful musical. If you get the chance, don’t throw away your shot at seeing this brilliant work!

Here’s to being thankful for the peace and freedoms I enjoy today. Here’s to thankfulness for my freedom of speech. Here’s praying for the same peace and freedoms for all…

A Winter’s Night By The Fire At Roka

I love inhaling the scent of a wood fire when I’m walking outside on a winter’s day. That smell is amazing! And on a snowy winter’s night, there is nothing more alluring than the scent and sizzle of a Japanese robata grill. As the white flakes fell outside, date night last week was never so cozy, or delicious! Roka Akor isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience…

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Accompanying two rosy glasses of champagne to celebrate Christmas, was the Prime Beef Tataki with Truffle Onion Vinaigrette and Rock Chive. These amuse-bouches were smooth and light, with a hint of fresh herb. With the clink of our glasses and a cheery toast, the meal began…

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My tolerance for heat in any dish is limited, so a plate of Japanese Shishito Peppers with Ponzu and Bonito Flakes seemed risky. Ooohhh! Take the risk! TAKE THE RISK! How fresh and flavorful these peppers were right from the grill. Brian (our knowledgeable culinary guide for the evening) explained that only one bite in the bunch might hold that blazing seed of heat.

My date got the infernal seed in his last bite, while I was pleasantly spared. I didn’t chuckle at all when his eyes got watery and he grappled for his glass of water. Well, maybe there was a little chuckle…

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My absolute favorite dish of the evening was the Grilled Cauliflower with Wafu Butter. What is wafu butter? It’s the nectar of the gods, that’s what. Actually, it’s a Japanese vinaigrette dressing married with butter, but I’m pretty sure magic is involved in its making. How else could plain and tasteless cauliflower turn into one of the most flavorful things I’ve ever eaten?

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For our main dish, we both ordered the chef’s featured catch. The Sea Bass with Peppercorn Broth, Cauliflower and Roasted Beets was absolutely divine. I’m a great fan of a serving of fish that is fresh, soft and flakey on the inside with a flavorful crunch from the grill on the outside. Roka gets it right every time. And, I’m pretty sure some of that wafu butter made it into the broth with the cauliflower because I was mourning not having a baguette handy to sop up every last drop. I was even tempted to slurp the broth right out of the bowl. Who cares about keeping things classy when there’s wafu butter?!

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Of course dinner wouldn’t end quite right at Roka without the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile, which my date ordered. I however, opted for scoops of house-made ice cream…

One scoop of molasses, one scoop of coffee…wow! Following blissful bites, I was scraping my spoon around in the little bowls looking for more. With such rich dessert and a pour of the exceptional Yamazaki 18 yr Single Malt (nuts, spice, vanilla, cinnamon), along with the beauty of the snow falling outside and my companion sitting across the table, I was truly enjoying a respite of peace and warmth during this holiday season!

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Once again, Roka Akor was outstanding. With such excellent fare, top-notch hospitality, thoughtful and attentive staff, and warm ambiance, this restaurant on Chicago’s North Shore keeps luring us back to their grill side!

A Night At The Museum

There are three places in the world that I deeply treasure in my heart. Venice, Italy. The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI. And, The Field Museum in Chicago, IL. So when handsome and I received an unprecedentedly exciting invitation to an evening soiree at The Field, my mouth dropped open, my eyes grew sparkly, and my brain broke for approximately five whole minutes…

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Chicago was having a bit of a blizzard, but that didn’t stop us. It made the evening even more charming (especially because my date was driving while I yapped on, cozily in the passenger seat). I was delighted to see that we had valet right at the bottom of the steps leading up to the museum, and a white tent hovering over the grand stairs to keep guests covered from the wind and snow…

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After checking in our coats, we filed up marble stairs to the second floor, where hors d’oeuvres and beverages were passed on silver platters. The view was breathtaking, the holiday lights and enormous wreathes of greenery were hung festively, and jazzy music echoed all around. I had a perpetual grin on my face as my eyes darted around in every direction. The secrets within the museum halls were calling my name…

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It was an absolute privilege to amble through the exhibits at night, with the halls dim and the cases enchantingly lit, hardly bumping into another guest. It was like we had the whole museum to ourselves. The beautiful botany, the pinned insects, the dinosaurs, the ancient artifacts…I swoon, I die…actually I gasped, and giggled, and smiled and felt as merry as a lark…

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I whispered with the dinosaurs and my imagination went wild with prehistoric visions…

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I told Sue that she was pretty. 65 million years have nothing on her!

If you haven’t seen the incredible documentary about this T-Rex, titled Dinosaur 13, I entreat you to watch it immediately. The story was so moving that I cried. Yup. I secretly shed tears for a dinosaur. Sue’s story is truly amazing…

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And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

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I love, love, love the bugs! In another life, I am an entomologist! Aren’t they fascinating?!

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This dude had some serious spine. I wonder if he suffered from back aches?

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And in my other, other life…I’d like to be a full-time scale models, replicas and diorama maker for museums! Tell me this beach scene doesn’t look real? The figures in the sand are no bigger than my pinky finger. Ahhhh! I’m nuts for dioramas!

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After adequately losing my mind with childlike excitement, we sat down to a delicious dinner. I very much enjoyed my salad of greens with blue cheese crumbles, crusty artisan bread, and mushroom risotto with asparagus. It was perfect…

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There were adorable little desserts too, tasting of egg-nog and peppermint. Miniature winks to the festive season! And after our sweet treats, we roamed the halls of the museum once more, and then ended the evening with much dancing…

If you ever have the chance to visit The Field, I hope that you will and will spend some time. This museum has an incredibly rich history, its roots taking hold with The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893). The Field Museum is truly magnificent, and offers so much learning. I will cherish it for all of my days!

Rainy Night Dining in The Cellar

A few weeks ago while traipsing through wet and cold on over to a restaurant we had considered dining at one evening, we passed the door of The Cellar. We paused to peek at the menu posted outside and handsome proposed that we try it out! How glad I am that we did, and how surprising and pleasant an impromptu change of plans can be…

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We started with an appetizer called Cauliflower Popcorn (curried rice-flour battered cauliflower served with blue cheese dipping sauce) and let us just say I have never been more willing to eat my vegetables! It was devoured before the thought of a photo could even enter my mind…

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My date ordered the Grilled Lamb Chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, apple mustard and lamb jus. I took a nibble and must say that the rich red sauce was out of a culinary dream! A winter dish to warm the bones and fortify the spirit…

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I indulged in the New England Lobster Roll served with lobster meat, mayo, green onions and truffled fries. Oh heavens, oh heavens! Amen! Hallelujah! The lobster appears to have more mayo than necessary, but it was actually perfect, balancing out the crispy bun and large, fresh chunks of lobster. This sort of dish isn’t common in these parts, so I was very happy!

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Our bellies full, we ambled back out into the chilly drizzle and on to the movies, arm in arm. It was the perfect date night. Especially thanks to The Cellar, which is absolutely one of the best kept secrets in town. The peaceful yet stylish atmosphere, the excellent service and delectable menu has just made it our new favorite!

The Golden Egg Part II.

Just a little over a year ago whilst making breakfast, I discovered that one of my hard-boiled eggs had a double yolk (which I shared in the post The Golden Egg). I was pretty excited to cut open that egg and discover two yolks, for in all of my years of egg eating, I’ve never seen one. My grandparents raised chickens and ducks when I was a youngling (and still do), but I don’t recall seeing any double yolks amongst those fresh eggs. Perhaps grandma called my attention to one in the skillet at some point, and I forgot about it…

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According to Fresh Eggs Daily, only about 1 in every thousand eggs will have a double yolk. But because most egg producers discard eggs that are outside of an established commercial norm, it is even rarer to get one when buying a carton at the market. However, I’m guessing that my purchasing both ‘organic/cage free’ (farmers who are less likely to away with a perfectly good egg in spite of shape or weight) might have something to do with my good fortune…

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This is my second golden egg! I went to fry some eggs for supper two nights ago and was tickled to find another double yolk when I cracked my eggs into my pan! On researching this phenomenon again, I discovered that some farms breed chickens that are more likely to produce these eggs, and sell double yolks by the dozen!

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There are also plenty of superstitions around cracking open a double yolk. But as for me, there is only one of these omens that I am willing to believe, and that is that I’ll receive some good luck. But I guess I already did, for that egg supper was delicious and I received the blessing of a full stomach!

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Here’s to interesting curiosities that delight and always learning something new; and also wishing you much good fortune, a double yolk or two!

Robata Japanese Cuisine!

My honey and I are just crazy about Roka Akor in Skokie. Dining there is always a special occasion. The food is truly incredible and the staff, always attentive. You can check out my other Roka Akor reviews here, here and here. Here’s what we enjoyed on our most recent visit!

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A little ‘amuse-bouche’ on thinly sliced cucumbers. I couldn’t tell you exactly what they were comprised of, but my mouth was certainly amused!

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The Kale Caesar Salad with Bubu Arare and Roasted Charred Tomato tasted like a song! So delicious! What are Bubu Arare you ask? They are those little tan balls that you see on the salad. Traditional to Japanese cuisine, they are tiny seasoned cracker-like nibbles! Crunch-crunch

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Next, some Prince Edward Island Mussels with Wild Mushrooms and Citrus Sake Broth. These little seafood delights with toasties would take the chill out of any autumn night!

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You couldn’t pay my date to pass up the Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi on a visit to Roka Akor, and I don’t blame him. That meat is delivered right from robatayaki heaven! (If you’re curious like me, robatayaki means ‘fireside-cooking’ in Japanese)…

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Next we ordered up some Sweet Corn with Soy Garlic Butter (…mmmm) and some Sweet Potato with Ginger Teriyaki (…mmmm-hmmm) to accompany our main dishes.

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I certainly wasn’t crabby after diving into my sea of Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter (all puns intended)…

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But the real star of this evening’s dinner was handsome’s choice. This dish is very, very special and something he’d considered ordering each time we’ve dined at Roka, but had yet to. He finally decided upon this Miyazaki Wagyu served with Artisan Salts. Wagyu is a breed of cattle in Japan, and Miyazaki the place this particular cow was raised…

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This steak is considered some of the best out there, and we concur. Even though I don’t generally eat meat, I had to try something this luxurious. It was a delectable experience. The meat literally melts in your mouth (likely because Wagyu has a high level of unsaturated fat)…

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And for our dessert, the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile. Ube is a purple yam! I love the thought that a root vegetable curbed our post-dinner sweet tooth! Yet again, another memorable meal at one of our favorites, Roka Akor!

The Mad Hatter Of Toasties: A Poem

I am the Mad Hatter of toasties, smothering my bread in everything that’s good…

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Even covering them in melty cheese and eggs, though my conscience isn’t sure I should…

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Especially best are those with eggs in a hole, how I swoon with each bite and crunch…

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Mad Hatter I am, getting crazy with my toast…I make one wild bunch!

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No, no, there’s nothing better, than such hot and toasty delights…

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Made right quick for any meal, they’re indubitably the best on chilly autumn nights!

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Of course there is salad; greens so fresh, bright and pure…

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And roasted squash of every kind, from which I don’t demure!

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Always loving am I of a tender fish, potato and asparagus feast…

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And my ardor for shrimp, shallots and beans…well that won’t ever cease!

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Wondrous goddess you are, divine caprese! So very high on my list…

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But toasties, oh toasties, you’re this Mad Hatter’s pleasure, for always and ever. On this I must insist!

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll

I’ve just finished reading Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll and found it to be a fantastic text filled with historic food facts!

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Three Squares treats us to a food timeline in US history. Carroll begins with what mealtime likely usually looked like for settlers in the 17th century (when European colonists began planting roots and observing the foods Native Americans consumed)…

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I was absolutely fascinated to learn what and why settlers were eating/growing/harvesting what they were and how they prepared these items. It was also interesting to learn how settlers viewed their native neighbors (rampant with cultural clashing and ugly stereotyping when it came to the meal)…

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In the 18th century, patterns began to change. Where many crops, food items and ways of preparation had been originally rejected in the 17th century, new generations of Americans began to do the opposite, rejecting their European food pasts and clinging to what made their crops and tables uniquely American…

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As Carroll’s timeline progresses, we learn how the hours at which meals were taken, what was being consumed, and how food was being prepared and presented, changed and why. I found it really awesome to learn how consumption has changed so dramatically over the years, due to changes in American culture, wartime, industrialization and technology…

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Three Squares spans a great many topics…

  • What foods were uniquely native to North America vs. crops that were introduced.
  • The strong cultural bonds we make with our food.
  • How food associates with our notion of social status.
  • The way structured family meals affects our social skills and intelligence.
  • Nutrition, school lunches, government reforms.
  • The powers of packaging, advertising, and the impact of television.
  • Snacking and American leisure time.
  • And much, much more…

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Though folks who love food will find interest in this book, I think it is especially for anyone who enjoys history, and particularly American history. It is a highly digestible (tee-hee) historic timeline that will have you learning something new and interesting at the turn of every page! I cannot recommend it enough, it was truly a gastronomic pleasure!

What’s cooking good looking?

I made a special skillet this week, salmon cakes! My grandma used to make these, and my mom too, and this week I made them for my honey and I, and we quite enjoyed them…

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I’m not very good with following recipes and like to use what is on hand (always hoping what I’m making will turn out). I threw together a can of salmon, an egg, half a cup of bread crumbs (actually smashed pita chips), half a cup of mayo, a few tablespoons of mustard, half a cup of minced chives, and then formed the patties and let them cook slowly over medium heat…

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Crispy on the outside, flavorful hot salmon on the inside, served with some zesty sauce (a little mayo mixed with a little sriracha), and a salad. Next time I’m going to try baking them and see how they turn out!

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I’m always making a sandwich, because I’m nuts for them. For the last few weeks, cucumber sandwiches have been my favorite. This sandwich included toasted sourdough, a  spread of mayo, sliced red onion, arugula, cucumber, salt and pepper. I also really like making an open-faced sandwich with a little chive cream cheese and a layer of sliced cucumber. Delicious!

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I also whipped up a frittata (though frittata means ‘fried’ and mine was baked). Some eggs, some cheese, some veggies, voila!

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Fresh and simple meals are always a delight, especially when they are colorful!

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I also roasted some fingerling potatoes and steamed up some pea pods and had a little feast. There’s lots of veggie love in my kitchen!

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As the season is starting to change, I’m already leaning toward cool weather fare. I roasted a very large acorn squash last week (and ate the entire thing myself) and also baked up a zucchini casserole. Nothing like roasted veggies and hot casseroles to ward off a chill!

What’s cooking in your kitchen? Have you whipped up anything that is traditional to your family lately (like my salmon cakes)?

My Chili Pot Runneth Over…

For many years, friends of my family have hosted a wonderful event called Chili Fest! On a most anticipated September Saturday evening, a great many folks come bearing huge pots of delicious chili and a feast is born…

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There are crock-pots, stove pots and cast iron pots to fill an entire kitchen, all brimming with slow cooked meats, chilis and gumbos! There’s always vegetarian chili too (heartily made with raisins, beans and cashews…so good)!

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But that’s not all. As the evening begins and folks start to trickle in, much love is set out upon the dining room table. Dips, veggies, cornbreads, desserts!

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This wonderful family hosts a great many people, all bringing and helping themselves to the delicious spread. Children run through the yard playing games, dogs trot about hoping for a nibble from the table, and the company gathered create a cacophony of words and laughter…

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While just outside, Bullfrog plays on into the night. Bullfrog is a popular local band that has been around for years (though recently retired from public performance). They are very talented musicians. I’ve sat in on a great many of their gigs, for my stepdad Charlie is the drummer!

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Folks are in and out, grabbing another helping of chili, delighting in another piece of pie, taking in the cool night air and music from lawn chairs in the driveway…

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Generous friends bring the bounty of their gardens to share with the visitors…

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And one remembers once more how meaningful good food and fellowship are…

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Here’s a thank you to the hosts of Chili Fest! This gathering ever brings such warm memories!

And here’s wishing all, friends by your side, smiles and laughter in abundance, and always what share of earth’s bounty you need…

Birthday Blessings!

I recently celebrated my birthday, and it was just filled with blessings. So many people were so kind in wishing me well, and offering little surprises that filled my heart with thankfulness and gladness. There was also a special birthday meal, which handsome treated me to at Boltwood in Evanston. This is the second birthday dinner in a row that I’ve spent there, for we quite enjoy this restaurant (which I’ve also reviewed here , here and here)…

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To start, we shared the sourdough pizza with summer squash, goat’s milk ricotta and oven roasted tomatoes and the grilled octopus with greens, orange and cucumber

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Grilled octopus is a touchy dish, but Boltwood does it right. Fresh seafood that is grilled to perfection! Makes me feel transported from the Midwest to the Mediterranean…

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And of course, there was no passing up the crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Need I describe something so delicious? You can see from the photo that those potatoes are heavenly!

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There was also a big salad, for I love my greens! The simple, yet satisfying chopped salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and lemon vinaigrette was delicious and is just the kind of dish that inspires my own salad makings at home…

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For the main course, handsome had the grilled pork chop with red rice, quinoa, fennel and plum salsa. All that was left at the end was the bone, so I can only conclude that it was one pleasing chop…

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Meanwhile, I relished in the wild king salmon with fresh shelly beans and mint-almond pesto. Look at that beautiful fish!

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And after blowing out my pretty pink candle, we partook in a very unique dessert. Sweet corn with ice cream, corn cake and caramel. Definitely a wink to the sweet bounty of summer!

Here’s wishing you blessings all year long, be it your birthday or any day other!

Terrible Typhoid Mary

I recently read Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, just as voraciously as I consumed Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map (about a cholera outbreak in London in 1854 which I reviewed here). I make the comparison here, because both books give us a snapshot of how city officials, doctors and citizens were dealing with contagious disease during a budding time of medical experimentation and progress. And also because these diseases are in some ways similar…

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Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant, moving to New York City in 1883. She was employed as a cook for rich families, and was considered a clean and hardworking woman. However, in the families she worked for, cases of typhoid commonly arose…

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Typhoid is caused by bacteria that multiplies in the intestine after a hapless victim consumes food or water tainted with an infected individual’s waste. It comes with a dangerously high fever, extreme fatigue, terrible headaches and rashes, and an ailing intestine. It is a very serious disease…

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Mary Mallon was a silent carrier of typhoid. In rare cases, someone who has had the disease can continue to populate the bacteria and pass it on to others, long after they’ve gotten well again. Most survivors of the disease stop reproducing the bacteria after a span of time. In Mary’s specific case, she had no recollection of ever even having typhoid in her life. Most likely, she’d beaten a bad fever at some point in her youth, never knowing what she’d had…

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Worse still, she was employed as a cook. All it might take was one poor hand washing after using the water closet, and then prepping food in the kitchen, to pass typhoid on…

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In reading this retelling of history, I found myself both feeling sad for Mary, but also angry. When the connection was made that she might be a carrier, she refused to believe it or even speak with doctors sent to help her situation. She put up fierce fights, fled the scenes, changed her name. And partly, we can understand. At this time, experimental cures and unjust incarcerations were rampant. As far as she was concerned, she’d never had this disease and was not the cause of the cases coming down in the houses she worked for…

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On the other hand, she was made a fair offer. Change your profession and your freedom will remain your own. What did Mary do? She hid her identity and went to work as a cook in a women’s hospital. You can imagine the inevitable outcome. 25 people were struck with typhoid in this case, two died. She was caught and placed into permanent isolation…

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This book also gives us a snapshot into news tactics of the time. To sell papers, larger than life (and often false) stories were premiered. Mary was made a villain while men who were silent carriers and infected crowds were wholly ignored in the news. Presumably, this was because she was a cook, and as a woman, was expected to be utterly caring of others. This story also gives insight into how medical authorities dealt with (often poorly), odd situations such as Mary’s and how it impacted a patient’s freedom, spirit and health. (I certainly took a fright to how they tried to cure Mary of her typhoid. Eeek!)…

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I can hardly give this story justice here however. Therefore, I entreat you to read Terrible Typhoid Mary for yourself if you have any interest in medicine, city health and planning, late 19th/early 20th century American history, or the truly wild details surrounding one poor Mary Mallon!

The Tale of Three Toasties

It isn’t autumn yet, but there is a delicious chill in the air this evening. I’ve opened the windows and let the cool outdoors inside. The smell of woodsmoke has crept in with it…

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During the summer, while sunlight and balmy weather last late into the evening, I have no problem stopping at the store when necessary for an ingredient or two to cook up a late supper. But as the days are growing shorter, I’m already finding I’d rather just get home and not linger out after dark. I’m quite a homebody…

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Over the years, I’ve become creative with using what I have on hand at home, to drum up a satisfying bite when I just can’t be moved to stop at the store. One of my favorites are toasties! Thinly sliced bread that is on the cusp of stale (I like French bread or sourdough the best), throw on what you have on hand, and stick it in the oven for 8-10 minutes or so. I love toasties!

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These three were on sourdough. The first one had provolone, chopped pecans and honey. The second was boiled egg, cheddar cheese and pepper. The third was boiled egg, herbed olive oil and pepper. They were filling and delicious! The only thing that was missing was a pop of green (a topping of arugula would have been perfect). However, I was out of greens that evening (on account of not wanting to stop at the store that night and just make something easy).

You can put anything on your toasties, making them the very best last minute meal for cold weather. I love making them into tuna melts, caprese or avocado toasties…what would you put on yours?