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…

A Delightful Giveaway!

Because today is a beautiful day…because it’s a holiday weekend…because I’ve still got one last festive weekend left at Bristol…today feels like a great day for a giveaway to share a little delight with you…

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Today, I’m giving away a copy of Delight! To enter, use your imagination and tell us what your fairy name would be if you were one of those magical creatures, and share it in the comments! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Tuesday, September 6th at 10:00 a.m. Chicago time and announce the winner! Here’s wishing you a delightful weekend!

My Pretty Venice

Absolutely charming! That’s what I think about My Pretty Venice: A Girl’s Guide to True Venice by Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and illustrated by Beatrice Campagnol. This lovely book put a smile on my face at the turn of every page…

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To begin with, I greatly esteem writer Isabella Campagnol who is the author of Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents which I previously reviewed here. With her being a fashion, textile, and decorative arts historian who writes on Venetian topics, who better to co-author a modern guide directed toward such themes, with rich history weaved in?

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What do I love about this book? First, Rainer and Campagnol have written an uncomplicated, selective guide to Venice, directed toward delights that ladies might enjoy. That hidden garden, that charming bookstore, a place to pamper your toes or find elegant trappings. However, it isn’t just dry information, it’s playful and delightfully accompanied by Beatrice Campagnol’s darling illustrations (also including illustrative, well placed photos by Lorenzano Di Renzo). A thoughtful guide for the travel-minded, adventurous spirit that is also endearing to the imagination!

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I really enjoyed the cameos and curiosities throughout the book as well, which retell interesting histories and share snippets of important ladies from Venice’s history!

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For you gals who love Venice (like me), or have a friend who does, My Pretty Venice is an absolute treat! Whether or not you’re heading to that magical city anytime soon, a flip through this book’s pages will sweep you away on your own little holiday!

The Mermaiden

Can you smell the briny air? Hear the seagulls screeching? See the sand crabs scuttling? Feel the power of the ocean’s waves? Won’t you come sit a moment with a mermaiden and get lost at sea?

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Bess lives in a cottage beside the sea in the village of Salty Row. Her father is a respected fisherman, providing fish to both the people of their town, and also the nobles who live nearby in a great castle.

Bess loves her life by the ocean, filled with wind and water. Especially on the days her father brings her along on his boat; his hardworking crew is a spectacle to watch, and how exciting it is when the fishing nets are pulled up, brimming over with curious creatures!

As Bess is soon to learn however, the good fortune and security always enjoyed in Salty Row is about to experience some turbulent waters! Of course, facing hardship isn’t easy. However, one captivating mermaiden with her tales from the deep, might just be the key to keeping Bess’s good spirits afloat!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

A Moment With Nature

Greetings green frog, or are you bullfrog? I wish you well about your day…

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Dearest water lily, you make me smile! You lift my heart, as I go on my way.

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Well met, lovely blossom! Aren’t you divine? How happy I am, to see your blush…

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Good day, painted turtle! How you stretch your neck! I see you are in no rush?

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Good morrow fellow, relaxed I see? Has anyone ever remarked on your ears? Goodness, oh my, don’t mind my saying, but how very big they be!

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Eeehh my, you frog! I’d made a mistake! At first I took your face, for that of a snake!

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Oh pretty white petals, how pure you be, and so sweetly yellow too! You lift my spirits and make me smile, as your countenance was made to do!

Here’s wishing you many moments with nature, to relax your mind and uplift your spirits!

Summer Storms, Sunny Smiles

What an adventure I’m having with my mother Lita (the artist) and step-dad, at the Bristol Renaissance Faire each weekend while we man our little shop The Quill and Brush (selling our books and art)! We are three weekends past, with six more to go. Though the weather has been mostly agreeable (even if beastly hot and humid), we’ve already met with several thunderstorms that had us covering our heads as we hovered inside of our tent…

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Because we are playing as village merchants from the 16th century, we can’t go about lunching on our regular 21st century fare, and using our plastic cutlery! The little picnic shown here is an example of what we’ve been nibbling instead (though I sort of cheated with the glass bowls)…

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Unfortunately last Sunday morning, a storm blew in even before we opened for the day and an intense wind billowed up our tent and flung my table away with a crash! Our delicious food, so nicely prepared, went into the mud and my glass bowls shattered…

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But the frogs sure didn’t mind the rain! This little guy hopped into the tent, surprising me when I found him hanging around under my table of books…

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And we see this busy dude each day, going in and out of his hole right next to our tent…

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And after another thunderstorm this last Saturday, this crayfish emerged (likely flooded out of his hole). That was pretty neat, for we don’t see these all that often…

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I rolled my ankle walking in the faire’s midday parade and have had a mean little sprain for over a week. We sweated buckets, got crispy in the sun, and labored with our bins, tables and tent. And I might have screeched a little as we covered our heads and huddled as the thunder and lightening boomed and lit the sky!

However, reward comes only after a challenge and my reward are the smiles I see when I share my stories. It makes my heart sing. And how happy I am to watch one of my books being carried away, knowing the delightful adventure that awaits the reader!

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I’ve been nursing my sprained ankle with good food, for I can’t imagine anything being better medicine? Delicious whole wheat pasta with veggies and parmesan shavings…

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Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

Salmon and roasted veggies, delicious! If you like roasted salmon, try this little concoction I spoon over mine…

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Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, seed mustard and honey! Oh heavens! When the fish cooks, this glaze hardens on the top and it is just wonderful!

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Outside the high temperatures have brought on one of the loveliest parts of summer, the cicadas’ song! Just snapped a photo of this handsome creature. Look at those pretty pink flecks in his wings! Magical!

Here’s wishing you sunshine in your life today, and many joys from life’s simple pleasures!

Letting Live, in Love and Peace

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I just caught another lovely creature who was clinging to the ceiling near the front door. She was there this morning when I rushed out and was still there this evening, in the same place. I did my careful balancing act on the chair and gingerly caught her…

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This one is not a Cave Cricket like the one I caught in the house earlier this week, but rather a Speckled Bush Cricket. It is of the Katydid family, known for their singing (not from their mouths but from the scraping of their wings along their bodies)…

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Look how gorgeous her beautiful green! Know how I know she’s a gal? Her very obvious ovipositor at her rear, an appendage that pushes into the dirt and then lays eggs!

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Fun Fact: Do you know what the differences between a cricket and a grasshopper are?

  1. Crickets have long antennae while grasshoppers have short antennae.
  2. A cricket’s song comes from rubbing its wings while a grasshopper makes music by rubbing its legs together.

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In the house, she’d been unmoving on the ceiling and went mostly motionless when caught. The moment I brought her outside, her antennae twitched and she started walking around. It was like she immediately sensed she was outdoors once more. Freedom!

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Love this photo, her two red eyes looking at me upside down. I probably appeared as a giant monster. Think it’s too late to return to college and become an entomologist? I sure love bugs!

Here is to the sanctity of life, however great or small, and letting live in love and peace…

Good Tidings From Bristol!

How we enjoyed our first weekend as The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this past weekend, sharing our fantasy and historical fiction books and art! The weather was lovely and the opening weekend wondrous!

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The highest privilege was sharing in the numerous conversations with the energetic, warm and amazing patrons as well as the kind and creative vendors. The faire is truly a magical place, for both its creators and visitors make it so!

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Lita hand-painted our sweet sign and I adore it! What a finer flag for the author and artist?

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Lita’s colorful art put smiles on a lot of faces and delighted the wee ones! Her nature illustrations were befitting the beautiful place around us and were quite admired…

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And I so enjoyed sharing summaries of my tales with the kiddos. Their eyes often grew wide to hear them. I sincerely hope that they enjoy reading them, and keep memories of their day at Bristol in their hearts, just as I always did as a child…

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A special thank you to my step-dad Charlie for his helping us with the labors involved with such an undertaking, and to our family and friends who visited us this past weekend and showed their support for our little business…

A sincere thank you also to each and every one of the wonderful folks who selected a piece of art and/or one of my books. Your patronage means the world to us and we hope you’ll delight in our works, which we joyfully bring to you.

Here’s to 8 more exciting weekends yet to come at Bristol! We hope to see you there!

Cave Cricket In The Potty

Please cue the music from Jaws

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Duuuhh…..

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Duhhhduuhhh….

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Duuhh..duhhh….duuuhhh….

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I don’t startle when I see insects. However, I’d just woken up this morning and stumbled half-asleep into the bathroom and flicked on the light. This dude made me jump! It’s a cricket, but not just any cricket. It’s a variety of cave cricket and they are rather large…

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We’ve actually had a few hopping around the basement now and then, which I catch one by one when brought to my attention and deposit outside. I’ve seen Tiddo the cat pounce on one and munch it…eeewww! But, I’ve never seen them outside of the basement until this fella surprised me today…

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Not only did I startle, I squealed too because it jumped right toward me. They have very powerful legs and can jump quite the distance with force. I think bugs are neat, as long as they don’t jump in my hair before I’ve had my coffee…

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Let’s go outside, shall we? He’s now in the yard, eating some breakfast while I eat mine. I think it’s good karma to catch and release these little lives. Though he’s naturally a ‘cave’ dweller, hope he’s enjoying some sunshine! Hope you’re enjoying some sunshine in your life today too!

Summer Delights, Simply Delicious!

My honey and I are about to dive into one very busy summer, each tied up with our own exciting endeavors. We’ve always done our best to have a weekly date night to catch up, relax and enjoy a good meal together. This summer however, date nights will be harder to fit in and will likely be a bite at home. Thus, we had to get to one of our favorites before we’re both carried away with summer…

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Evanston’s Boltwood is simply delicious, every time! First on the menu, beets with greek yogurt, pistachios and saffron honey. So fresh and earthy!

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Next, grilled carrots with harissa, black sesame seeds and apricot. Oh heavens! I could have eaten that sauce with a spoon!

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We’d be tempted to make a trip to Boltwood just to eat these crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz! We order them each time we go and are completely blissed out with every bite. So, so good!

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I love seafood anytime, but especially in summer when it’s served with bright flavors and color! This swordfish with citrus, fennel, radish, avocado and chives was light and excellent!

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The crispy tofu with coconut rice, broccoli, chili garlic and sesame seeds was the best dish of the night! This dish was on fire and so was my mouth! Spicy! I normally don’t eat spicy food because I can’t take the heat. This dish was hot, but I couldn’t stop eating it. The spicy sauce was offset by the coconut rice (perfect al dente) and the tofu. And though a large dollop of a tear ran down my face from the heat, I kept eating. Wow!

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I think I heard angels singing when I took my first spoonful of the budino. Butterscotch pudding, caramel, sesame tuile and whipped cream. It made me remember how much I love butterscotch. This pudding was so smooth and dreamy!

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Strawberry and rhubarb sing summer, so we quite enjoyed the strawberry rhubarb crisp with oats and chamomile ice cream. A wee tart and wonderfully fruity.

Here’s to the flavors and fun of summer, and spending time with the people you care about. I hope your summer is off to a great start and wish you many sunny days ahead!

A Bushel Of Books

A bushel of books, a bundle of words, sitting in a basket just there. A great many more, all carefully nesting, all tenderly wrapped with care…

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But why do they wait? Such adventurous volumes! Do they not have some place to be? Why yes, oh yes! They’re looking their best, for at Bristol all will soon see!

Just 10 days until The Quill and Brush will be open to all, sharing stories and art, inspired and drawn from the heart!

Dragons at Dawn

I am very excited to share Dragons at Dawn! This treasure of a book is a true adventure! Especially for those who love a dragon tale! Enjoy…but beware the clawed and fanged beast! Bwa-ha-ha!

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Pious enjoys sitting with his neighbor Joseph, one of the elders of Piper’s Hamlet. Joseph shares fascinating stories about faraway places and the wild and enchanted animals and beings that live in them. Even at the edge of their village, far up upon a hill, stands Hightower. Pious learns from Joseph why the watchtower was built many centuries before. It was used to fight off dangerous creatures that used to cross into their lands, causing complete havoc in the town. There were frightening mirage elves, rowdy sand stags and beastly sun dragons. Long out of use, battling the creatures from Hightower is now just an ancient tale. Or is it?

Piper’s Hamlet soon comes under siege. A sun dragon from afar has come to attack and destroy, and an entire village must work together to survive. Pious, as curious as ever, can’t help wondering why the furious beast has fallen upon them after so many years of peace. He becomes determined to find out, soon learning that it could fall to him to save them all!

Join Pious as he learns the true meaning of selflessness, feels the kindness and unity that can be found amongst neighbors, and discovers what it means to be courageous before the fiercest of foes, for everyone’s sake!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Lady In A Green Dress

This one was called the green dress, for the light olive color. It was a beloved gown (and still is, though there is no way I could squeeze into it nowadays). I wore this one for two seasons as a courtier in the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s Guilde of St. George when I was 20-21 years old…

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Lita, artist and designer, has a way of making elegant creations without the showy additions. Simple is often the most beautiful. How much fun I had running around Bristol’s enchanting outdoors in that dress!

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Lita is also quite the milliner, having made this hat from scratch. Oh yes, this woman has ninja milliner skills. Using plastic cross stitch canvas, she cut out the parts of the hat with precision (how does she do it? I’m not even sure I know how to use a measuring tape properly), then did the same with velvet fabric, and then handstitched the entire thing. She measured my head so that it would fit like a glove. It still does all these years later (for I guess heads don’t get bigger over time the way waistlines are apt to do).

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I danced a lot of courtly dances in that gown, and still remember the sway of the skirt as it swished over the farthingale. How merry!

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I also had a jolly time tripping over dozens of inanimate objects, like that hapless cushion there on the ground. I did it gracefully however, as if I hadn’t a care in the world…

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I also often swung on an enormous swing in that dress, an attempt to get a breeze in the 90 degree weather!

And, I remained dutiful in my role as a maid of honour to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. She is there at the front of the line wearing her noble purple. Oh heavens! How much fun, and how much history I learned. The memories of my days in that green gown are priceless…

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Lita (artist) and I (author) are still working diligently to prepare for this year’s opening day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We will be getting to know our tented shop this very weekend, considering how we will delight guests with our displays of historical fiction & fantasy books and art. We are The Quill and Brush and you will find us on King’s Landing at the perimeter of Lake Elizabeth. Opening day is July 9th! We can’t wait to see you there!

Once Upon A Star

For all of you adventurers at heart, I am so happy to share Once Upon a Star!

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Lomina is on an adventure, traveling far from the only home she’s ever known to live in the great and mysterious Castle Eerie. Her father has been sent on a mission by the good King Olin to save the last of the unicorns, and some of these magical creatures live in the Boundless Woods, a forest that Lomina can see from her very room!

She soon discovers however, that unicorns are not the only enchanted creatures to live in this part of the realm, for there are grassland fairies, midge dragons and trolls too! One naughty fairy even frightens her horse into a gallop, taking her on a wild ride deep into the forest.

Finding herself lost and alone in Boundless Woods, Lomina will encounter both magic and dangers that will test her courage. But the greatest surprise? Saving the unicorns might not be her father’s mission after all, but her own!

Saddle your horse and ride along with Lomina to discover how one girl’s bravery and selflessness saved the unicorns and gave them one of the best kept secrets the realm had ever known!

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

A Delightful Tale

Delight is here! A sweet and adventurous story for fairy lovers of all ages!

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Delight loves Midsummer’s Eve, as do all the fairies that live in the enchanted Hazel Woods. It’s a night to dance and sing, frolic and tell ancient tales! But this year, on the night of that magical celebration, a great and unexpected storm is brewing.

Delight is soon separated from her family and swept far away by a terrible gale. When she wakes the next morning, she finds herself bumped, bruised and stranded upon a strange rock far out in the sea! This is very bad indeed, for one of her delicate wings has been torn and she cannot fly. If she ever wants to see home again, she’ll have to gather up her courage and use her cleverness to do it!

Join Delight as she crosses deep waters and vast lands, meets magical creatures and faces new dangers, proving that the smallest of fairies can be the bravest of all!

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

Summer Delights, and A Mystery Solved!

We’ve finally received warm weather here in Evanston! 70s and even low 80s! Now, I’m more of a cool weather gal (I get a little grouchy when it gets into the 90s) but this weather is truly perfect. I’ve spent several days writing outside on the porch (my absolute favorite way to spend the day) and am looking forward to many more…

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Tiddo has enjoyed his first sprigs of summer catnip, which is already growing quite abundantly around the neighborhood. He’s also been trying to dart out of the front door and is yowling like a wild thing. He wants to spend the day outside too!

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For me, the moment the weather turns from cool and dreary to warm and sunny, what I want on my plate changes as well. As soon as it turned mid-70s this week, I wanted a caprese salad!

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And though a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil usually do on my salads, once summer begins, I’ve a hankering for reduced balsamic…

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Pour a few cups into a sauce pan, place over low heat and then stir (and stir, and stir) until it is reduced to about a fourth of what you originally poured in. When you taste it, the bitterness should have run out and the sweetness kicked in. I like to then cool it in a ramekin in the fridge, it becomes thick as molasses. Oh heavens! Remember to keep stirring while it cooks however, or else it will burn immediately and will not turn out.

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I also made a delightful quesadilla for breakfast, with a caprese twist. Purple onion, red and yellow tomatoes, basil…

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I particularly like experimenting with breakfast. I’m weirdly ravenous about an hour after I wake up each morning. Therefore, I think just about everything sounds delicious and am more willing to cook up something out of the ordinary for that meal.

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And now for a mystery solved! This was so cool! The raccoons have been out, enjoying the nice weather too. This isn’t the same dude who was hanging off of our tree the other day (who looked a little scrawny I thought), this one is a real healthy size. I took this picture of him in the backyard (safely from the window of course).

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The shots are blurry, but if you look closely, he’s digging around in our backyard drainpipe! He pulled out some snacks to munch on, who knows what it was. Wet and stinky no doubt, gross!

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What made me smile when I saw this was that one, he went straight for the drain as he ambled through the yard, as though it was one of his usual spots to check for a bite. Second, if you look to the top of the photo, you’ll see a brick. There used to be a green cover over that hole that mysteriously kept coming off, and broke apart. I thought it was the result of lawn mowing. So, I placed a brick over the hole so that debris (leaves and sticks) would not clog the drain. Though capped off, it’s still designed to capture water below the surface…

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Mysteriously, that brick kept being moved. Usually, just aside the hole. Sometimes, a few feet away. I even asked my honey one day when I noticed this strange phenomena, “Did you move that brick???” Nope, he didn’t do it. I was puzzled, because it kept happening.

Was this noisome gases pushing up the brick? Hmmm. Was this a backyard ghost? Hmmm. A mischievous fairy? (I have an overactive imagination…good for book writing). The wind certainly can’t blow a heavy brick over. What was this! Go to bed and the brick is there, look out in the morning and it is inches away. NOW I know why! The clever raccoons know that there are snacks down there, or maybe he’s getting a gulp of water?

Here is wishing you’ll find special delights in each and every day, no matter the weather!

Making Friends

“Mom, mom, mom, MOM! This is my new friend I was telling you about!”

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“Yes Tiddo, who is this friend? Oh, I see!”

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“Mom, is he a cat like me? Can he come in and play? Can I go out and climb the tree with him? Can he come in for dinner? I’ll share my crunchy treats with him!”

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“Oh Tiddo, always so sweet. You and your friend can just talk from the window for today, ok?”

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“Pssst…hey, you there! Hey you cat! Got any grub? Got any chicken bones?”

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“Gotta go, my mom is calling me! Tonight, she’s teaching me how to sneak into garbage cans! I’ll save you a tuna can if I find one! See ya’ around!”

The Queen is Coming!

Have you heard? The Queen is coming to Bristol! Make haste the preparations! The Queen is coming! The Queen is coming!

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The 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire season is fast approaching, and Lita (artist) and I (author) are incredibly excited to share our works in our tented shop on King’s Landing! The faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is such a magical place, and we’ve been working hard to prepare a selection of her art and my books, to add to the enchanting atmosphere. Opening day is Saturday, July 9th!

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As my first wave of books have started to arrive, I’ve both good nerves and the biggest of smiles! I just can’t wait to share my adventures, and hope that my children’s books especially, will make joyful take-home tokens of a day spent at the renaissance festival, where history, merriment and enchanting creatures abound!

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A Festival Day In Bristol is the apple of my eye, and a wink to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. At the B.R.F, they recreate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the port city of Bristol, England in 1574. This was a visit that truly took place, on one of the Queen’s summer progresses. In writing A Festival Day In Bristol, I wanted to create a story around what it might have been like to be a child visiting Bristol on the day of her arrival in 1574.

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The story is a tale woven around real details from that historic day, and the child in the story even meets the Queen, which would have been the most exciting thing in the world. Children at the B.R.F. get the same opportunity. Albeit an actress portraying Queen Elizabeth, it can be a moving and dazzling experience! I know, when I visited the faire as a little one, I almost fell over when I met Queen Elizabeth! Here’s hoping we’ll see you there!

A Magical Kingdom is Here!

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It’s summer vacation and Lizzy is eager to take a trip to visit her grandparents at their beautiful home in the countryside where all kinds of fun can be had!

One morning, Lizzy’s grandma offers her an exciting book to read. Hopping on her bike with the book and a picnic lunch, she settles down by a beautiful pond to begin reading the adventure.

After reading the first lines of the book, things are not as they should be. The pond is now a vast lake, and in the middle of it sits a magnificent castle! There’s also an oddly dressed woman who’s come looking for her. She looks like she’s just stepped out of the Renaissance! Her name is Milda, and she beckons ‘Princess Lizbeth’ to hurry, for she is expected at the castle.

Join Lizzy as she travels back in time to a magical kingdom and becomes a princess for a day! 

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

A Very Special Announcement

Hello dear friends! I have a very special announcement! Stop into my hobbit house while I tell you a tale…

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Once upon a time, there was an Author and an Artist who loved to weave tales of magic and mystery with their words and with enchanting images upon paper and canvas…

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Every summer, they hopped in their carriage and rode off to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin where a magical festival was always to be found, and where many amazing merchants dazzled the merrymakers with their incredible crafts. The Author and Artist were inspired, hoping that one day they too might share their books, crafts and art, on a delightful festival day in Bristol…

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In the meanwhile, the Author and Artist went on a great many adventures and wrote down the tales and drew the characters that they met along the way. There were dragons and fairies, elves and queens, princesses and enchanted forests, will-o’-the-wisps, knights and mermaids too! They soon had a delightful collection to share…

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With that, I am incredibly excited to announce that the works of this Author and Artist, Michelle and Lita, will be a part of the 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire market place! Weekends only, July 9th through Labor Day Monday, September 5th!

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You’ll find our magical tented shop on King’s Landing (look for this lane on the faire map…it’s close to the front gate), where we hope to bring joy to readers and amuse all with whimsical art and other delights! We can’t wait to see you there! More updates to come, please share the news!

Love is Patient, Love is Kind

Tiddo the cat has always craved attention first thing in the morning. The moment that first birdie peeps outside, he’s ready for breakfast and acts like a Tasmanian devil until he’s fed. The unique thing about it is that he only takes a few bites and then comes to see what I’m doing, checks to see that all is well, and then returns to finish eating…

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After he’s eaten, he immediately comes to find me once more. And if I’ve gone back to bed, he waits patiently for me to get up…

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For the past few months, sitting beside me in bed hasn’t been enough. I’ll be totally conked out, sleeping on my side, and he’ll literally perch on my shoulder. It’s a balancing act that only a cat could manage, and new behavior for him…

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My cat looks youthful, but he’s actually in his golden years. A friend suggested his eyesight might not be what it used to be, thus he needs to sit closer to me to see me? I think he’s seeing alright. I guess he’s just showing me how much he loves me…

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When I took these photos this week, a line from the Bible popped into my brain…

Love is patient, love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4

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Tiddo has been an example to me, of a love that is patient and kind. For all the times I was too busy to play ‘chase the feathers’ with him, or all the times I hollered for him to stop that incessant meowing, or made him wait patiently for my attention…

I think God made our beloved pets so loyal, so that we had a wonderful example of unconditional love.

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The triggered recall of that verse had me thinking about love, but also about patience and kindness. It felt like a little reminder to myself to be humble, and as kind to others as I can (and strive to be even half as patient as my devoted cat). For all that positiveness we send out into the world, for all the kindnesses we pass along, it makes its way back to your door…

Have you heard the song Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw? Take a minute to watch this special music video. The lyrics, oh heavens!

I also like this nice list, a few easy ways to make others smile!

Wishing you lots of goodness in your life today!

Bringer of Peace

This beautiful creature was right outside my window early yesterday morning. He saw me, but didn’t fly away. I wondered if the dove wasn’t sick, as I’ve seen pigeons puff up and disregard people when they are (and doves are of the pigeon family). But it was just the cold, and this little perch was actually perfect for soaking in the rising sun.

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We frequently have lovely sets of doves in our yard. They nest in our neighborhood and often peck around for seeds in the grass. I stop and listen to their cooing. Doesn’t this beauty look so soft and precious?

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Unfortunately, we’ve had none of the fine April weather I’ve been hoping for. We’ve been having random snowfalls, which instantly melt in the sun, and then dump down from the next cloud, and then melt once more. One minute white, ten minutes later, all green again. Pretty odd, and chilly too! This little guy was waiting it out in the sun until the snow melted, which it did.

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He was resting on this little vine trellis. I love how these baby green vines are peeking out, soon to uncoil, climb and burst to life. These vines try to climb up the window in the summer, they are very hearty.

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The snowy path to our little secret garden…

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Where the shockingly bright green plants and the birdies are all having trouble deciding whether it is spring, or still winter…

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And the daffodils are quite sad in the snow (though they continuously perk up again as soon as the sun hits them)…

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But as for that dove…they say when one sits at your window, that they are bringers of peace. It is a reminder to your spirit to be still and forget your stresses. And don’t we all constantly wrestle with our inner worries and stresses?

I’m sharing the dove at my window with you, to bring you peace. Don’t let your stresses speak louder than your joys and comforts, for with every winter you weather, spring will come. A little birdie told me so…

Queen of the Elves

It’s almost here! One harrowing adventure for Queen Cloisinia and her kingdom of elves!

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Clois has always lived a happy and peaceful life at her family’s field cottage surrounded by nature. Her father is a beekeeper and her mother collects wildflowers to sell in the village. Their garden is magnificent too, filled with wonderful things to eat.

Today is Clois’s birthday and she is looking forward to celebrating with her parents and friends. But as she wakes, she finds that the day isn’t starting out how she expected it to. Her parents are nowhere to be found, there is a curious raven in the garden, and she’s not alone. Elves have come to bring her to Crest Castle where sits the throne of an elfish kingdom. As if that were not surprising enough, they claim that Clois is their queen!

Join Clois as she reunites with her family, discovers the truth about her identity, and defends Crest Castle against terrible dragon-riding ogres, all on her first day as Queen of the Elves!

Brainy Ravens

I’ve always joked that I love cats so much that I was destined to become a crazy-old-cat-lady. However, today I’ve had a change of heart. As much as I love cats, I think I might give being a crazy-old-raven-lady a try instead…

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In my next children’s book, Queen of the Elves, Queen Cloisinia has a pet raven. A pretty cool pet for an Elf Queen, and a lot of fun for this author too! I love nature, and I love looking things up. My first question was, isn’t a raven simply a big crow who signals imminent doom?

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Edgar Allan Poe had it all wrong…Raven Fun Facts!

Ravens are incredibly intelligent. “Ha-Ha you silly chimpanzees! Let’s duel with an IQ test!” Yes, ravens are smart, smart as monkeys.

They can problem solve. “Ha-Ha you silly scientist! Thought I couldn’t get this cheesy morsel out of your complicated mechanism? I’m a raven. Your games are no match for me!”

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They communicate like us. “Hey friend, look over there!” (They point things out to their companions using their beaks and get each other’s attention by picking things up to show one another, and they can replicate human speech as well as a ton of other random noises that the world throws their way).

They play dead (like opossums) next to their meals so that other hungry birds will stay away. “Hey dude, don’t go near that roadkill, there’s a dead raven, could mean trouble for us.”

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They’re handsome. Ok…I made that up, but look how beautiful that bird is!

They’re tricksters (they mimic the sounds of other beasts, like wolves, around dead prey. Why? So that a real wolf will come by and rip open the meat of the raven’s find, making it easier for him to pick at. I know, gross…but clever nonetheless.)

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Ravens are amazing birds! They play (click here)! They are funny (click here)! They are special (click here)! And listen to these vocals (click here)!

These are just a few of the reasons ravens are so interesting, and clearly why they’ve been kept as beloved pets as well. I think my Queen of the Elves got it right to keep a raven by her side, they’re fascinating!

Picking up my pen…

My favorite place to start the day…

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”
― Beatrix Potter

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“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
― Louis L’Amour

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
― W. Somerset Maugham

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
― Stephen King

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth

“A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”
― Caroline Gordon

Whether on of off the page, here’s wishing you’ll enjoy the adventure today!

Woodpeckers Wear Helmets

I had an odd thought the moment I woke up this morning. It was the very first thing to enter my brain when I opened my eyes…

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Usually my first thought is…

“Where’s the coffee!?” or “I’m starving, what am I going to have for breakfast?!” or “Croissants! Cinnamon Toast Crunch! Quiche! Cake! French Fries! Cheese! How should I start the day?”

But not today. Today it was, “How do woodpeckers peck like that without getting a headache?” Yup, that was my first thought. Was there a woodpecker pecking outside to inspire this question? Nope.

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As soon as I could (after eating breakfast and having some coffee of course), I had to look it up. What did I learn?

Most importantly, these little dudes have an odd shaped bone (which looks like a crown that loops around their head) that acts like a safety belt to keep its skull snug in its place. In other species, this bone called the hyoid (much like a natural helmet), does not exist. Check it out here!

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Also important, their skulls are less hard & more flexible than other birds’ (due to the way their skull bones are layered), thus they handle impact better.

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Further, their top beak is longer, while the bottom is shorter and tougher. The bottom beak helps soak in the intense pecking of the top beak!

It is for those reasons that a woodpecker doesn’t need birdie aspirin. Now that I know this, I can officially start my day.

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Woodpecker fun facts!

You may have to squint, but if you look at the tip of the beak on the woodpecker above, you’ll see his tongue. They have very long tongues (up to four inches) and they use them to help capture those delicious bugs they’re pecking for. “Ha-ha you grub! You cannot escape my long tongue!”

Woodpeckers don’t serenade and warble like other birdies. So how do the male woodpeckers attract a girlfriend? They peck out their love calls on hollow objects (like garbage cans, rotton tree trunks, the rain drain on your house). So the next time you wonder why that woodpecker is so silly to be looking for bugs by pecking on the tin of your roof (I’ve had that very thought)…he’s not looking for a meal, he’s looking for a date.

How fast can a woodpecker peck? 20 pecks per second. That’s nuts.

If you look at a woodpecker’s toes, they grow in two directions (front and back) so that they can grip and climb with ease, also using their very strong tail plumage to keep them steady as they perch and peck!

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I’m really glad my honey doesn’t bang on hollow metal garbage cans to get my attention, as woodpeckers do when calling to their girlfriends. I don’t think that would go over very well!

A Merry Band

This photo was taken when I was about to turn 13. I’m the one to the top, furthest left. Lita made all of the peasant costumes shown here and all of the kiddos were the children of a couple who were friends with my folks. My mom put in a good bit of work to make sure everyone had a costume for our special outing. What a merry band of children we made! Running, yelling, laughing! It was summer and a festival day!

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I grew up an only child and things were quiet for me. Being just one, I was also very independent. So, it was always a romping experience to gather with this troupe of brothers and sisters for a summer barbecue, a weekend camping outing, or a trip to the amusement park. But the best excursion of course, was to the Bristol Renaissance Faire! What fun we had!

Rascally Raccoons

The first summer that we lived in our house, we knew there was an army of raccoons living in the neighborhood. There is plenty of woodsy habitat, but also plenty of garbage bins for them to get a meal from.

We have an enormous (and this is no understatement) tree, quite old indeed, that rises up against the back of the house. As with any other house on the block, we host a family of raccoons in our tree. They have a brood of babies each summer.

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That first summer was dreadful. The wily creatures ran over the roof (presumably to descend another tree at the front of the house) a hundred times a night. We had trouble sleeping and would wake up grouchy. For a time, I thought they must be living in the roof. But inspections didn’t reveal any nests. They live in the big tree.

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Those raccoons are bold! The first summer, as handsome and I sat on our back porch enjoying a glass of wine, a raccoon descended the tree. I ran up onto the porch to get inside the house. Though I am an animal lover and certainly not afraid of raccoons, I was surprised that the animal had no issues with joining us in our rendezvous. I worried that he might be deranged to come so close (as raccoons can carry rabies).

He kept coming…my knight in shining armor swung an empty wine bottle into the air and yelled at the raccoon, encouraging it to take a hike. What did it do? It slid down the remaining few inches of tree trunk, into the grass like a Slip N Slide and lounged in the grass like a cat. That was really crazy. We finished our date in the house.

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On another evening, I went to bed after cooking a delicious dinner (which made the house smell delicious too). I left my window open and woke in the night. A baby raccoon had propped itself between the big tree and the open window. I woke because I heard a strange purring, and it wasn’t my cat. It was looking right at me through the screen as I lay in bed, I think it was a plea to let him get a bite of whatever smelled so good and was wafting out of the house!

Once, Tiddo saw one climbing down the tree and put his paw up on the window to greet it. I thought that was polite. The raccon swatted out at the window and growled something terrible. Tiddo didn’t make a new friend.

There was another evening where the raccoon growls, screeching, hissing and screaming was out of control. I sleepily got out of bed and looked out the window just as a neighbor’s motion sensor lights went on. At least a dozen of the animals could be seen scurrying in the alley where trash bins are kept. And then…an enormous one waddled across the alley and into the shadows. My first reaction was that it was a person walking on all fours. That raccoon was the biggest I’ve ever seen.

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Starting a few weeks ago, the neighborhood has been tormented with nightly raccoon brawls and merrymaking. We believe that the temperate weather has brought them out far earlier than the years before. We’ve hardly been able to believe our ears. When they meet, they make the most beastly noises!

Every year there is a brood of babies (2, 3 or 4) that live in our tree. We suspect we’ll be meeting the newborns sooner than usual! I’ll try to catch a photo!

Mangia! Mangia!

We had a delicious Italian meal at Convito Cafe in Wilmette, just up the street from home last Friday evening. We love finding new places for date night, and feel doubly lucky when we discover a great place right where we live.

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I smiled when they sat us in the coziest enclave, white linen on the table, soothing flameless candles, and this print of Venetian canals. If Venice is in my view, how could a meal ever be unpleasant?

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I’m a sucker for beet salad! If it is on the menu, I order it. Some soft goat cheese and spicy arugula, earthy chilled slices of beet…this salad alone made my night.

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No helter-skelter mussels arrangement here! Didn’t you know that mussels taste better when they are arranged this nicely? The Prince Edward Island Mussels with San Marzano cherry tomatoes, white wine, parsley, marjoram (a type of oregano), butter and crunchy garlic bruschetta was delicious!

Is it just me, or could you also eat an entire loaf of ‘crunchy garlic bruschetta’, dipping it into the sauce until there isn’t a drop or crumb left, only to ask the server for a second loaf?

Fun Fact: Bruschetta is actually just grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. You can put toppings (like diced tomatoes, onions and basil) on it, but bruschetta doesn’t mean its topped. I’m always learning something new!

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Pasta heaven! My date had the Campanelle Tonnato: bell shaped pasta, Italian poached tuna, grape tomatoes, picholine olives, capers, fresh basil, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of chili peppers. Was it delicious? I ate his leftovers and mine the next day.

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I enjoyed every bite of the Penne Integrale: whole wheat penne, butternut squash, kale, leeks, pumpkin seeds and parmesan butter sauce. Mmmmm…parmesan butter sauce. I dug this dish! The hearty kale, soft sweet squash, flavorful leeks and crunchy pumpkin seeds made it a pasta plate to remember.

A slice of sticky sweet apple tarte and vanilla ice cream was just the right ending to our meal. That was handsome’s espresso, but I couldn’t stop sniffing it. It smelled divine. I would have taken a sip, only my eyes would have been wide open all night and this gal needs her eight hours.

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Convito Cafe was simple in the very, very best way. The food was delicious without being overly rich, the restaurant was classy yet warm like home, the service impeccable without being stuffy. We truly enjoyed our dinner.

But there’s more! Convito Cafe has a market on one side of the restaurant, filled with delectable, take-home meal options. We just picked up some butternut squash lasagna (for me), and meat lasagna (for him)…and some potato gratin (for him) and some cannelloni (for me)…and some roasted brussels sprouts (for us) and a lemon bar (for him…but I’m going to steal a bite when he isn’t looking and blame the cat). Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs…well, maybe not mine.

If you live on Chicago’s North Shore, take a little ride up Sheridan along the lakefront and enjoy a table at Convito Cafe. It’s a gem! We’ll see you there!

Love For Books

Here, I was 12 years old on a summer’s day at my grandparents’ house. Grandma took that photo through her kitchen window (I can smell the home cooking even now). I threw a big cushion off that swing to make things just right. For what? Reading, reading and more reading!

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What was I reading? I can only guess one of L.M. Montgomery’s lovely tales of the early 20th century (Anne of Green Gables will never go out of style) or perhaps it was a Choose Your Own Adventure (I have a little collection even now). It might have been my Bible (a book with a great many incredible stories) or perhaps it was something from the library.

Wouldn’t it be fun to have a list of every single book you ever read?

I couldn’t get enough of reading then and I still can’t now. There’s simply nothing quite like a good story. Here’s wishing you many wonderful books on the list of all that you’ll read in your life. Enjoy each and every adventure!

Take Me With You

“Mom?”

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“Yes Tiddo?”

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“I found your bag, and your sweater…are you going somewhere? Are you going to grandma’s house? Are you going to see those other kitties? Are you going to play chase the feathers with them like we do? Why can’t Midnight, Peanut and Sasha come here to play? Why do you have to go there? Can I come too? I can fit in this bag you know.”

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“Oh Tiddo, I’ll just be gone one night. But I need you to stay here.”

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“No mom, I’m shutting my eyes and this overnight bag will go right back into the closet where it belongs. WHY can’t I go?”

“Well, because it is so cold outside that a little mouse might have come to nest inside of the house! What would I do without my hunter here to protect our home, especially my cheese and crackers, and your kitty crunchies too? Mice like those.”

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“Hmmm, ok then. But only if you’re gone just one night. I love you mom…”

“I love you too Tiddo.”

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“ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz……..mousie, mousie, mousie…zzzzz.”

Indulgent Robatayaki

As I thought about our date night at Roka Akor this past Friday evening, the first word that popped into my head was decadence. Oh yes, we can’t stop going back (read here & here), and for good reason. In fact, we had other reservations but the moment handsome got home on that cold night, I blurted, “How about Roka Akor?” The answer was an immediate, yes.

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We started with the Salmon Tartare with Roasted Tomato Dressing and Crispy Taro Chips. The perfectly minced stack of salmon was so fresh, but the delightful, cool fresh toppings sent the flavor over the top. I felt my chopsticks combat in that bowl with my dinner companion’s, though we were on a date, so I didn’t nip his fingers like I wanted to.

You can purchase taro chips nowadays at the grocer, a healthier substitute for potato chips for certain. If they tasted like these, I’d be stocking up on bags like it was the eve of an apocalypse!

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The oysters were perfectly chilled, politely loosened from their shells, plump and topped with a hint of refreshing additions…just how an oyster should be. Bottoms up!

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Next, we once more selected the tender Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. “Decadent”: to be luxuriously self indulgent. Yes, that sounds about right! That pork belly is amazing!

We also enjoyed the fresh, crisp Organic Vegetable Maki rolls. Earthy and simple, the perfect balance in our mix of delectable choices.

Do we always select four appetizers when we eat out? Only at Roka Akor…decadence, remember?

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For the main course, I enjoyed sweet, tender Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter. Crab is king in my book, and this plate was generously stacked with the best. And though I find it satisfying to break apart my own crab legs on the hunt for meat, I didn’t have to look like a wild-crab-claw-crusher in front of my date. They come sliced open, the meat easy to get at. That’s some classy crab!

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The Japanese Wild Mushroom and Mountain Greens Rice Hot Pot is a very special side. To open that rustic looking kettle safely planted into a wooden box feels like I’m sharing in tradition while eating the very thing to ward off winter. It is such a satisfying dish. Roka also offers shaved truffle with it. Did we get the truffle? Decadence…

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Handsome had the Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod with Pickled Onions. Holy cod! That fish was exceptionally light, fresh and flakey with that lovely crisp on the top. The yellow sauce was a sweet, creamy lemon and it was out of this world delicious. Sometimes, I just want to eat sauce with a spoon. How is that for decadent? And let’s not forget the pickled onions, a little sweet, a little sour, a nice crisp, loved them.

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For dessert, Warm Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and Caramelized Peanuts; one wonderful end to a magnificent meal. That with a sip of Japanese whiskey, what can be said but perfect.

The staff once more showed their excellence in service and we were never inconvenienced with clutter or a spill left on the table (like the soy sauce I tipped out of the bowl). The folks at Roka Akor really are impeccable at what they do, making our dining experience both delicious and genuinely pleasant.

Of course, we don’t eat this way everyday. We sup on our home cooked meals, a simple menu, ever trying to strive for the opposite of overindulgence. But on date night, we love a great experience, and of course, a little decadence! Cheers to good food, and one sizzling robata grill at Roka!

All Good Things!

I am very excited to announce the arrival of The Fairy Woods, released yesterday and available here! I hope all the kiddos will enjoy the adventure of my three fairy friends, Whisper, Wish and Wind, as well as the magical moments that take place in their wooded realm! For any child that can’t get enough fairy tales, this is a special book for them!

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I would also like to thank Johnny Jet: The Travel Insider! If you enjoy travel, this site is for you! I was interviewed for their popular Travel Style segment and hope you’ll enjoy it! You can read the interview here!

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I’ve not only had the opportunity to do some wonderful traveling in my life so far, something that I love, but my book Venice is inspired by the adventures life brings when you grab your suitcase and hit the road (or jump on that vaporetto)! For all of you who dream of the places you’ll see, I hope you get there and soon!

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I would also like to send a special thank you to La Venessiana (meaning the Venetian woman), one of the absolute best blogs about all things Venice! Several times (here & here), very kind mentions were made for my book Venice and site Inspired by Venice. For anyone who wants their dose of dreamy Venice, its food, beautiful photography, and an insider’s delightful stories, you must visit La Venessiana and often!

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I am also excited to share that 2016 is going to bring some very exciting adventures! Veleno  is just around the corner (for you adult readers looking for a terrible tale), and The Itty Bitty Littles too (a sweet, funny adventures for the little ones), but there’s more! Wonderful new adventures for every age and I can’t wait for you to see what’s next! Queen of the Elves is just one sneak peek!

Feather Fans & Candlelight

These were taken when I was about 15 years old. Lita had the delightful whim to make an 18th century style dress, though there was no plan for the gown to be worn anywhere. In fact, this may have been one of the only times it was worn. The fabric was a very soft turquoise-blue color, a satin blend (stiffer, less wrinkly, less static).

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These were captured while I stood in the living room, taking the dress for a spin. I love that they are in black and white, though I wish we had some in color too. 18th century style gowns required panniers to extend the hips. Here however, pillows tied around my hips made substitute. I think her ensemble is charming!

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At that point, I didn’t have any particular interest in 18th century history, but every other period instead it seemed. However, we’d watched Dangerous Liaisons, The King’s Mistress, Amadeus and countless other period films that pointed that direction, more than a few times each. Period movie buffs, yes we were! And still are!! Where’s the popcorn and Raisinets?!

So, it is fun to find these photos where Lita was inspired to that era, long before we flew to Venice to don costumes for the Carnevale, and long before I’d started writing Venice, which nurtures that century and its clothing in detail throughout the book.

That’s an artist for you; their sewing machine (or brush or pen…) takes them wherever they are led to go, whenever inspiration bites. Love it!

Fill My Heart With Gladness

This is beautiful Sophie, the daughter of one of my dearest friends and to whom A Festival Day In Bristol is dedicated. When I opened the email with this photo, my heart was so full of gladness. Such a pretty smile, such an adorable costume, such a precious girl!

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I’m again reminded why I write.

Sophie hasn’t had the chance to read her special book yet, but finished Princess Liliana and the Dragon, and in her mother’s words, she loved it.

Thank you to every reader, of my books and Inspired by Venice. I not only hope that you enjoy my adventures, but that they will bring you smiles, surprises and moments of joy when you do. Every word is written for you!

La Joie de Vivre!

We had a fabulous meal at Evanston’s Bistro Bordeaux once more on New Year’s Eve!

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Though it is always lovely to bring in the new year by toasting at midnight (which we’ve had the pleasure of doing at this very restaurant before), we decided to take an early meal and kept it simple; no oysters, no dessert, no heady digestifs…but of course there was champagne!

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Handsome started with the quiche du jour, which is always filled with savory ingredients and the perfect buttery crust that melts in your mouth. Served with a mixed greens salad, this lovely plate could make the perfect meal all by itself (and often does in our house).

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I chose the soupe du jour to warm up from the cold. A creamy tomato and their perfectly crisp and chewy French baguette to dip. Heavenly!

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My companion selected the Cassoulet Toulousain for his plat principal: French white bean stew, duck leg confit, braised pork shoulder, boudin blanc, bacon lardons, chapelure. When I asked him toward the end of the dish if he’d like to reheat the other half of it on the following day, he said no and took another bite, and then another. Some dishes must be finished, not a bean left behind!

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I selected the Gnocchis Parisian aux Truffes which you can also have served with the braised pork shoulder. Truffle gnocchi, button mushroom, arugula, butternut squash, beurre noisette. I normally don’t order gnocchi in restaurants, or pasta either. It tends to be overpriced, processed, the sauce overly rich or too bland. But at Bistro Bordeaux, I order it all of the time because it is fresh, handmade, perfectly cooked and always served with delicious al dente vegetables. Over the years, they’ve made it out of different veggies (not just potatoes), which is a vegetarian’s dream. The truffle flavor made it completely special this night!

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The restaurant was aglow with hanging candled glass orbs, the chatter was buoyant, the service excellent and the atmosphere cozy. Tres charmant!

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The decor was so pretty, and I especially appreciated the heaters in the foyer that kept us toasty while we waited for the valet (who was appropriately wearing a French beret).

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It was a frigid night, but here in Evanston on Chicago’s North Shore at one of our favorites, we approached our new year warm, well fed and cheerful. We couldn’t want for more!

Robata Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thoughtful Gift

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

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

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

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

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

One Majestic Bird

I was reviewing photos from a zoo outing I took with my folks a few years back and thought these were so lovely. This gorgeous bird (and a few of his friends) were allowed to roam the zoo outside of any enclosures, though it was clear that zoo staff kept a watchful eye on them with all the people so dazzled and close by. I was able to stand pretty close to observe, though hesitantly…to be chased by a peacock wouldn’t have been surprising for me, I just have that kind of luck.

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Fun fact…a peacock is a boy bird (with all the pretty feathers) while a peahen (the lady bird) is rather plain. Their babies are peachicks (awww) and after birth, the little dudes can run out of the nest after just a few days! Altogether, they are peafowl.CIMG2351.JPG

Isn’t he handsome! He’s looking for his gal so that he can strut his stuff.

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I didn’t see his lady friend, she must have been shyly sitting in the flower bushes to admire her boyfriend.

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It was a little windy and he was trying to keep his dance up, with some difficulty…

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The wind forced him around, but his lady got to admire his orange rear feathers. I think I heard her whistle!CIMG2350.JPG

Peafowl build their nests on the ground but like to get into the trees to sleep, safe away from predators. Like chickens, they peck around the ground for their grub. They love bugs, flowers and plant seeds, and also little water creatures like small fish and frogs…they even hunt lizards!

People also own them as pets, and like chickens, they will eat just about whatever you give them. You can fry up their eggs (about three times the size of a chicken’s egg), apparently they make a pretty good breakfast. The only problems with owning peafowl is that they really tear up the garden and they screech like something horrible. Well, I’d say they make up for their annoying voices with their looks!

The Blogger Recognition Award!

I am very excited to announce that Inspired By Venice has been nominated for a Blogger Recognition Award! It is very special to share my stories, my thoughts, my photos and wanderings, as well as my books with you, on this site. To know that readers and fellow bloggers are enjoying inspiredbyvenice.org warms my heart and puts a smile on my face! Thank you!

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First, I’d like to especially thank A Pinch Of Sea Salt for the nomination! A Pinch of Sea Salt is a fabulous food blog from which I sincerely enjoy the recipes, stories and excellent photography! Blogs like it are a special treat, so positive and so appreciated! Thank you!!

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A part of accepting this award is to share a little about Inspired By Venice! How did this blog start? With the publication of my book Venice. Venice was a six year project for me and is one of the loves of my life, as is the city of Venice, Italy. In starting this blog, I wanted a place to share not only this book and my others, but also a great many things that inspire me: culture, travel, history, costuming, nature, food, and those happy moments in life that remind me of how beautiful the world is!

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What advice do I have for new bloggers? Be yourself and write about what you love. After starting Inspired By Venice, I instantly worried that I wouldn’t have enough to write about, but I soon realized that inspiration comes from everywhere and something wonderful will always present itself, a great many things that you’d like to share with readers.

Further, my goal was to inspire, inform and uplift. That doesn’t mean that I think bloggers must avoid difficult topics, but that when they write about them, it should remind others that they are not alone, help readers to keep their chins up, and even encourage one another to be more mindful and good to others (and to ourselves, our animal friends and our environment). The world will never be perfect, but we can all make it better. Blogs are a beautiful forum for that!

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With the Blogger Recognition Award comes a special privilege…I get to nominate 15 blogs that are an inspiration to me! In no particular order, the Blogger Recognition Awards go to…

*La Venessiana Blog

*Iroha Press

*Girl In Florence

*Deliciously Yum

*For Food’s Sake

*Olive Sundays

*Travels Food

*Michael Philip Atkins Travels

*Meandering with Misha

*The Merry Thought

*Italian Home Kitchen

*Passports and Pigtails

*Once Upon A Time In Italy

*Eating Clouds In Italy

*Tesserology

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To learn more about the Blogger Recognition Award, click here! Thank you all for reading Inspired By Venice, and thank you to all those blogs that inspire us every day!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

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The flowers made me forget the clock!

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The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

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And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

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The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

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There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

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The roses were so moving, they danced…

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And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

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That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

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And these vines and leaves, they’ve crept for years.

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That seagull dove right at my head…

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And his friends thought that was funny!

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The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

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This drake was with his honey!

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All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

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The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

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Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

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I could go on and on with this nature talk…

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Let’s just say it was a berry beautiful walk!

An Autumn Night In Evanston

“Brrrr mom, it’s getting chilly out there!”

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“I think the sun is setting, we better find a warm place.”

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“All set…please turn up the thermostat, would ya?”

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The evening meal is set…

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The house is cozy and warm…

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And the fireplace illuminates our evening…

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Happy Autumn!

All The Pretty Things Part II

Ugh, I’m injured! Nothing catastrophic, just a mean pulled muscle in my neck. Sleeping wrong? Lack of stretching before I exercised? Stretching my neck to look at the pastries in the bakery window? Who knows. And there’s a second injury…my foot slipped and I kicked the leg of the dining room table yesterday. One of those bizarre little accidents that don’t look too bad, until you start to feel some sort of painful internal swelling. So now I can’t turn my head without wincing and I’m limping. It’s my pretty look.

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Before bed last night, I had a heat pack on my neck and an icepack on my foot. But thanks to the very friend who I wrote about in my post All The Pretty Things, I heated up that pulled muscle in style!

This is her creation! Using fabric scraps, she sews a pouch and fills them with cherry pits! I’d never heard of this before until I saw one that she’d made. She said she’d been using them for years and they’ve been a comfort to her family. You place it in the microwave and heat it for a short time and all of the cherry pits soak in the heat and keep the pouch warm. When the heat runs out, you simply reheat. You can reuse the same pouch for years.

Last night, I was so thankful that she’d gifted me with one. It eased my neck pain before bed and I was able to fall asleep. For all those crafty folks out there, this would be an excellent holiday present! It’s a truly useful gift that keeps on giving! And it’s pretty too!

The Pleasantly Palatable Menu at the Peckish Pig

My boyfriend and I make a particular effort to plan a date night each and every Friday evening. It is always something to look forward to and we often chat during the week about what we’d like to do. Shall we dress up and head to dinner downtown Chicago? Get tickets to the ballet or theater? Do we want to order in and have a comfortable couch night (best for those exhausting weeks)? Should we grab a casual dinner in Evanston and head to the movies? It’s so nice to have that special time together that we plan ahead for.

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And oh boy! Let’s just say when it comes to Evanston restaurants, we are becoming ever more spoiled! The perfect fall evening that it was, we cozied up at Evanston’s Peckish Pig this Friday. It was our first time dining there, and we loved it!

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To start, we had their Whipped Goat Cheese & Honeycomb on toasty little slices of bread. Oh heavens! I’m a cheese addict, this was delicious! We also had the Roasted Beet and Burrata with Basil Oil which was served chilled. It was so refreshing! We also sampled their Beer Pig Mussels Cooked with House Brewed Beer & Bacon.

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For our main course, handsome had the Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese, Mango-Lime Mayo and Cumin Fries. I’m pretty sure I ate more of his fries than he did…those perfectly crispy, seasoned, large cut fries! And I had the Chef’s Fish Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Whipped Avocado. To finish, we shared the Fresh Fruit with Creme Fraiche & Balsamic Reduction. Tart and fruity!

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The atmosphere at the Peckish Pig is awesome! We arrived for an earlier dinner and were very pleased to see all of the families, couples and bar folk, a very pleasant mix to the crowd. The lighting isn’t blaring and I particularly liked their use of candles, strung bulbs and ambiance lighting. Water is served in blue mason jars (which we also drink out of at home), loved it! Service is excellent and there is a great energy to the place. With a really nice selection on their menu, we can’t wait to head back! And I’ll make sure to be a little more than peckish when I arrive!

Why I love to write

There are of course, many reasons why I love to write. Primarily because storytelling makes me happy! It is so fun! It’s challenging! I’m allowed to make up really wild scenarios, fairy tales, and thrilling moments that usually don’t happen in real life and run with them! The characters are my puppets…Bwah-Ha-Ha! I can get lost in my own worlds! But do you know what is really, really, really special and makes all the hard parts about trying to write books worth it?

 

The readers! This is my cousin Macy, to whom my new children’s book Princess Liliana and the Dragon is dedicated. She enjoyed the first chapter last night. Her mom said she loved it! She brought her copy to kindergarten today to share with her friends.

I melt, I smile, I jump for joy, I’m filled with happiness! What could be better in all the world than to be able to share all those things that come from my imagination, with you…the reader!

Catnip Confessions Part 2

Also read Catnip Confessions.

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While out on another lovely fall walk, I just so happened to look down along the sidewalk and see not one, but three healthy catnip clusters. Yes!! As I’d just stepped into the grocery and exited with a few items for us humans, how could I walk past these green growths without bringing home some sprigs for Tiddo?

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I bent down and tugged out a big handful. As I stood up, I looked to see who owned the patch…it was a church. Thief, thief! I felt a little guilty. What if they were growing this catnip to donate to the homeless kitties at the animal shelter? Or what if the church had taken in a brood of needy kittens and this was their catnip. Oops! I stuffed the clump of green in my pocket and carried on, still feeling guilty that I’d stolen from a church.

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That was until I got home and Tiddo discovered the stash. It must have been pretty potent because he behaved more excitedly than usual this time. Cats’ noses are pretty impressive. Tiddo always seems to find the pilfered catnip before I offer it to him. I hardly have time to set down my things before he’s in the purse or pocket, sniffing out the goods!

Japanese Robatayaki at Roka Akor!

Do you know what makes a dreary, rainy evening amazing? Fantastic food! As the skies opened up on Friday evening and warnings of flash floods loomed, I completely forgot the weather and enjoyed a cheery repast at Roka Akor in Skokie, IL. Roka Akor offers contemporary Japanese cuisine, Robatayaki to be exact. Robata for short, is basically slow grilling over a fire and oh, so delicious! Everything I tried left me speechless.

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To start, their Roasted Beet Salad with Jalapeno Miso Dressing and Smoked Almonds. I think beet salad is the cat’s pajamas and order it wherever I go. I hesitated with this one as I worried about the jalapeno…I wasn’t raised eating spicy, I get faint with one red pepper flake. I’m working on it. However, this salad had the flavor without the fire and those smoked almonds…can I take a jar of those home with me please?

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Then there was the Sweet Corn and Edamame Dumplings with Soy Vinaigrette. Excellent! I appreciated their crisped bottoms, perfectly chewy. I’m not a fan of soggy dumplings, these were perfect and the vinaigrette…can I take a jar of that home with me please?

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Then there were the Robata Grilled Diver Sea Scallops with Yuzu Aioli and Wasabi Peas. Large, plump scallops, perfectly grilled and dressed, light and not at all fishy.

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For the main course, I had the Skuna Bay Salmon with Ginger Teriyaki and House Pickled Cucumbers and my handsome dinner companion had the Madagascan Jumbo Tiger Prawn with Yuzu Kosho Chili Paste. As for our sides, the Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Japanese Mustard Vinaigrette and Bonito Flakes and the Cremini Mushrooms with Soy Garlic Butter. We always share our main dishes, so lucky for me I always get to taste everything on the table. The prawn was detached from its shell and cut into perfectly grilled bites; the meat was wonderful. Just be sure you can take the heat! My salmon had that crispy, flavorful grill on top that I love and that ginger teriyaki, can I take a jar…! Those mushrooms were divine and we couldn’t stop nibbling the Brussels sprouts. If you aren’t a Brussels sprouts lover, that’s because you haven’t tried them at Roka Akor yet.

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For dessert, we shared the Green Tea Custard with Caramelized Banana and Chocolate Pearls…天国! It was a very special dessert, light and not too sweet. Several delightful flavors and a perfectly whipped texture, the little chocolate pearls were fun to chew, too. I have been down on bananas lately. I’ve been eating them for breakfast my whole life, and they are getting to be a bore. As I dreamily enjoyed our dessert, I said, “If only my breakfast banana could taste like this.”

It was a wonderful dining experience and the service was very professional, attentive and timely. It is very evident that the staff works as a seamless team at this location, one plate dropped, another picked up, a menu offered, a glass cleared. We sat at a smaller table and never once had to worry about clutter, or wait for what we’d requested. 幻想的な Roka Akor Skokie! You’ve got the art of fine dining down!

Alfresco dining at Bistro Bordeaux!

The weather turned from its uninvited chill earlier in the week and is now as lovely as ever here in Evanston. For several days, the sun has been shining, the breeze warm and the squirrels and chipmunks having a field day with all of the falling acorns. Yesterday, I watched a ruby throated hummingbird buzz around a flowering bush in my yard. Those little birds amaze me; I’m fascinated every time I see one. They are just so itty-bitty and fast!

If the weather is holding summer temperatures and sunny skies where you are, then there is something you must do, before it’s too late! Go eat alfresco! Take advantage of the out-of-doors…a picnic, a blanket on the beach, your favorite restaurant with seating on the sidewalk, a sandwich on a park bench, or a BBQ on your back porch.

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I enjoyed a lovely dinner at a traditional French bistro, Bistro Bordeaux here in Evanston on Tuesday evening…alfresco of course! To start, some chilled champagne and East Coast oysters (oh yes, I’m taking full advantage of the last delicious moments of summer left to us here in frigid northern Illinois).

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Then, I had their Moules Frites Marinieres (“…mussels steamed in white wine, shallot, garlic, parsley, butter”). They are served with Bistro Bordeaux’s addicting beef tallow fries. Turn up the volume and click on their website…makes you feel like you’re in Paris, no? Now check out their menu…ooh la la! The dining inside the restaurant will transport you: bistro style seating, warm lighting, ambling French music, spectacular French food…wait, I mean spectaculaire!

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I did not have dessert because I took the cheese selections home with me to enjoy the next day. I do this often…I can’t help it. J’aime le fromage…like, love cheese. Spread it on a toasty baguette slice with a little honey, heaven! I’ll take cheese over chocolate any day!

Whatever your favorites, go enjoy them outside…while you still can! Bon appetit!

The Guilde of St. George!

Though I could spend days sharing all of the reasons why I think the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is so magical, alas as the days of summer fade, so must my pen draw elsewhere…but not without a thank you to the Guilde of St. George, all of those who reenact the court of Queen Elizabeth I. of England!

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29 years ago, my mother dressed me as a little fairy and brought me to Bristol. I saw the Queen and her court and I was hooked! So mesmerized in fact, that I spent many a winter looking forward to summer and the faire, daydreaming about courtly history and begging my mother to make me costume after costume. The amazingly patient and talented artist that she is, she sewed and sewed and sewed. In 1998, I auditioned to the Guilde of St. George and was so proud to be a part of this family of Elizabethan actors for four years. I still covet the gowns that my mother made and often peek in her costume closet where they are stored. Though I’m a little biased having once been a part of this guilde, wearing the gowns, dancing the dances, learning and sharing the history, I write this as the little girl in 1986. Guilde of St. George: You are magical, everything you do is worth it!

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This photo is of actress Jennifer Higgins who plays Elizabeth. Here, she is accepting little trinkets from children who lined up with fairies to see the Queen. Children remember these special moments and they inspire them! It inspires them to learn about history, to read more, to imagine! I may still have my little certificate from when three Bristol Queens ago, I was made a lady-in-waiting with a tap to the shoulders with a sword, as little boys were knighted. Ah, memories!

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From the Queen’s audiences where there are entertainments, matters of state and courtly disputes, to the details in every costume, to the Queen’s guard and household…there is history to be learned. Every member of the guilde plays a real person from the time of Queen Elizabeth, and if you strike up a conversation, individual stories will unfold!

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I commend you gentle lords and ladies! What a wonderful moment!

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And who am I kidding, I’m not a little girl anymore and I’m still mesmerized! The swoosh of a feather fan, the courtly bow, the bows and puffs of the sleeve, the twinkling adornments, the embroidered collars, the full skirts swishing, the plaits in the hair, the goblets and kerchiefs! History is beautiful!

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Thank you for sharing history with everyone that visits the faire, and for all of the wonderful memories! “Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again!”

Bristol’s Exceptional Grounds!

This week, I’m paying special tribute to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Today’s reason why the faire is so magical? The magnificent park and the staff who maintain, beautify and keep it safe! Just look how beautiful Bristol is! As someone who loves the out-of-doors, I appreciate a day at the faire.

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A place to roam…

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A place to dance!

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A place to gallop!

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A place by the fire…

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A place to be entertained!

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A place to make merry under the trees!

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Village lanes to eat and shop…

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A place to reenact history!

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A place for archery! Ok…I had to sneak that one in. That’s me! I’d forgotten how awesome archery is (flashback to high school gym class). Can Santa fit an archery set down my chimney this year?

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A place to wander…

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A place by the pond…

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The grounds are simply a place to love!

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An especial thank you to the Bristol security team! With thousands of visitors each summer, they see many folks in need of medical attention…especially on those excruciatingly hot days when heat sickness sneaks up on a patron or two. They help find lost children, usher sprained ankles, bee stings and medieval accidents (just kidding) to first aid, and make sure the grounds are safe. Thank you!

Huzzah to the costumers!

My next reason why the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is so fantastic? Costumes! Here’s to the costumers selling their creations at the faire, those patrons who wear them, and all those who design and wear their own!

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Like this couple, seen here donning the costumes of Felix Needleworthy.

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Those excellent works of Pendragon!

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The whimsical art of Pandoras Kloset.

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This rich long coat at Silverleaf Costumes.

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The sumptuous gowns on these noble ladies delighted everyone they passed!

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All of the awesomely innovative steampunk creations!

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And the delightful ensembles worn by all of the Bristol citizens!

An Inspiring Team at Pure Barre Evanston!

A very special thank you to the team at Pure Barre Evanston for your kind congratulations on the release of Venice!

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Pure Barre is a fitness class that uses the ballet barre to help clients get fit and toned…but it’s much more than that! The studio environment is uplifting, the music inspiring, the staff supportive and challenging, and the clients are always friendly and positive. Even the chalkboard announcing fun events and studio news makes me smile! It is the sort of place that contributes to a healthy you in every way, each time you visit. To the Evanston Team, thank you!

A little time, a great moment!

This week, I’ll be sharing just a few of the reasons why I think the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is such a magical place! Yesterday was Labor Day and bittersweet; though it was the last day of the faire, it was a beautiful day and what an amazing performance by all! Thank you to the actors, artists, musicians and crafters who made this season so memorable!

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Today’s reason why the faire is so amazing? All those performers who engage in memorable conversations with patrons! Now, all of the actors delight and entertain guests through their shows, whether it be a sword fight on stage, a funny street act or the dazzling courtiers reenacting a feast hosting the Queen herself. However, I just can’t help but smile when I see those little moments where performers are sitting to some small talk, sharing a story, and bringing the guest into the Renaissance!

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To learn a little about wildlife…

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To be shown how to weave a basket…

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To hear some forgotten history…

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To share a laugh…priceless!

Here’s to good food at Boltwood!

When I think of Venice, I think of a city that remembers to enjoy the good things in life. A stop in the piazza to grab an espresso with a friend and watch the world go by, an umbra of wine in the afternoon at the local bacaro with a nibble of savory cicchetti, a stroll through the morning fish market to stir up fresh ingredients for tonight’s repast, open windows embracing the sounds of flowing water and a singing gondolier, a stop in the local campo to catch up with your neighbors…

With that in mind, I intend to share snippets of not only Venice, but also those things that remind me of what that city embodies; the great joys in life, like good food!

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Last night, I feasted at Boltwood in Evanston, IL. The city is just north of Chicago and hosts some excellent restaurants. Boltwood serves seasonal New American cuisine using the freshest ingredients. The photo above was of their arugula & La Quercia (prosciutto) salad with sliced plums and grilled Brun-uusto (cheese). I’d had it there before, and the treat is that they change up the fruit in the salad! If you haven’t tried prosciutto and fruit together on one plate, you must!

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I also enjoyed these Island Creek Oysters served perfectly chilled with a glass of rosato brut (from the Veneto region in Italy). So refreshing on a hot summer evening!

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As for my main dish, my eyes grew as large as quarters with the very first bite of their tilefish served with aioli, succotash and bacon. The word delicious doesn’t cut it. A lightly crisped fish on the top with delicate meat within, a nice portion of fresh vegetables and a sauce that I was tempted to eat with a spoon.

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For dessert, the chocolate cake and ice cream topped with tart kumquat slices and perfectly toasted chopped almonds. Delightful and pretty!

If you find yourself in Evanston, reserve a table! I like to sit at their intimate chef-side seating where you can get an eyeful of the dishes as they come out! The hostess is welcoming, the servers are sincerely pleasant and knowledgeable, and the manager attentive. The ambiance is dreamy and the food, spectacular!

Let’s Have A Celebrazione!

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I took this photo at Ristorante Antico Pignolo located in the Sestiere di San Marco on calle Specchieri. The meals that I enjoyed there were some of the best that I have ever, ever had. While basking in the delights of one such meal, I looked at the empty table nearest my own where a group had just departed, guests who seemed to have had a wonderful time. I captured this photo because I thought the cluster of glasses represented the splendid celebrazione that had just taken place there…I also puzzled over the number of glasses!

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This was the divine chocolate mousse cake I enjoyed for dessert that evening. I thought the bright red currants, single yellow cherry tomato yet on its leaf, and the drizzle of chocolate and salty caramel sauces so picturesque. A crust at the bottom was made out of chopped pistachios. The sauces remind me of olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar drizzle.

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And this photo was my table at the end of the night. I could nibble on one of those Venetian bussola buranello cookies right now! Yes, I had cake and cookies for dessert!

Today, I have things in my life worth a celebrazione! Blessings to be thankful for and loved ones to cherish, accomplished milestones to celebrate! How about you? Here’s wishing you good things in your life today! For all of those things, celebrate! Saluti!