Lovin’ That! Words of Encouragement

So, I have to send a shout out to my local Whole Foods. Yesterday evening, not quite feeling my most cheerful and energetic self (will this dreary, cloudy, cold season ever end?!), I was perusing the isles of my grocery. As I scanned the shelves for things I needed (and all the things I don’t, because I love grocery shopping and checking out all there is to see), a small orange sign caught my eye. It had handwriting in marker on it, which is unusual for signage there…

friendliness-960044_1280

Well, I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it was very positive and encouraging and it made me smile. A random note of kindness. I bet others spotted that sign too, and were encouraged also. I now wonder if there aren’t a few others scattered around the store, like an Easter egg hunt?! I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled in future…

IMG_3755

I was never much of a tea drinker, but lately I’ve been enjoying tea quite a bit. A friend who no longer needed her kettle passed hers on to me and I’ve been using it every day. A nice cup of tea certainly helps to ward off the chill outside (will it ever end?!). In any case, I have to send a you rock to Yogi tea. With each tea bag, a little note is attached. Tiny words of wisdom that mainly seem to surround compassion, encouragement, love, etc. I’m now collecting them in a little jar…

IMG_3756

I think that’s really cool…Lovin’ That!

We all need to receive words of encouragement sometimes (whether on a piece of paper randomly spotted at the grocery store, printed on a tea bag, or from someone directly). These were small reminders to myself not to forget to dole out encouragement to others, knowing how much it can mean, but also to be thankful for those who have been compassionate, encouraging, or have provided wisdom to me

flower-3268817_1280

Here is a Bible verse that is an inspiration to me. The older I get, and the more I experience life while witnessing others in their journey through theirs, how much more I aspire to be this woman…

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. Proverbs 31:26 KJV

Stay encouraged folks! Remember to encourage others! And of course…stay inspired!

 

Swingin’ My Arms and Swayin’ My Hips!

Hello folks! Are you looking as forward to spring as I am? I’m so eager for warm sun and bird song! To get my spring kick-started, I’ve been out power walking every day, swingin’ my arms and swayin’ my hips! Too bad it’s been terribly freezing outside. I’ve had to bundle up quite a bit, and my face has received much wind burn, but I’m tired of winter. I needed to get outside! Come walk with me and see what I’ve been up to…

IMG_3744

One thing I love about walking around my town is that I discover more than I would notice when I’m in my car driving the usual ways. This week alone, I spotted a whole bunch of new restaurants, and was sad to spy others that had recently closed. I was curious over new construction and mused to look into store fronts, and I walked a lot of new back streets that I’d never been down before. It was fun to explore!

IMG_3734

Walking outside is also good for the soul! All that fresh air and nature makes my heart sing…

IMG_3742

As I walked near the sands of Lake Michigan, I spied a bird sanctuary where robins were scratching for bugs…

IMG_3743

I stopped to listen to the songs of red-winged black birds, and to giggle at the hurried running of sandpipers…

IMG_3730

I also spotted a little field mouse after dark, darting back and forth from under a bush to pick up tiny seeds. That was too cute!

IMG_3736

But for all the nature, it’s still city. A funny thing happened last night to remind me of that. I was walking at dusk down a road I’d never walked before. There was an empty plot filled with trees and grass, and I noticed a sign that said it was a nature restoration area. As I walked by and gazed in, how quiet and peaceful it was. So I stopped to listen and take a few deep breaths…IMG_3737

At that exact moment, the loudest DING-DING-DING-DING rang out. Red lights started flashing and I just about jumped a foot into the air. Just a bit further along the sidewalk was a Chicago “L” Train crossing, and the gates and sirens and lights had just gone on to warn drivers and pedestrians that a train was coming through. I chuckled at myself for being so startled. So much for a moment of peace!

IMG_3699

In other news, I’ve made a few fun vegan dinners…

IMG_3719

I’ve made my grandma’s slaw recipe into a vegan version more times than I can count now, and I never stop loving it. I could eat it almost every day! And that butter on those toasties? Vegan and as delicious as the real thing!

IMG_3727

Also had a craving for whole wheat spaghetti and meatballs. They make meatballs vegan now too…an extra dose of veggies without the meat!

IMG_3712

Tiddo has made it his life goal to find as many unique hiding spots as possible. It’s a wonder he never gets stuck in a cupboard or closet, though his loud meow would be sure to tell me if he was!

IMG_3662

I was rather dismayed when he was goofing off up high above the cupboards. He’s 18 years old! I was worried he’d try to jump down and get himself hurt. He’s figured out the way down though. No sprained paws so far!

IMG_3649

Well that’s all for now friends! Spring is around the corner, flowers will soon be blooming and the birds will soon be singing with gusto. Whatever is going on in your world, keep those arms swingin’, keep those hips swayin’ and stay inspired! Best Wishes!

The Doge’s Ball of Venice

The annual Venetian Carnevale recently ended, taking place from January 27th to February 13th this year. Every year when this festival approaches, I get excited dreaming about it, wishing that I could be in Venice to experience the beauty and excitement for myself…

mask-2137634_1280

As most of you know, Venice has a very special place in my heart. I love everything about the city, and was inspired to write several books that take place there, Venice and Veleno. Every moment I’ve spent in Venice has been precious to me, and I can’t wait to return…

scan0001

I had the good fortune of attending the Venetian Carnevale one year with my mother (I’m above in red and she in gold), and it was a trip neither of us will ever forget. There was one thing that we did not do however, attend a masked ball, those magical events that have taken place for centuries. One in particular, Il Ballo del Doge (The Doge’s Ball) is famous and highly covered by the media…

scan0005

[Here I am again in an olive and black gown and veil, looking a bit ghostly!]

A thoughtful reader here on Inspired By Venice, who also cherishes the city, sent me the link to a video of the 2017 Il Ballo del Doge this week, and I was of course riveted. The ball is currently planned by designer Antonia Sautter, whose imagination and costumery is exceptional. Enjoy the video!

For many of us who love Venice, revelry, costuming, magic and mystery, attending such a ball (and this one in particular) is on our list of must-dos in our lifetime…

scan0003

I hesitate to mention that not everyone who has attended the Doge’s Ball has loved their experience. The tickets can run you thousands of dollars. So after considering all of your expenses on travel, lodgings, costume rentals, etc., ticket buyers expect some very good food, beverages, service and entertainment. Where some have treasured their experiences, others have found the food lackluster, their seating obscuring full views of the entertainment, cheesy disco music to dance to, and other disappointments…

carnival-venice-1803622_1280

But I consider everything a matter of perspective. It must take a great deal of money, effort and rehearsal to put on what I see in this video. In fact, it blows my mind and makes my heart race with excitement! A once in a lifetime event! Sometimes it takes suspending criticism in order to fully appreciate and enjoy an experience, whatever your expectations might have been. As for me, I’ll continue to dream of attending, and when I get the chance, I’ll feel privileged, and will savor every moment! Thank you for bringing this dazzling and decadent ball to life, Antonia Sautter!

Waiting For Spring…

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

IMG_3671

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

IMG_3672

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

IMG_3676

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

IMG_3616

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

IMG_3678

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

IMG_3641

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

IMG_3674

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

Stitching Through Time…Appreciating Your Wonderful Talents!

My Grandma Novak, now in her 90s, has spent a lifetime developing a skill that in current days, is rather uncommon…

IMG_3147

She is a master embroiderer, an artist of cross-stitch…

IMG_3148

She’s learned every technique, using every sort of thread, bead and pattern…

IMG_3149

She worked in the quaintest of stitch shops for some years, offering advice and assistance to others learning and practicing the craft…

IMG_3151

She attended events for embroidery, entered her fine works and won awards for her special pieces…

IMG_3156

I’ve viewed her stitching, hung around her house, all of my life. I even tried my hand at cross-stitching once and had a little fun with it, though the bug didn’t bite me (this art form requires a very particular, loving patience)…

IMG_3155

As I recently snapped a few photos at Grandma’s, I got up-close to some of her works and was awed. I was awed at my grandma’s hard-earned talent, but also for everyone out there who works to learn and perfect an art over the years…

IMG_3157

I got to pondering, how often do we wonder what it’s truly worth, concerning our individual passions and talents? I mean, who will ever really see and appreciate those things we work hard at? You might spend hundreds of hours practicing or producing something that hardly gets but a fleeting premier out in the world. I sometimes think that way about my books…

IMG_3153

But I guess when I thought about it, I truly felt that if you love what you are doing, you must enjoy every moment of it, no matter who may ever deeply appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Sew, knit, dance, write, sing, cook, plant, bake, click your camera, marathon, draw, create…Stay Inspired…enjoy your passions and pursuits, for you.

But just in case we ever feel that our special talents are hardly appreciated, I’m certain that we’re wrong. You inspire someone else, right now! Of course, no one can truly grasp the time and hardship it took to do what you do, except you. But others do see and admire what you do and make in this world…I promise!

IMG_3152

 Grandma Novak, your stitching is the most special in the world. Mom, you are a true artist with a beautiful imagination and your costumery is incredible. Grandma Ina, your garden is alive with color and bounty because of your caring hands, and you’ll always be the best cook I know. Charlie, your drum solos are amazing and your commitment to music and percussion is awesome. Dad, your master creations in the garage are truly extraordinary.

Thank you for inspiring, me.

My Herb Kit: A Poem

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

IMG_3586

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

IMG_3593

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

IMG_3589

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

IMG_3590

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

IMG_3591

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

IMG_3595

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

A Cat’s First Love In Winter…

Tiddo the cat loves lots of things. He loves me, and I love him…very, very much. He loves the good food, fresh water, and crunchy nibbles I amply supply. He loves watching out the window for birds and chipmunks. He loves his cozy nooks, and scratching his sharp claws into the furniture with abandon (even though that’s naughty)…

IMG_3553

Tiddo loves his toys, and a good chew on his plush little duckie from time to time…remember demise of the duckie?

IMG_3555

But in winter, as anyone who owns a cat is sure to know, there is one thing that is favored above all else…even above you, the kitty crunchies, and those playful toys with bells and strings…

IMG_3542

It’s fondly called, the radiator. Particularly, that coveted spot on the floor just two inches away from the face of searing hot metal. While there, not even a pinch of cat nip could tempt a kitty away!

Happy winter folks! Stay warm, stay inspired! Love your pets, and spoil them often!

Delicious Mushroom Toasties, And Some Decadent Bruschetta Too!

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

IMG_3513

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

IMG_3516

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

IMG_3518

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

IMG_3520

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

IMG_3522

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

And now for the most sinful bruschetta on the planet…

IMG_3525

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

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

IMG_3524

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

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

Welcome 2018! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to each and every one of you! May your 2018 be filled with good health, happiness, love, laughter and light…

christmas-1932374_1280

My very best wishes that you’ll stay inspired in this new year! Keep your nose to your goals, and you can achieve your special hopes. Most importantly, don’t forget to look for the beauty and wonder that can be found all around you in each new day! God Bless!

Lovin’ That! Pete’s Living Greens

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

lettuce-933180_1280

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

salad-1786327_1280

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

IMG_3471

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

IMG_3472

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

IMG_3473

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

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

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

Patty Cake, Patty Cake…Poom!

As I was writing today, and studiously researching a few random facts of history, somehow my groundwork efforts led me to Dansons La Capucine by Parole De Chat. What’s that? It’s the most hilarious cat video, by the most clever makers of comical cat videos. Since they posted this particular work of brilliance back in 2012, I’ve watched it many times, and every time I enjoy a good laugh. I felt compelled to share it with you…

This isn’t their only video. They’ve made quite a few, each as funny as the next. This following video Miroirs & Chats made me laugh so hard today that I had to use half a box of kleenex to wipe away tears of laughter. I suggest watching it a few times, so that you can catch all of the priceless commentary…

Of course, we have a number of entertaining felines to thank for these giggles. Cats being cats, they’re awesome! But I must say, the guys who make Parole De Chat have a talent for comical narration that is be hard to beat!

Here’s to loving and respecting our animal friends, and also wishing you many laughs and smiles today! 

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

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

IMG_3445

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

IMG_3444

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

IMG_3448

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

IMG_3447.JPG

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

IMG_3451

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Mercato At Starbucks

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

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

IMG_3401

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

IMG_3400

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

IMG_3404

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

IMG_3399

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

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

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

Holy Beets And Brussels Sprouts!

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

IMG_5442

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

IMG_5444

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

IMG_5443

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

IMG_5447

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

IMG_5445

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

IMG_5448

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

IMG_5449

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

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

Sometimes Satisfying, Sometimes Not!

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

IMG_3394

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

IMG_3396

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

IMG_3395

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

IMG_5429

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

IMG_5428

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

IMG_5432

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

IMG_5435

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

IMG_3001

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

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

I am the Gobbler of Greens!

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

IMG_3135

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

IMG_3331

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

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

IMG_3375

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

IMG_3376

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

IMG_3377

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

IMG_3379

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

IMG_3381

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

IMG_3382

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

IMG_3383

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

IMG_3386

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

IMG_3390

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

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

IMG_1954

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

CIMG1343

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

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

Giveaways & Shout-outs! Let’s have some fun!

Hello, hello! I hope that you are well and happy in every way today! Mondays aren’t most people’s favorite, so I thought we could have some fun! How about we start with some giveaways?!

IMG_3265

There are two giveaways taking place right now for your chance to win a copy of Veleno, my newest tale, one creepy thriller filled with lots of surprises…Bwa-ha-haaaa!

Veleno-300dpi-3125x4167-2

For your chance to win 1 of 5 copies on Amazon, click here to check out the giveaway. The Amazon giveaway ends tonight at midnight, so hurry!

For your chance to win 1 of 3 signed copies straight from my hand through Goodreads, click here to check out the giveaway! The Goodreads giveaway ends on September 26th (next Tuesday) at midnight.

Please share these giveaways, and spread the fun!

IMG_0445

The 2017 Bristol Renaissance Faire season has sadly come to an end, but we had such a wonderful season thanks to each and every one of you who visited us at our tented shop, The Quill and Brush. My folks and I can’t wait to see you all again in 2018 for our 3rd Bristol season! Huzzah!

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.59.44 AM

And for some more fun on this Monday, I just want to send out some shout-outs!

Hey Once Upon a Time Book Club! Thank you for sharing Veleno! I sincerely hope you enjoyed the read…my favorite part is the ending. Eeekkk!

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.02.01 AM

Thank you for recommending my books, and I hope the granddaughters are enjoying The Itty Bitty Littles, Princess Liliana and the Dragon, The Fairy Woods and A Magical Kingdom. May their reading time be filled with magic and delight…

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.15.20 AM

I also want to say thank you to Newton’s Travels, a charming family travel blog! There is nothing I love so much as travel, so sites like these are always an inspiration. Angie of Newton’s Travels wrote a charming review of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and shared a snippet about my books! With all there is to see and do at Bristol, I smiled ear to ear for this special mention above. Thank you Angie! Check out her post about Bristol here

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.51.40 AM

I also want to send a shout-out to fellow authoress, Danielle E. Shipley. Not only is she a prolific writer of fantasy and adventure tales, but also one truly creative and charismatic individual. Ms. Shipley read aloud some of my back covers so entertainingly at Bristol, that I wanted to read my own stories all over again. Too fun! Be sure to check out this local Chicago author’s books!

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 11.25.43 AM

I also wanted to share with you all today that my Goodreads author page, and Amazon author page are live! Please ‘follow’ if you’d like word of my new publications, or to see what books I’m reading and reviewing, etc. I am also accepting ‘author questions’ on Goodreads in case you feel like quizzing my brain!

cimg1547

And one last shout-out…thank you to all of the readers that have come back to my little shop the last two summers to give me feedback and inspiration. Thank you to all the readers who sent an email or letter, to tell me what you thought about one of my stories, warming my heart. And thank you to each reader who wrote a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Those reviews are a precious gift to me as a writer, and keep me inspired! Please keep the reviews coming!

feather-2541570_1280

I’ve just begun my newest novel, a romantic odyssey based in ancient times. My mind is already caught up in a place very far away, from very long ago. The research (one of my favorite parts about writing historical fiction) is already breaking my brain. Love it! A harrowing, swoon-worthy adventure is in the works. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Stay well, stay happy, stay inspired!

Just Where I Want To Be

Today feels like a summer’s day! 81 degrees and sunny, the birds are singing joyfully and everything is as green as ever after recent thunderstorms. Thus, for the first time since the weather was fine last summer, I can be found in one of my favorite nooks…

IMG_3162

My little writing table on the front porch, mostly private from the sidewalk, where I can look up to the trees and the sunny skies and feel happy, refreshed and inspired. I’ve just made a healthy salad for lunch. Delicious!

IMG_3165

For the rest of the afternoon, I’ll be typing away on my stories and there’s no better place for it. Spending time out-of-doors is said to have a lovely impact on your health!

IMG_3168

My front porch chipmunk is keeping me company. I’ve bribed him with some strawberries and blueberries, hoping they will keep him distracted so that he doesn’t get curious about my bare toes. I think they think toes are peanuts. Don’t nibble my toes Chippy!

IMG_3167

I can definitely say, on a beautiful day like today, I’m just where I want to be…

Here’s wishing you a great many such beautiful days, and that you’ll find the time for yourself to enjoy them! 

Insomnia Cookies

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

cookies-1387797_1280

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

IMG_4857

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

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

IMG_4858

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

cookie-1381147_1280

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

cookies-1372607_1280

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

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

Caprese, Caprese!

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

IMG_3138

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

IMG_3139

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

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

Date Night in NYC!

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

IMG_4355

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

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

IMG_4361

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

IMG_4352

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

IMG_4386

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

IMG_4369

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

IMG_4374

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

IMG_4376

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

IMG_4378

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

IMG_4383

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

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

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

Egg-in-the-hole!

Have you ever made an egg-in-the-hole? It’s fun, ridiculously easy to make, and so tasty!

‘Unless it’s tuna fish, I’m not coming out to help you make breakfast mom. I’m cozy right here…

IMG_2261.JPG

The first time I ever had an egg-in-the-hole was in grade school. As my mom went to work early in the mornings, I joined a ‘before school program’ where they served breakfast and I could play games with the other early birds, until classes began. The school cooks prepared breakfast for this little band of kiddos amidst prepping to feed the entire school a hot lunch.

IMG_2253.JPG

I begin by buttering two large pieces of sourdough bread. However, some folks simply melt butter in the pan first and throw the bread in. I also use a glass to cut out the hole (which is small enough for the egg to nest, but large enough that the egg doesn’t begin to ease over the toast). Throw the little rounds into the pan too!

IMG_2254.JPG

Next, crack the eggs in and let this side of the toasties get crispy.

…the days that the school’s lunch ladies made egg-in-the-holes, were the best days ever. Each child was allowed one. If you were still hungry for a second one when you were finished, you could go back in line and they would make you another (as long as all of the children had received their first one).

IMG_2256.JPG

The key to great egg-in-the-holes are that you allow the bread to get crispy (requiring ample butter). But at the same time, you don’t want the eggs to cook completely. You still want the yolk to be liquid. For this balance, let the bread toast up a moment before putting your eggs in so that you don’t end up with gooey bread…not so good.

IMG_2258.JPG

Use the little toasted rounds to dip into the yolk. Why is this so darn delicious? There is something about the way the bread toasts and soaks in the egg…awesome.

So, did I get in line for a second helping when I was a wee one? Oh yes! Those eggs-in-the-holes (using good ole’ Wonder Bread) were it. All these years later, I’m still making them.

IMG_2265.JPG

This morning I was out of sourdough and had whole grain bread in the house. Folks make their egg-in-the-holes using whole grain, but I just as prefer to eat that kind with over-easy eggs. There’s something about sourdough, or Italian bread that makes an egg-in-the-hole just right. Check out Pioneer Woman’s entertaining post for this recipe here!

What foods did you eat as a youngster, that fill you with nostalgia today? Do you ever make them?

Good Morning! Good Day!

How lovely the start of a new day! Today, mine includes…

IMG_2194.JPG

A golden sunrise just outside the window…

IMG_2201

And a friend to watch it with…

IMG_2199

Even if he is more interested in the waking birdies than the sunrise…

IMG_2208.JPG

A sweet little bloom in my front yard. What a pretty white flower it will make. I think it’s waiting to open up when it’s not so chilly, brrrrr….

IMG_2209.JPG

And these yellow darlings too, I can’t wait!

IMG_2207.JPG

A hot cup of coffee (or three) and a bright kitchen view…

IMG_2212.JPG

Another one of my odd breakfast concoctions (and some people thought I’d never learn to cook…HA-HA-HA!!!)…

IMG_2213.JPG

And time spent working on my new adventure, the very best way to start the day. A magical world awaits!

Here’s wishing you a blessed and beautiful morning, and a day filled with good things!

Home Lovin’

Last night, handsome was out and I had an evening at home to myself…

IMG_2188.JPG

Tiddo of course loves any moment I’m home and follows me around the house. We’re best friends. He curled up right beside me and we chilled. After that, he only lifted his head up once to sniff the air. It was just as my supper was near ready out of the oven. He smelled the shrimp…

IMG_2190

I roasted a pan of shallots, garlic, jumbo shrimp and green beans. Healthy and homemade never tasted so good!

IMG_2191

And even now as I write this post, my little dude sits by my side…

IMG_2192.JPG

How good home is…

Here’s wishing yours full of great food, loving family, caring friends, good health, and much happiness!