Can you guess?

Can you guess where I was over Christmas?

If you're thinking...sunny and're exactly right!

This stately palm tree is situated in front of my parents' place in Florida. Ahhh...80 degrees and sunny. Life is good!

For breakfast, I stepped into the back yard and plucked grapefruit right off the tree. Still warm from the sun, once I sliced into it, the little pink corpuscles were practically bursting with juice!

In this part of the United States, Spanish Moss hangs thick off the trees. Until this trip, I'd only seen it at a distance. Blowing gently in the wind, it has a ghostly, haunted appearance. But up close, it's quite beautiful.

Locals say if you turn a map of Florida on the side, it looks like a fish. Towards the southern half of the state, the "eye" of the fish is Lake Okeechobee.

The lake stretches 40 miles across and averages about 9 feet deep. For the past two years, Florida has been affected by a severe drought. Evaporation and continued water use has dropped the lake by 1/3. My dad loves to fish and their place is just a hop skip and a jump away....

This lush area is filled with birds, small deer, and alligators. Recently, my mom took her dog for a walk...and was trailed by an alligator. YIKES!

Since the drought began, the fishing hasn't been worth bragging about, but the lake is a great spot for air boating. These boats sit high on the water and easily navigate over the tall grass growing throughout the lake. I caught up with this guy just coming off the water.

Saturday means Flea Markets in Lake Okeechobee and we had a choice of two. For me, there was no doubt where we were headed. Here in Central Florida, this flea market is a little slice of Mexico.

Top to bottom: 1. Churros vendor, 2. Cantina, 3. A wide selection of boots, 4. Quinceañera decorations, 5. Lacquered alligator heads.

It was Christmas....

And houses were all decked out in holiday finery. I laughed at the neighbor's reindeer...standing regally--right next to the palm tree. No doubt, balmy nights...and snowmen...are an odd combination.

But this guy takes the prize:

Forget the reindeer. Here in Florida, Santa's sleigh is powered by alligators!

Neighborhood Stroll: Leschi

There's nothing like a walk by the water to restore equilibrium...and in here Seattle, we are blessed with the Puget Sound and a number of lakes. Leschi is a pocket community, straddled between the two bridges that connects Seattle to the east side. Here, a mélange of joggers, prams, and dog walkers cast their gaze out on Lake Washington.

It's a perfect spot for sailing

or to

dangle your feet off the dock...

and watch the world go by.

The water beckons me to the shore, with a rhythmic lapping that coos,

"Come on, baby. Sit a spell..."

As the dock gently rocks, it echoes,

"You're here now. Put your mind at ease..."

Life is full of surprises....

Just waiting to be discovered....

I Was Robbed.

I tried to think of something clever to title this post, but the plain and simple fact is, I was robbed.

I came home late tonight, went over to my desk to fire up the computer...and it was gone!

Looking around, things looked the same, but not really. Then I went into my bedroom. Files, photos, and stuff...everywhere.

Strange. Most of the things I was worried about are still in my possession. (My passport is safe & sound.) But my computer is gone...with tons of photos, countless hours of iPod downloads, and other stuff only meaningful to me.

And they stole my ring.

Last weekend, it suddenly occurred to me...if I'd stayed with my ex, it would have been our 7th Anniversary. Leaving him was the right thing to do, but somehow, I couldn't bear to part with my ring. Now it's gone. Courtesy of one very bold thief.

Thank you.

Now I'll file the insurance papers and it will finally be over. I'll no longer have to worry about what to do with that ridiculously expensive ring. It represented hopes and dreams...that never came to fruition. And now it's gone.

My home has been invaded and that's unnerving. Possessions? They can be replaced. But my sense of security? Home sweet home? It's tainted now.

Forgive me if I don't write much for a while. I need to get a new computer, and put humpty dumpty back together again.

Cross your fingers, people. Maybe Santa will bring me a Mac! ;)

An Enchanted Evening

Left to Right: Dana Cree (pastry chef at Veil and co-author of Tasting Menu), guest of honor Alice Medrich, Lorna Yee (culinary writer and co-owner of Caché dinner club), and Neil Robertson (pastry chef at Canlis)

Dessert maven Alice Medrich, plus three of the city's finest pastry chefs, a little bubbly, something sweet to eat...and one upside down Christmas tree! There was plenty to be excited about.

Nights turn magical when the crowd is just right.

And this night....was like a super nova!

Each time the door opened, I was surprised and delighted to see people I knew! Half way through the evening--with a glass of sparkling rose in one hand...and a plate full of desserts in the other, I realized, "I know more than half the people in this room!" It was as if we had a party...and someone brought Alice.

And of course, conversations turned to food.

The room was buzzing with discussions...everything from...have you tried the East Indian-inspired pizza at CanAm? To book deals and Food Network tapings. (Psst. Between you and me...there are some very interesting projects on the horizon. I'm sworn to secrecy, for now. More on this later.)

For me? The best part...was being able to introduce a few of my favorite people. Over the past couple years, I've met some of the most fascinating people and here they were...all in one room! You can't plan for evenings like this...but sometimes, when you're very all comes together. And since I'm on a mission to unite everyone, I was in heaven! (Molly, have you met Lorna? Nadia, have you met Dana? Becky...this is Rachel, she just got back from Buenos Aries....)

Okay, back to the book...

Pure Dessert is organized by ingredient. As Alice discussed, her goal was to come up with some fun combinations (sour cream ice cream, for example.) Some of the recipes are based on ingredients normally found on the culinary side of life (corn tuiles or kamut pound cake). Whether it's a grain, nut, spice, sugar or these recipes, the key ingredient takes center stage.

What I love about Alice is that she takes us along her journey of discovery. What extracts the flavor from mint leaves better...cold cream or hot cream? To make a really flavorful strawberry ice cream, are cooked or raw strawberries better? I love books that not only feature winning recipes...but this kind of priceless.

Kim Ricketts...and the upside-down Christmas tree

Kim Ricketts Cooks and Books events are too much fun! Not only do you get to rub elbows with the authors (Michael Pollan and Patricia Wells are next), but chefs prepare dishes out of the author's latest book. Last night, they made an array of desserts that were just divine!

Delicious bites from Alice Medrich's book, "Pure Desserts"

After sampling more than a few of these recipes, and hearing what inspired Alice, I look forward to playing with this book. (The brownie recipe alone is worth the price of the book. Ohhh la la!)

So what did we have?

- sour cream ice cream
- very tangy lemon bars
- new bittersweet brownies
- Italian chocolate-almond torte
- bittersweet citrus tart with jasmine cream
- tropical lace cookies
- my gingersnaps
- saffron and cardamom panna cotta

I'm sure I've forgotten a few... 'cause I was busy chit-chatting all night. (Go figure!) But I was especially smitten with the brownies, and the panna cotta flavors were so good...I can't wait to try them in an ice cream.

This morning, as I sipped my coffee and perused the book, I've already marked several recipes I want to try:

- Guinness ice cream
- panforte nero
- flans with raw sugar sauce
- salted peanut butter toffee cookies
- lebni tart

Lorna and her lovely tart

Holiday Bake-O-Ramma

So I'm chatting with my friend Hope, and the conversation turns to holiday cookies. My pulse raced at the thought of baking with her. You see, Hope's one of the city's most respected cooking instructors.

The wheels started to spin....

"Oooh, we should bake together!"

Hope thought for a moment and offered, "I might be able to get access to a commercial kitchen."


And there, my friends, is how an idea was born.

This Saturday, seven delicious women gathered in the school's teaching kitchen. We arrived with prepared dough in hand...and made use of the large counter space for decorating and assembly. (For my contribution, I made Ina Garten's Rugelach and Lex Culinaria's Chocolate-Dipped Ginger Cookies.)

The kitchen sprung into action as ladies rolled, imprinted, and sugared their cookies. Me? I wandered around the space capturing pictures.

What can I say?

Not only was it a great space to work, but the commercial kitchen had some really cool toys...see the ovens? We could bake 12 full-sized sheet pans at a time! And I love that doughnut cutter.

Speaking of cutters, check out that big white machine. It's a dough cutter. Hope explained that you load the dough in the pan at the bottom, and pull a lever. A blade comes down and cuts the pieces uniformly. How cool is that?

Okay, back to cookie talk. To see the full bounty of our baking frenzy, click here. (Roll your mouse over the photo for a short description of each cookie.)

That's a lot of love....

~* ~* ~*

One last thing....
While I was researching recipes, I came across some really great websites and thought I'd pass them along. If you're baking for the are few resources:

How to:

A Cookie Assembly Line: Efficient Cookie Baking for Busy Cooks

Hassle-Free Holiday Baking: 6 Easy Days to Perfect Christmas Cookies



Joy of Baking

Dessert by Candy

Sunset Magazine's Winning Recipes

Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies

Care Packages, All Dressed Up for the Holidays

Glazed Red Pepper-Fennel Almonds

The tree is lit and the holidays are in full swing.

While I love parties, between work and other and festivities this time of is usually the last thing on my mind.

To keep a modicum of sanity, I've got an arsenal of recipes that are more on the order of....grab and go. Nuts are a great option because they are just fine at room temperature, can be made ahead, and are perfect with cocktails.

Imagine my delight when I stumbled on this recipe for Glazed Red Pepper-Fennel Almonds. Not only do they fit the bill, but they also have a dash of red and green! Let the fa la la begin...

I'm not a big fan of fennel, but these nuts came so highly recommended, I had to make them. And boy am I glad! They're the perfect hot, salty and sweet...with a hint of savory. I took them to a gathering recently and we couldn't pass the bowl without taking a few. They're simply addictive...and make a nice addition to the holiday table.

Okay, may have noticed I've got a thing for nuts. (See here and here.)

Let me explain.

Not only nuts great for entertaining, but they're a wonderful addition to care packages.

Over the years, I've learned...if you're making up care packages, think of not only a mix of flavors, but a mix of expiration dates. Some items are best consumed within days, and others will stretch out a month or more. For my own care packages, I like to assemble a bit of sweet and savory--as well as items that will keep. Nuts are an ideal compliment. (See? There's a method to my madness!)

Speaking of care packages, I'd like to share a few of my favorite resources:

Packaging for treats? Look no further than Cello Bags. Tied with a swath of ribbon or wire garland, they capture that festive spirit in a flash. Locally, you can buy both plain and printed versions at Paper Zone.

To guild your delicious goodies, Nashville Wraps is your one-stop-shop for bows, boxes, bags, and tissue. My inner kid goes wild here..."I want that, and that. And I absolutely must have those!" Uh...let's just say my last order, I had a glass of wine in hand...and ended up with a multiple-box shipment. I'm not sure restraint was ever a factor.

Custom labels give your home baked goodness a sophisticated touch...and My Own Labels is just the place. They've got labels for bottles, bags, CDs, hang name it! For my parent's 30th wedding anniversary, I ordered custom wine labels...and I couldn't have been happier. Their website is a breeze for online ordering and the final product exceeded my expectations.

Giving your own cordials this year? For bottles, check your local homebrew supply place, or order from Specialty Bottles. I buy bottles by the case. These are the perfect size for salad dressings, BBQ sauce, or your favorite libation. Hint: When buying bottles, be sure to buy lids too. (Yep, I learned that one the hard way...)

~* ~* ~*

Here's hoping your holidays are filled with lots of delicious goodies...and shared with the people you love most.


Caribbean Daydreams

Landslides, flooded streets, and enough standing water to close the freeway.

Oh, those Seattle rains.

I tell you...yesterday, I thought about building an ark!

At 10:00 am, they closed my office.

Rain beat furiously on my windows. By 11:00 am, I was at home and in full denial. Jimmy Buffett serenaded me...while I daydreamed about sticking my toes in the sand.

Then I remembered this recipe for Chile Peanuts.

Mmm...they fit the bill perfectly.

These beauties are spicy...with a hint of tangy lime juice and an intoxicating wiff of roasted peanuty goodness. Hands down, this is my favorite snack in Mexico. Wash 'em down with an icy cold beer...and I'm in heaven!

As the holidays come into full swing, think of these nuts--even if you're not daydreaming about the Caribbean. They make a perfect last minute stash for care packages...or cocktail parties.

Chile Peanuts

Rosa's New Mexican Table
by Roberto Santibañez

4 cups unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 250°F

2. Toss the peanuts together with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl until all the nuts are evenly coated. The peanuts may look wet at this point — that is fine.

3. Spread them out in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet (a jelly-roll pan works well). Bake until the coating is dry and the spices are lightly toasted, about 30 minutes.

4. Let the peanuts cool completely. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Note: If they lose their crispness after storing, reheat them on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven for 15 minutes before serving.

Winter Wonderland

We interrupt holiday shopping...with snow in Seattle.

I'm originally from the Midwest and there, snow is a regular winter event. Here in Seattle, snow is a different thing entirely. Because it's a rare occurance, the city is ill equipped to handle its impact. The terrain is also riddled with hills, adding another challenge to slipping and sliding in the white stuff.

Early Saturday afternoon, I was perched on a hilltop, looking out over the valley. Within minutes, the storm enveloped everything in sight...

Kiss kiss...

I'm out of here!

Making tracks on my way home, ensnarled holiday shopping traffic, I passed the time...capturing a few snaps.

Approching my neighborhood, I passed a golf course. There, out in the flurry of flakes, a lone golfer was playing through. (I heard golf was an obsession....)

Passing along the water, I stopped for a few more shots...

Ahhh...back at home...

with a roaring fire and a delicious cup of Fiori drinking chocolate...

it's beginning to feel like Christmas!