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Behind the Kitchen Door

Behind the Kitchen Door

Live in the moment.  Experience now.  Be fully present.

These are concepts that have received a ton of press recently but which I’ve struggled greatly with.

In my work as a lawyer I’m not exactly allowed to live in the moment.  It’s my job to look forward, to anticipate what can go wrong, to strategize how to get from Point A to Point B, to plan, and to predict arguments and defenses.  On the flip side, I’m also expected to look backward at what went wrong and analyze the relevant facts that are foundation of the strategy I must employ to fix an existing problem or resolve a dispute.  Occasionally I get a writing or research project that will pull me in to “The Zone” where I can focus and tune out the world, but for some reason those have been rare this year.  At the end of each day I feel tired and my mind goes blank, but rarely have I felt like I’ve accomplished anything productive or created any positive change in the world.

In a soulful conversation this summer with my good friend Stephanie, a chef and event coordinator at Black Star Farms, I had a difficult time articulating my lack of contentment with the Now.  Instead of wallowing or trying to “fix it,” though, she impulsively invited me to join the Black Star chefs in the kitchen for the September harvest dinner.  Stephanie is one of those people who has the gift of eminent Presence in the Now.  She focuses on nothing but you when she is with you.  She makes each person she encounters feel as though they are the most important person in her world.  She also has the gift of working very well under pressure and being a creative problem-solver.  There are no unforeseen difficulties that she can’t handle.  This is what makes her such a shining success as an event coordinator and such an asset to Black Star Farms:  she is a Present person.

Squash1That also makes her a gifted chef.  Anyone who loves to cook knows that being in the kitchen is a great way to be consumed in the moment.  I mean, one can never really think too far ahead when making poached eggs, right?  Mealtimes have been the one time and place I have been able to be fully present in my life this year.  And this last week’s Summer Squash-themed Harvest Dinner was the epitome of presence of mind.Squash3After Stephanie clothed me in her black chef’s jacket and left me in the kitchen, Executive Chef Jonathan Dayton looked at me and with his quietly intense, good-humored grin asked, “you ready for this?”  And I said, “All I want is to NOT be in your way, and to be useful.  Put me to work.”

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Ask and you shall receive.

I was given a box of about two hundred of the tiniest baby patty pan squashes you’ve ever seen.  Many were no bigger than a blueberry, with their tiny, delicate blossoms still attached.  It was my glamourous and enviable job to wash them all under cool running water.  And I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the water.  Fail.  So embarrassing.  Until one of the veteran staffers came over to help me and took three turns on three different handles before getting the water to run himself.  Not so embarrassing after all.

After surviving the new-kid hazing that was washing the baby squashes, Street asked me to chop some toasted pine nuts.  I poured about ten ounces of them onto the cutting board and immediately laughed and asked Street if he would be annoyed if I chopped them one at a time.  I got a look that said, “you haven’t been here long enough to be funny.”  I mean, there were only fourteen other things on the first plate besides those pine nuts.  Hurry the eff up, newbie.

Squash4So for the next four hours I was completely, 100% consumed with helping plate up the most incredible six-course wine-paired meal I’ve ever experienced.  The first plate was an absolute work of art.  I was fascinated by Chef Dayton’s simple method of separating and poaching egg yolks and arranging them with paper-thin slices of zucchini and summer squash to create a dish he called squash carpaccio (or, as I thought of it “squashpaccio”) dressed in a beautiful basil oil and decorated with a dozen delicate little flavor accents that I would never have thought would be so explosive together.  Purple basil, red wine salt, ricotta cheese (which almost did not end up on the plates because we all forgot about it until one of the guests asked where it was; oops!  You’ve never seen 24 cups of ricotta cheese miraculously appear on a dinner table as quickly as those did.  Way to work In the Moment, Cathy, Katie & Brad!).  Paired with Black Star’s famous “BeDazzled” bubbly dry white wine, it was clearly the favorite course of the night.

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Until the goat was served.

The goat.  My Lord.  The “main course,” it was roasted and shredded, stuffed with chevre (goat’s cheese) inside a large delicate squash blossom, coated in a light breading and baked until crispy on the outside, served over a pool of creamed corn sauce – it was a comforting combination of savory, sweet, rich and creamy that involuntarily made one’s eyes drift to a close in order to fully appreciate that first bite.  Served with Black Star’s dark red Arcturos merlot, it quietly said, “winter is coming…” and with that, the September harvest dinner was complete.


(PS, even as I type this I’m falling back into the blissful centered zone I felt when I was there.)

There was also a smoked course with smoked zucchini “steaks,” duck ham, smoked tomato and smoked butter.  That was amazing.

But wake up!  Yes, there was a squash dessert.

Dessert.  Ahh, yes.  Everyone knows dessert is my thing.  And Stephanie is the resident pastry chef at Black Star, so it’s no wonder that we initially bonded over buttercream.  Much earlier in the night, before the dinner guests arrived, Steph and Jon were discussing the delicate timing and logistics of service and plating, including making chocolate ganache to serve with her citrusy zucchini cake with cocoa buttercream filling and Street’s zucchini ice cream.  During a silence in their discussion as they weighed the who’s-doing-what-when, I grabbed the bowl of fancy chocolate chips out of Stephanie’s hands, looked at her with all the confidence in the world and said, “ganache and I are great friends, I got this one.”  She shrugged, looked at Jon, and said, “Cool!”

(No joke, I babysat that chocolate ganache over a double-boiler all night long and was TERRIFIED I would ruin it.  I have accidentally ruined chocolate ganache once or twice.  It’s possible.)

Anyway, the dessert turned out just as good as it looked.  I will even boast that it was my idea to top it with a little flaky sea salt – which I think took it to the next level.

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I did not want that night to end.

Being the gracious and entertaining hostess, Stephanie pulled us kitchen staff out to the dining room for introductions after the dinner was complete, and gave me a second to say a few words.  I was almost in tears as I told the restaurant guests that I wasn’t really a chef, but I was a lawyer and was just playing one on tv.  I told them that Stephanie and I met and became instant friends five years ago as I planned my own wedding at Black Star.  And Stephanie knew this summer I needed to do something different, something positive and creative with a team of talented and fun artists, so she invited me to participate in this event.  I thanked Don Coe, Black Star’s managing partner who was attending the dinner, for giving his staff a license to create experiences and memories like this for their guests, and told him that the reason his business is so successful is because of the people they have taking care of it.  I thanked Stephanie (at least I hope I did) for having the vision and insight into my life to know how greatly a night in their kitchen would inspire me.  I felt like the luckiest person in the room.

2015 UpNorth-132Pulling off a successful, artful meal certainly takes planning and strategy, but more than anything it takes a willingness to be flexible to take advantage of whatever ingredients look perfect in the moment.  Steph and Street shopped the farmer’s market that same morning for many of the items that ended up on our plates that night.  And it takes preparation, training and education, but also instinct and raw talent that no one can teach you.  In the end, getting a perfect plate to the table takes attention to detail, choreography, timing, and service that is a sensual experience that must be lived 100% in the moment.  The food should be savored and appreciated with four of the five senses: sight, smell, touch and taste.  With a little good conversation and music, all five of our senses are nourished and we are made truly whole, if only for a moment.  That moment, created by the talented team at Black Star, is something I wish everyone could experience. 2015 UpNorth-119Being involved in assembling that meal was a joy I can hardly describe.  Somehow, like Stephanie, I need to find a way to be more mindful of the creative opportunities and positive moments my own work can present.  Because when we focus our energy and effort on the people and tasks immediately before us, I honestly believe the recipients of those efforts feel more aptly served and the tasks get done more effectively.  Being present now allows us to be flexible and avoid disappointment.  And sometimes, serendipity results from a lack of planning.  So I’m going to try to stop looking for the key to the door in front of me and just enjoy being in this room for a while.  Maybe what I’m looking for is right here.

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The Comedy and the Tragedy of Traveling

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You know how when we go on big trips we take lots of pictures?  And how when we get home we purge all the bad ones and carefully select only the prettiest ones to print for the photo album and share on Facebook?  Well I did that this week after we returned from our second trip to Jamaica.  I’ve flipped through the photos a dozen times, and they are just beautiful.  The sunsets, the sea, the plants, the food, the people.  Everything looks like a complete fantasy.  

Jamaica 2014
But this time it feels completely disingenuous.
Here are things I did not take pictures of:  
          On the 2-hour drive from the airport in Montego Bay to Negril, we passed through six or seven dirty, dusty, crowded, and littered villages and towns.  We passed farm fields where skinny cows and goats grazed with ropes tied around their necks, staked into the ground, and horses grazed in the roughage on the side of the road.  Roadside markets, ramshackle wood huts, many painted pretty colors but others just bare wood or scrap metal.  Manufacturing facilities and schools, with barbed wire on the tops of the walls surrounding the grounds.  Nearly everywhere we looked we saw trash, litter, rubbish, debris.  Plastic bags, water bottles, beer bottles, car parts, strewn in streams and along the side of the road.  
          At least half of the locals on the beach who offered to sell us fresh fruits, juices, hats, sarongs, jewelry, or wood carvings also quietly offered us ganja, x, or even cocaine.  It wasn’t terribly difficult to tune out, of course, with the heavenly colors of the diamond blue sea and clear blue sky taking up at least half of our viewshed.  
 Jamaica 2014
But it was glaring, nonetheless.  Like thorns on a rose bush in full bloom. 
          I did take a few pictures of gorgeous and interesting-looking Jamaican natives.  So many of them are stunningly beautiful people.  One well-dressed, coiffed professional woman even had a manicure matching her aqua patent-leather high heels.  Some carried gorgeous Michael Kors and LV (knock-off?) handbags.  
          But I took no pictures of the many folks lining the sidewalks who were unclean and missing most of their teeth, smoking.  
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Another thing I simply could not photograph were the animals.  Jamaicans mostly expect their pet cats and dogs to scrounge for food rather than feeding them regular meals.  The plaintive howling and whiny, snarling, fighting barks of the dogs at night is more than a little bit disruptive.  It is almost sickening.  Although the two conditionally-friendly German Shepherds guarding our Charela Inn had relatively healthy-looking coats and appeared well taken care of.  Only one of them was a little thin under her ribs. 
           The horses offered up like toys for rides on the beach were gaunt, clearly dehydrated, and sway-backed.  One little buckskin had a severe open wound on his rump, a bite from another horse or a wild dog I guessed, that I couldn’t even look at.  I carried home so much guilt for not buying that horse some food or a bucket of water. 
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In the larger towns the alleys between buildings have a square-bottomed, open concrete trench running down them toward the nearest river.  Full of trash.
          Interestingly enough, the beaches and yards around the resorts are meticulously swept clean of leaves, seaweed, and other debris early in the morning and again before dinnertime.  The perfectly manicured walkways and sandy areas feel and look as clean as the floors and carpets in our house.  But the leaves and other things swept away are disposed of each night in black plastic garbage bags thrown across the road into the brush to rot under the hot sunshine.  Plastic bags.  To contain the seagrape leaves swept off the sand.  To give us tourists a completely false sense of immaculate serenity.   
          Even though the only place one can find true, uninterrupted serenity is far beneath the surface of the sea in the silent company of delightful critters like this stealthy hermit crab.
Jamaica 2014
This issue disturbs me to the point of sleeplessness.  See, underneath the sugarcane and wild tangle of tropical weeds, the island is very rocky.  The island lacks good soil to cultivate for agricultural purposes.  Why are they not composting to create more fertile soil?  Why are they not encouraging scientists to develop affordable desalination technology and reverse greenhouses?  Negril has a Burger King and free Wi-Fi in almost every chicken shack & beer joint, yet they fail to improve their agricultural resources and celebrate local foods.  Instead they import most of their produce, primarily (I believe) because the large resorts and hotels insist on serving a diverse exotic (non-local) menu to satiate the unreasonable expectations of foreign travelers.   
          My ruminations from this trip remind me of why my observations in Ghana in college made me angry.  Cell phones and text messaging were all the rage in Ghana – as in the US – in the ’90’s, but they still ran channels of sewage down the roadsides into natural streams which fed their drinking water sources.  Why do developing communities adopt technologies of convenience but not of sustainability?  They want to look cool but not be healthy.  They fiercely challenge their children to concentrate 100% of their waking hours to studying math, science, social studies, and literature, but we hear that their employers want to hire graduates from US or European schools.  Even though it sounds like the Jamaican educational system is actually more difficult than ours.  They encourage higher education, charge for it, and mothers work 3 and 4 jobs 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, to pay for their children’s education.  But the country does not have enough good-paying jobs.  So their highly educated young people are working in resort kitchens and hotel front desks, driving taxis, selling ganja.  They want to connect with the modern world through Facebook and Twitter but they don’t care about protecting the natural environment or their animals.  Yeah, yeah, I know:  “First World Problems.”  
          Like do I have my perfect Blue Mountain coffee on the beach or by the pool?
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So, by the miracle of Catholic guilt, I feel responsible.  By sharing only my prettiest pictures, I’m just perpetuating the false image the Jamaican tourism industry is promoting.  I turned my back (and my camera) away from the ugliness, the trash, the poverty, the sickness.  
          By expressing these thoughts, I’m afraid my friends who aren’t as fortunate to travel as much as I do will think I’m complaining or being ungrateful.  Yes, the surroundings were generally beautiful.  Yes, we were lucky to travel to the Caribbean again this year.  And yes, I’m still looking forward to our next trip.  
          But maybe next year, instead of traveling there, maybe we bring one of our Caribe friends’ kids here.  I don’t know, it’s lofty and again feels somewhat arrogant, but our friend Marcia’s daughter Moesha is just graduating from “Fifth Form” this year.  She might like to study law or nursing.  And she’s in the top five in her class of 40.  She would like to go to college here in the United States so that she can be a top choice for one of the select high-paying jobs back in Jamaica someday.  Honestly she wants to go to MIT, but we’re lobbying to get her to apply to Michigan or CMU.  I’d like to get her to apply to the college of natural resources at U of M, followed by a degree in civil engineering so she can take back home an understanding of how to manage refuse and water runoff.  Or to MSU to study agriscience.  Or Grand Valley to major in Hospitality & Tourism Management and learn about how protecting the environment and utilizing local food products is a way to revive Jamaica’s tourism industry.   
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All of this probably sounds uber-pretentious.  I’m feeling the same way I did during my trip to Ghana in 2000.  Like I don’t really know anything but I’m projecting my own ideals – and judgment – on another culture I hardly know at all.  What do I know about the agricultural potential of an island like Jamaica?  What do I really know about environmental protection or education?  Maybe our government has it all wrong.  Maybe recycling programs are a facade and landfills are just concentrated toxic sinkholes that will someday make the Earth implode.  Maybe modern sewage and water treatment facilities are the real cause of cancer.  Maybe our educational system is indeed superior to the rest of the world.  I don’t know.  
          What I do know is that no matter how frequently or far I travel, my favorite place on earth will always be the shores of Lake Michigan.  Ungroomed.  Wild.  Unspoiled.  Perfect.  (Except during that one week in May when there’s a plague of black flies.)  I also know that water sold in individual disposable bottles is the bane of the natural environment’s existence and I will never use one again if I can help it.  (We take empty Nalgene or metal bottles with us when we travel and fill them at the airport.  Or we just drink beer.  Draft beer to conserve on packaging, whenever possible.  It’s only the responsible thing to do.)  I also know that I love local produce when it’s in season more than any other food I could eat.  Especially Grand Traverse peaches in late summer.  Mostly, though, I know that God made this amazing place infinitely beautiful.  For us.  And we need to do whatever we can to honor it so that our children and their children can obsess over their own carefully framed photos of these beautiful sunsets and oceans.  
Jamaica 2014


Jamaica 2014

The Non-billable Hours

Surprise!  No frosting.  No butter, no sugar, no Ghirardelli chocolate today.

Well, okay, here are some fun things I haven’t posted here:


Yes, I’ve been away from here.  And not necessarily because I’ve been busy at the Day Job, either.

That’s probably another surprise, huh?

I’m a lawyer, and luckily I’ve had a fairly steady practice since I got my license.  But in the last year, after making a big change in my work life, I’ve been very Not Busy.  Do you have any idea how bad it feels admitting that in writing?  So many of my friends are stressed to the hilt, barely able to keep one foot squarely in front of the other, maintain sanity, keep it all together.  And all the while, I sit here writing (and not sharing), reading, thinking, working out, teaching myself how to use Lightroom, sleeping far more hours than I’ll ever admit, and NOT billing clients.

A friend inspired me to let my guard down today, though, to see the good side of this and to share a vulnerable story, a potential sign of weakness, here.

In this last year, while I’ve been very Not Busy, I have found an amazing outlet for my time and pent-up intellectual energy.  Rather than pout about it, or take up areas of law practice that do not interest me, or beg Rick for more work, I used some of my vacant otherwise-billable hours to write an article for submission to a local YWCA publication.  My passion for the topic earned me an invitation to serve on the YW advocacy committee, and eventually the board, with some amazingly educated and experienced women leaders I cannot even believe I’m qualified to be associated with.   This morning at 7:00 a.m., as I crossed the bridge on my way to my first Executive Committee meeting downtown, heading east over the river, the sunrise behind City Hall was so lovely I felt awash with blessings.  (This is particularly strange, considering how much I generally loathe getting out of bed in the morning.)  The meeting was sparkling with energy, intelligence, enthusiasm and promise for the future of our community.  It was the best morning I’ve had in months.

In my downtime I’ve also done a lot of self-reflection.  This is a huge luxury that I should not be ashamed of, but somehow it feels as overly-indulgent as having ice cream for dinner.  As an exercise in self-reflection, Rick and I both took some time to consciously analyze our Four Core Values, inspired by a friend of mine who was sharing her journey with a career coach via her blog.  This was an incredibly enlightening get-to-know-you experience.  Everyone should do this at least once a year, and not in a vacuum, but with the people we’re closest to in life.

But the one thing I have not done with my available free time is spend it with a lot of random acquaintances.  During this time, which feels like some kind of major life transition for some reason, I’ve deliberately holed myself up somewhat, concentrating my energy on the handful of people I love the most.  During the course of analyzing my Four Core Values, at first I tried to say I valued “Friends, Family and Community.”  After considering that in more detail, though, I realized what I truly value is Connection.  Real, sincere, honest one-on-one connection.  This does not lend itself well to big rowdy Girls Nights Out, or large family gatherings, or networking events.  So I’ve enjoyed some one-on-one time with my brother and his girlfriend, my mom, Rick (of course), and a few select close friends, some of whom I haven’t seen or talked to in years.  Those connections make me feel completely alive and loved, even if they’re not always smooth daysailing.  The connections I have with the people who mean the most to me in life frequently bring me to tears, keep me awake at night, and distract me from the “more important” work I have to do on a daily basis.  I do not see that as a bad thing.


So this friend who inspired me to write today shared a vulnerable story on his blog.  We talked last week about the kind of business and partnership he sees himself in, and strangely enough, I gave him this piece of sage “legal” advice:  “You HAVE to love your business partners, almost as much as you would love your spouse.”  But if you read all over the web, you’ll hear that love and business are incompatible.  Profits, productivity, and growth are more important than love and relationships.  Why?  Is that right?  I’m not so sure.


In this last year, I’ve had a lot of time to think, and hopefully contribute meaningful thoughts and ideas to a few worthy non-proft organizations and clients who are really looking for guidance.  Hopefully someday those thoughts will translate into productivity.  But for now, I’m just thanking my lucky stars that I get to be in this space and time, doing something I love to do (and sometimes love to hate!) with someone I love.  I cherish the random coffee dates I can have in the middle of the week with my friends and (usually-unbeknownst-to-them) mentors.  I thrive on the time I spend with community leaders volunteering on committees and boards.   If everyone had the quality of connections I have with people as interesting and passionate as the people I’m hooked up with, this whole world would be on fire with optimism and love.  So, I hope this year brings a good balance of Busy and Not Busy, and I’ll never again take my downtime for granted.

My Salad Muse ~ A Vinaigrette Experiment

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Last night was the fourth time in recent memory that I “WOW!!!”’d over a salad. 


I have no pictures.  Cuz, I mean, it’s salad. 

Oh wait, here’s one: 

That lovely soon-to-be clean plate was, just moments before, home to THE single most delectable combination of food stuffs I’ve eaten since…. um… probably February.  (You may notice a trend: when we go Up North, we eat extremely well.  When we eat extremely well, I blog about it, and then try to replicate what we ate Up North, then blog about that.) 

Anyway, that salad, the Muse, as I will now call it, was fed to us at the Boathouse on Old Mission. 

Its proper name on the menu was “apple beet salad,” which was deceptively misleading and caused me to blow past it without reading the description on first glance.  Upon further review, third trip down menu lane, I read all the way to the end of the description & ran smack into this:

“vanilla cinnamon vinaigrette.”

And I died a little. 

Nine dollars later, in the name of research and development, I declared the Boathouse apple beet salad to be the most wonderful salad I’ve ever, EVER had.  Possibly the best non-meat, non-dessert dish I’ve ever eaten. 

Envision the plate (cuz, as noted above, I was too preoccupied with eating the salad to photograph it – bad blogger):  Crispy white apple matchsticks on top of a fluffy mound of dark green ruffly spinach leaves, sparkly red beet pieces (ignore the beets if you don’t like them, I just pushed them off to Rick’s side), a perfect canel of creamy goat cheese on the edge of the plate, and a healthy scattering of toasted whole marcona almonds. 

Then inhale:  the scent of vanilla, apple & cinnamon hit me in the face with more force than I thought vanilla was capable of.  Savory, sweet, tangy, crispy, crunchy, cool, creamy, rich, and somehow umami, I swear.  Divine.  Perfect with the cold Bry’s estate dry reisling we ordered.  

(Yes, I was drinking two different glasses of wine – I ordered the veal as my entrée so I needed a red, too, sheesh.) 

Luckily that afternoon Rick & I ran 7 miles.  I call that 700 spare calories.  I saved up some of those for dessert on Sunday… this little beauty:  

Lemon tart with a sea salt crust & chocolate sauce at Riverside in Leland.  Again, a remarkably perfect flavor pairing.  I almost want to shed a tear just thinking about it.  And of course re-create it at home in cupcake form.  More on that later.

Anyway, so that apple-vanilla-cinnamon salad at the Boathouse changed my life. 

Yesterday, unable to shake the memory of it, I began experimenting with vinaigrette at home.  I downloaded a few recipes off the interwebs to get familiar with the oil-acid ratios.  I went to Meijers (yes, it is “MeijerZ”) & bought some fabulous produce (I’ve found that the boxed organic 50/50 spring mix/baby spinach is the best base for any salad and it makes a huge difference).  The grocery cart just about filled itself with berries, apples, cukes, radishes… 

I pulled out the blender when I got home and set my print-out references on the counter.  I followed one recipe for blueberry-balsamic vinaigrette to the “T” and wasn’t terribly happy with the result.  So I put it in a jar and started over. 

So in the blender went more blueberries, salt, pepper, Splenda, a little water, apple cider vinegar, and – wait for this – almond emulsion (extract).  Yes, almond flavoring, like you’d use in baking.  That was all blended till smooth, then drizzled with a bit of canola oil.  Here’s the recipe – make it if you get a chance:

Blueberry Vinaigrette with Almond Essence:

        1/4 cup fresh blueberries

        3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

        1/8 tsp almond emulsion or extract

        1 packet of Splenda or up to 1 teaspoon honey or sugar for desired sweetness

        1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt

        1/4 cup canola oil

Blend first 5 ingredients til smooth.  Then, with blender running, drizzle in the oil.  Refrigerate for 1/2 hour or more for best flavor distribution. 

I’m smacking myself in the face for not taking a picture of this salad. 

Not only was the dressing phenomenal, but so was the mix of fruits, veggies & nuts:  the aforementioned 50/50 greens mix, sliced cucumbers, radishes, celery, pink lady apples, black seedless grapes and toasted pecans.  If you have any kind of food-sensitive imagination you can know inherently how delectable, in flavor and texture, that combo was.  Together with my blueberry almond vinaigrette…  WOW. 

Next time I promise I’ll take a picture.  This time, I leave you with a cocktail inspiration.  Something Smith & Wollensky call The U.S. Mint – gin muddled with mint, cucumber & tonic.  THE BEST summer drink.  One of two reasons I grow mint (mojitos are the other). 

Thank you Chef Street for posing with my lovely drink.  Your freshly-pressed vintage shirt and dirty martini are definitely better than any backdrop I could design 😉 

PS ~ no matter how much I gush about the food, good friends are the best side dishes.   Okay, good wine is right up there, too. 

Flavor A.D.D. – white chocolate mocha & blueberry-lemon cupcakes

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Today I took a sick day.  Haven’t had one of those in FOR. EVER.  I’ll spare ya the details, but suffice it to say it wasn’t one of those laid-up-all-day-on-the-couch-with-a-box-of-Kleenex-and-the-Hallmark-channel sick days, but just one where I had to stay home.  Had to.  No worries, though.  I’m all better now, thanks.  =) 

Anyway, I had a great cupcake order to fill for this weekend, so I used my time off pretty wisely.  The customer gave me full creative license with the flavor combos.  And I got two full batches of cupcakes baked, filled, frosted & decorated. 


You probably think creative license is awesome, right?  Well, truly it is.  But inevitably I become paralyzed by the eleventy million ideas floating around in my head at any given time, like I have Flavor A.D.D.  I just don’t have enough opportunities to create all the great ideas I see on the blogs I follow.  Mocha, blueberry, roasted strawberry & basil are banging around in there against legal authorities on defamation, NCUA regulations, sub-chapter S of the internal revenue code, networking opportunities, blah blah blah…

Anyway, (sorry, A.D.D.) one of the flavors I’ve wanted to make for a while is a French vanilla latte or mocha cupcake.  So I did! 


But before I did, just after I assembled all the ingredients, I had a minor freak-out. 

I had too many things goin’ on. 

White chocolate pudding, a great scratch vanilla cake recipe.  A box of French vanilla cake mix in the cupboard.  Cool whip.  White Baker’s chocolate.  Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Coffee extract.  Maxwell house mocha powder….  On top of that, I bought a whole cache of ingredients for blueberry cake & lemon cream cheese frosting. 


Gah.  Distracted. 

I finally understood how you could accidentally put the wrong frosting on the wrong cupcake on Cupcake Wars. 

Anyway, I had to call in reinforcements. 

Luckily I have a like-minded friend or two in my phone contacts.  Instant moral support via txt is sometimes necessary in the kitchen, and it was today.  Thanks to one Wilton-trained buddy, I was able to focus on a French vanilla /white chocolate pudding cake filled with mocha whipped cream.  And trusting my gut, I made an awesome mocha Swiss meringue buttercream.  Although I haven’t tasted the combination, they look amazing and smell even better. 


 I’m dying a little inside, though.  I’m on Day 8 of a 10-day sugar detox.  Consequently I washed about 2/3 of a cup of silky smooth, gorgeous chocolate ganache and a 1/2 cup of mocha whipped cream DOWN. THE. DRAIN. 

That’s what I call super-human self-control.  I hope these cupcakes taste as good as they are in my mind.

Winter Refresher Cupcakes

Never fails.I become ardently inspired to create a new dessert by seeing or tasting something fabulous that someone else makes.  As soon as practical thereafter, I go to the store to get the ingredients.  And BAM!  Fail.  Said ingredients are now out of season and unavailable to me, even if they were – just moments ago – available to the person who made the inspirational dessert.  GAH! 

This time, however, I outsmarted the season by predicting that this might happen and stocking up on & freezing a few extra bags of fresh cranberries in December.  Score! 

The inspiration for this lovely flavor combo came from an ice cream, of all things (I KNOW!?  Ice cream in February?!)  White chocolate-chunk ice cream with cranberries, sprinkled with coarse natural sugar and accompanied by two thin slivers of candied meyer lemon.  It was SO beautiful, so wintery.  At first taste I thought, “mmm, this is nice.”  Then I ate seven more bites and wanted to merry the person who made it.  This was one of those ingenius desserts that just got better and better with each bite and afterward had me in a little bit of a food daze. 

So of course instantly I decided (spoon in mouth) that this was going to become a cupcake. 

Little did I realize it would be one of THE BEST non-chocolate desserts I’ve ever made.  Especially because it was a bit of an experiment.

Me and my chemistry-challenged self were starting to get cocky with different variations on this Perfect Vanilla Cupcake recipe.  But I couldn’t help it.  I’m like a mad scientist and when I get an idea in my head I need to act on it with zero regard for the properties of sodium bi-carbonate. 

And what a wonderful experiment this was!!! 

For as much as I hate doing this, I have to share the recipe because it was incredible, and frankly, because I want to be able to re-create it again as soon as cranberries come back in season next fall. 

The Winter Refresher Cupcake:  White Chocolate, Cranberry & Citrus

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes by Glory at Glorious Treats SLIGHTLY MODIFIED: 

Before assembling the cupcake batter, blanche half a bag of whole raw cranberries (2 cups or so) in simmering water for about 3-5 minutes until they pop but before they turn to mush.  Drain & cool.

Finely chop two squares of Baker’s white chocolate and mix with a 1/2 teaspoon of flour.  Set aside.  (Try not to be tempted to use white “baking chips” – I hate those.  The extra step of chopping the Baker’s chocolate only takes a sec.)

Assemble cake batter while cranberries cool.  Recipe is modified as follows: 

                Instead of 2 eggs I used 3 egg whites (changes the color & texture slightly);

                I added 1 extra tablespoon of sugar to offset any bitterness in the cranberries;

                And at the end, I stirred in the chopped white chocolate. 

Fill each cup about 2/3 full.  Drop a few of the softened cranberries right in the middle of the batter, they won’t sink!  I made mini cupcakes so I just used about 3-5 berries in each one but if I made regular-sized cupcakes I’d use twice that.  This recipe made 24 minis and one 6” cake layer.  That equates to about 15-16 regular-sized cupcakes I think. 

This is a perfectly moist & tender cupcake!  Not perfectly white-white or as fluffy as a boxed mix, but it is the best scratch vanilla cake I’ve ever had, and incredibly easy after doing it once or twice.  THANK YOU GLORY!!!

Orange-zested Cream Cheese Frosting

I use this recipe & method and at the end, mix in until just blended the zest of one orange (or less – start with the zest of half the orange; it’s quite potent).  Don’t overmix cream cheese frosting, whatever you do. 

And for this recipe I’m actually going to suggest using some kind of colored sugar for the decoration because it adds a lovely crunch.  And of course a touch of pink which I’m a huge fan of. 

Oh my gosh, I just remembered!  This flavor combo is also amazing in martini form!  Vanilla vodka, triple sec & cranberry juice.  I think those have to be on this weekend’s agenda.  {Rubbing hands together whilst bearing an evil-delighted grin!}


I made these for a new Fan who ordered a bunch of mini cupcakes for a small baby shower.  She wanted some cookie dough cupcakes (the reason I buy a bag of mini-chocolate chips EVERY single time I go to the grocery store) and the white-chocolate-cranberry.  They’re a great compliment, very lady-like yet youthful.  And SO DARN CUTE!!! 

Yesterday after work, Rick laid down for a nap to try & kick the cold he’s coming down with and so I had a ton of time to indulge myself in these little princesses.  And mybe have a glass of chianti for my birthday dinner 😉

Sunshine, love, and octopus.

Last weekend I had an experience that changed my whole perspective on life, if only just for a moment.


Yes, I ate octopus for the first time last weekend. A divine experience. I can’t even describe it.

That’s what happens when you let go.

Lately I think I’ve been trying to be too in control. Of pretty much everything. And maybe everyone.

I can’t control anyone else’s emotions or behavior. I can’t control the outcome of litigation, even when I do the absolute best work I’m capable of doing. Disappointing results in this career are not a reflection of my inadequacies or deficiencies in my professional capacity. They just are.

It is what it is.


Man! That was NOT my idea, but I truly adore the person who had – and acted upon – the idea. I trust that person implicitly when it comes to food. Because (among other reasons) somehow, when I woke up that morning my coffee was the best I’ve ever had. This person has never observed my coffee habit. Yet there it was: in a hot carafe beside a tiny bowl of natural sugar lumps and a jug of half & half. Waiting just for me.

The night before he made us this for dinner:

After a long snowy ride up north, Rick & I took one glance at the menu, looked at each other and shrugged – everything sounded so amazing, how were we supposed to choose??? So we put the “choice” in the chef’s hands. He gave us a little bit of everything we wanted on the menu, and he had no input. It was almost like fate intervened as we finished our first glass of wine. Incredible…

So after two days and nights of delicious food, drinks, laughter and soul-baring conversation, I came home with a fresh perspective about what is really important in life.

Chocolate. Half & half. Fresh mozzarella cheese. Dedicated service to others. Hugs. Raw honesty. Sunshine. Faith. Love. Friendship.

And beer. Because if nothing else, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.