(Sugar) Free Lunch


My dear friend and passionate nutritionist Binay (Bacon & Broccoli) is currently leading a super educational five-week sugar detox program that focuses on getting unhooked from unhealthy eating habits and rehooked on delicious, nutritious whole foods.  Now if you know me, you know I am very resistant to cleansing, fasting, juicing, or pretty much anything that involves strict dieting.  I seriously don’t have the will power, I detest stressing about food, and I am just frankly not convinced I need to radically change my eating habits.  I eat pretty well already without majorly fussing about it.  I believe we should all eat a balanced diet, heavy on the produce, moderate but inclusive of most other stuff, and of course avoid processed crap altogether. The end.  This is a diet I can live with daily, generally makes me feel good, and allows me to indulge in lots of small ways without guilt.

HOWEVER, I am really becoming a convert on this issue of excess sugar as a serious toxin to our bodies.  One of the leading researchers on this topic, Dr. Robert Lustig gave an amazing talk last year at Speak To Me on this topic, and the facts just stack up.   I will not belabor the details here, but I urge you find out more for yourself and your family.  Sugar is really killing us – no joke.

Check out Binay’s blog at http://www.baconandbroccoli.com/blog/

Get a video of Dr. Lustig’s talk at http://speaktomeevents.com/speakers/ and find out more on his FB page: https://www.facebook.com/DrRobertLustig

Anyhoo.  So I undertook to teach a “delicious sugar-free cooking” class as part of this detox program, and thought I would share our lunch menu which DOES INCLUDE DESSERT!   There are a lot of components here, but each one of these dishes is pretty quick and easy.   You could quickly whip up any one of them in no time, and they are very forgiving – so get creative and make them your own!!

Padron Peppers

These mostly mild bite-size peppers from Spain are now pretty commonly available at higher end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Molly Stone. Pepper roulette – watch out some of the big ones can be a bit spicy!

  • 1 pack of padron peppers rinsed and dried
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • Crunchy finishing salt such as fleur de sel, or I love the hand harvested sea salt from Jacobsen http://jacobsensalt.com. These are also great with Tajin, the ubiquitous Mexican chili lime salt

Heat oil in a large sauté pan – you don’t want to crowd the peppers.   When the pan is hot drop in the peppers and flip them around occasionally until they are nicely browned on all sides. You may need to take the smaller ones out sooner so they don’t burn. Remove from pan, squeeze the lime over them, dust with salt and eat quickly before your spouse or friend hogs them all.


Gazpacho – serves 6

This classic Spanish cold soup is perfect for lunch, and can be kept for a couple of days in the fridge to have on hand when you need a quick snack. Traditionally, day old bread is used to thicken the soup, but we’re skipping the carbs and I truly believe it’s equally good with just the veggies. I find that the sweetness and flavor of cherry tomatoes is more consistent outside of peak tomato season when the big ones are often mealy and bland.   You can add fresh herbs if you like – basil, cilantro, mint are good!

  • 2 packs cherry tomatoes rinsed
  • 1 bell pepper – color of your choice, stem, seeds and membrane removed, rough chopped
  • 1 cucumber – peeled, halved lengthwise and seeds removed with a spoon, rough chopped
  • 1 celery rib – trimmed and chopped into a couple of large pieces
  • ¼ medium size red onion – chopped roughly
  • 1 large clove garlic – chopped roughly
  • 1 ½ cups tomato juice
  • 1 T red wine vinegar – plus more to taste
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 4-6 ice cubes
  • 2 t salt – or more to taste – don’t be afraid to make this nice and salty – the salt really brings out the flavors of the veggies
  • White pepper – couple of grinds

Puree the whole party in a blender or food processor. Taste for acidity and salt and adjust as necessary. Tada! You can make it rustic and chunky or super smooth – whatever you like…

IMG_8155       IMG_8156

Bitter greens with poblano peppers, pickled radishes, toasted quinoa and toasted cumin/lime dressing – serves 6

This salad has a nice range of flavors and textures that help elevate it beyond the old lettuce and cold veggies on a plate staple. The toasted cumin dressing really warms it up and brings it all together.  We omitted cheese, but a tangy fresh feta or shaved ricotta salata would be a great addition as well!

  • 1 red onion – peeled and cut crosswise into 3/4″ thick rounds trying to keep all the layers together
  • 4 medium poblano peppers – seeds and membrane removed, cut into strips
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white quinoa
  • Bitter greens – we used radicchio, baby mustard greens, white and red endive, arugula and spinach – washed and well dried
  • 1 cup jicama – peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small bulb fennel – halved, cored and thin sliced. Reserve the fronds if you want to add to the salad
  • Roasted salted pepitas
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup pickled radishes (see recipe below)
  • 2 avocados
  1. Place the red onion rounds on a grill pan over medium heat, sprinkle with a little salt and allow to slowly cook/blacken for about 10 minutes. Carefully use tongs to flip and cook the other side. The goal is to have them very soft and almost caramelized. Chop into strips.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the poblanos until they are well softened and browned on the outside.
  3. Cover the quinoa in cold water and soak for 5 minutes. Swish and rinse 2-3 times to remove soapy residue from the hulls. Drain. Heat a frying pan and add quinoa stirring frequently until it becomes dry and begins to toast to a nice fragrant brown. They burn quickly once they are dry so don’t walk away!
  4. Cut the avocados into bite size pieces just before you dress and toss the salad to avoid oxidation.
  5. Toss the greens, jicama, poblanos, onion, radishes and fennel together and dress sparingly with the cumin/lime vinaigrette. Top with pepitas, cilantro, toasted quinoa, and avocados and serve immediately.

Pickled radishes

  • bunch red radishes – washed and greens removed, thin sliced
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 6-8 black peppercorns
  • 1 t yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1 bay leaf

Mix the vinegar and spices together and pour over the radishes in a clean glass container, submerging completely.   Marinate for 30 minutes and/or refrigerate for up to a week.

Toasted cumin and lime dressing

  • 1 T cumin seeds
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 t Salt

In a dry pan, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant. Grind to a powder in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle.   Whisk together cumin and remaining ingredients, and taste – adding more lime juice or salt as necessary.

Marinated grilled shrimp – serves 6 for lunch

Here’s a quick simple marinade for shrimp.  Of course you can swap out the herbs, punch it up with more garlic, or sub in lemon for lime.  Go crazy. The shrimp are still the star though so use the best quality you can find.

  • 3 dozen large shrimp – peeled and deveined
  • 1 large clove garlic – minced
  • 1 T dried oregano – I prefer Greek Oregano if you can get it
  • 1 t salt
  • Juice of 2 limes and/or tajin (Mexican chili lime salt)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 additional limes cut into wedges to squeeze at the table

Marinate the shrimp for about 1 hour in the refrigerator. Grill in a pan for 2-3 minutes per side until just pink and curled but not tough (please – I hate overcooked shrimp).

Serve with lime wedges and/or Tajin

Guilt-free coconut panna cotta – makes 6-8

I love this dessert and seriously can’t believe it’s sugar free. I had this for breakfast this morning too – utterly delicious! Use canned organic coconut milk – not the “culinary” coconut milk, which is mixed with coconut cream and has a granular texture that is not desirable in this creamy dish.

  • 2 cans (about 4 cups) organic coconut milk
  • 1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 8-10 cardamom pods – crushed gently with the side of a heavy knife
  • Small pinch salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 cup wide flat dehydrated unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Assorted berries

Heat the coconut milk in a pan, reserving 3 T to the side in a bowl. When almost boiling add the cardamom pods, cover, remove from the heat and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain the pods out of the milk and return the milk almost to a boil.   Stir in salt and vanilla.

Dissolve the gelatin in the reserved coconut milk, and whisk the mixture into the hot milk until fully dissolved.

Pour equally into small glasses, cups or ramekins and chill until set (about 2 hours)

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut flakes on a baking sheet and toast for 3-4 minutes until light brown. Cool to room temperature.

To serve, top each panna cotta with a few coconut flakes, a scant ¼ t of orange zest and 2-3 berries.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grand Canyon and Beyond: Great Family Destinations in Northern Arizona

Between us, my husband and I have been to all ends of the earth and almost every continent (Antarctica here we come!), but somehow neither of us had ever visited the Grand Canyon almost in our own back yard.  Why?  Honestly I was sort of avoiding it, thinking it was going to be majorly overcrowded, touristy and underwhelming.  Well, we finally took the kids a few months ago and literally had one of our best trips ever.   We visited the Grand Canyon for a few days and then toured a bit around some of the historical and geological sites of northern Arizona.   We had a week but really could have taken so much more time!   I know a lot of people are making summer plans now, so here are our notes from the adventure:


The two main websites to visit as you are planning your trip are the National Park Service and Xanterra Resorts which operates all hotels, mule rides, Grand Canyon Railroad and other concessions within the park.   The nicest hotels in the park and closest to the canyon rim are the El Tovar Hotal or the Bright Angel Lodge.  Seriously you need to reserve asap because everything books up like crazy.  You can cancel anything up to 72 hours before your trip so it’s worth it to go ahead and reserve.

Catch the Grand Canyon Railway into the park from Williams, AZ.  Your ticket includes park entrance fees, and the train drops you right in the middle of the Grand Canyon Village, with FREE luggage transfer to whichever hotel you have booked.   There is a silly cowboy shootout show before you board, and great entertainment and historical canyon information en route during the approximate 2 hour ride.   The view is not that spectacular for a lot of the trip, but do book a dome car for more fun and luxury aboard.  You can park your car and stay at the Grand Canyon hotel in Williams the night before so it’s easy to catch the train.  You do not need a car at the canyon – there are tons of free shuttles all along the canyon rim and most areas don’t allow private cars anyway.

Highlights of our visit

Hitch a ride:  If you can get a reservation, definitely book a Mule ride which is an incredible two hour adventure literally on the EDGE of the canyon.  The ride is totally safe, offers breathtakingly gorgeous vistas around the bend of the canyon, great wildlife viewing (we saw a California Condor, and a herd of rather large elk), and a truly once in a lifetime experience.  We learned a lot about mules too – they are very big, and much more compliant than their reputation suggests…

There is a height requirement for children and it is probably not for people with serious acrophobia.  They also offer overnight mule trips down into the canyon to Phantom Ranch, but you have to book AGES in advance as that sells out quickly.  Next time!

Learn from the experts:  Check in with the Park Ranger station for updates on current programs including free Ranger guided nature, geology, cultural and historical walks along the rim and into the canyon.  There are a couple of great ones for kids too, who can earn their Junior Ranger badges for attending.

Descend!  Surprisingly, the vast majority of visitors to the park only view the canyon from the rim, but it is worth it even to take a short walk down one of the trails that leads into the canyon.  The Bright Angel trail is the most accessible, and amazing petroglyphs are viewable just a few minutes into the walk.  When you are hiking, be sure to remember that you are at almost 7,000 feet above sea level, and it is over 4,000 feet down to the canyon floor.  Be smart – bring water and don’t underestimate the steep climb back out!  Rangers have to rescue well over 200 people a year in the canyon…


After a few days, when you get get your jaw off your chin and recover a little from marveling at the monumentality of nature, there are a number of other very worthwhile sites to explore near the Grand Canyon and beyond in Northern Arizona.  We really just scratched the surface, but here’s a list of some of the amazing spots we hit:

Desert View Watchtower:  Near the East entrance to the park stands this impressive structure built in the 1932 by Mary Colter “architect of the Southwest” who is also responsible for many of the historic buildings in the Grand Canyon Village.  Climb the 70 foot Anasazi style tower for incredible Canyon views.

Sunset Crater Volcano:  Meander easy to moderate trails snaking through lava flow fields, and marvel at this amazing volcano – one of 600 in the area – that blew its top just a short 900 years ago.

Wupatki Pueblo ruins:  Take a walk back through time through this beautifully preserved and very well marked Hopi dwelling site, where you can step into some of the rooms, and visit the geologically mysterious “breathing” blow hole.  The kids LOVED this stop.

Montezuma Castle National Monument: 800 years ago the Sinagua people built a high rise apartment into the cliffs along a fertile creek.  Wander the interpretive trail, learn about how the people used local trees and plants, peer into the windows, and stop for a lovely shaded picnic along the creek near the Visitor Center.

Jerome, Arizona – This copper mining town was built precariously into the hills about 30 minutes to the west of Sedona in the late 19th century.   Today it is revitalized, full of cool shops, galleries, wineries and haunted hotels.  The views all the way back across the painted desert are unbelievable at sunset.  Absolutely do not miss the kaleidoscope store!

Sedona:  The town is VERY touristy, but the red rock scenery is absolutely beautiful.  See if you can find the Snoopy rock!!  And of course you can visit a vortex and get in touch with a past life if you are so inclined…

We stayed at Kimpton’s Amara Resort & Spa which offers yoga, a lovely pool, hot tub, and a good restaurant, right on the creek with beautiful red rock views.   Other ones to consider are L’Auberge de Sedona or Enchantment resorts.   We took a very bumpy and fun 2-hour off-road ride with the locally run Pink Jeep Tours.

Restaurants – Elote for fantastic Mexican inspired dishes (go early the line is horrible but the food is great), and Shugrues Hillside Grill which has glorious sunset views.  If you want to pick up great sandwiches for a picnic/hike go to the West Side Deli.

Definitely stop by the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts village which has lots of lovely shops and galleries nestled into quaint cobblestone streets.

AND FOR NEXT TIME…  Here are a couple of spots we sadly ran out of time to see, but will definitely hit next time:

The Meteor Crater – The world’s best preserved meteor impact site is nearly 1 mile across, offers hiking and a discovery center that sounds very cool.

Lowell Observatory – Founded in 1894, this is the observatory credited with the discovery of Pluto, among many other things.  They offer daytime programs about deep space, and nighttime planetarium shows and star gazing events.

OK happy trails people!!

Posted in Arizona, Family, Travel, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the 10th Birthday Tournament and Ball

Thank you so much great and powerful Internet for helping me throw together a super fun Harry Potter party for my daughter’s 10th birthday.   She is obsessed with those books, and was really hoping all the little details would be authentic.   What did people do before Wikipedia and Pinterest – honestly?   So to pay it forward, here’s a quick recap of some of the party details we created. Hope they help some of you crazy Potter fans down the road…

We rented a little neighborhood cabin so we were able to have a great yard and picnic tables, as well as some good indoor space for the event.   Bathrooms were labeled “Ministry of Magic” and “Chamber of Secrets.”


The kids entered “Diagon Alley” (through the front door) and visited several shoppes which we had set up on different benches. First was Gringott’s Wizarding Bank where they got little golden bags of “Galleons”.  Then on to pick up cauldrons which they used to collect everything else at the party and became their goodie bag.  I had chalk pens and chalk labels out so they could put their names on them, which I highly advise as cauldrons got mixed up throughout the day!

After grabbing feather quill “pens,” they made a final stop at Olivander’s Wand Shop to create their wands.  Yes these wands are plastic, but they were great because they’re hollow so the kids were able to stuff them with a variety of feathers, ribbon, etc. which we called dragon’s heartstring, unicorn mane, phoenix feathers, kelpie hair, kneazle whiskers and the like.  We sealed the ends with painters tape.   Finally the kids picked up their train tickets and proceeded out a side door through a red brick wall at platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts.


Once they arrived, they lined up for the sorting which we accomplished by placing a walkie talkie in the sorting hat, as my son watched through a side window and called out the house assignments. We pre-assigned the kids to different houses to even out teams and friends, etc.   Each child got a house badge which my daughter had traced from images of the house shields, a school ring, and a Spell Book. There are a bunch of sources for Hogwart’s spells online – here’s a good one we used: https://quizlet.com/9342873/harry-potter-spells-charms-incantations-and-curses-flash-cards/.


Now on to classes.  We had three “classroom” tables (taught by guest professors, aka conscripted grandparents/parents) including:

Divination – where my husband read palms and handed each student a rolled up fortune.  We dressed the table up with scarves, dream catchers, an umbrella, a crystal ball that my daughter had made, and other fortune tellery sorts of things.


Care of Magical Creatures – where each child put together a “Monster Book of Monsters” by gluing furry fabric, felt and googly eyes to little spiral notebooks I picked up at Staples.  Honestly I thought this one would be hard for them, but the kids loved this project and the books were each unique and super cute.


Herbology – where each child decorated a small pot with paint pens and stickers, and potted a variety of magical plants such as venomous tentacula, mandrake sprouts, devil’s snare, gillyweed and mimbulus mimbletonia.   I picked up small flats of vines and flowers at the garden store for these.

Honeydukes was of course open for business all day, and the kids had to use their gold Galleons to buy an assortment of treats such as pumpkin juice (mango lemonade), butterbeer (root beer topped with whipped cream), brooms (pretzels with shredded string cheese at the end), muggle fruit, chocolate frogs, lighting bolt tattoos and pixie puffs (aka pirate’s booty).   Children earned a “free” box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans after they participated in a blind jelly bean tasting of surprise flavors ranging from soap and earwax to earthworm and vomit.  Hilarious.

Then we commenced the Wizarding Tournament – a great way to run off all the sugar!   Events included a relay race on brooms, dashing around cones with “dragon’s eggs” in spoons (finally used up those sparkly Easter eggs I still had in my fridge!), a scavenger hunt in the Forbidden Forest to find colored spiders, and a sort of bean bag toss through Quiddich hoops we had made from embroidery hoops superglued to poles we found at the fabric store.

IMG_6675                 IMG_6677

We shortcut a little and got a chocolate Safeway cake with marshmallows surrounded by kit kats that we called a “Cauldron Cake” and topped with one of those fancy blooming candles that’s like a giant sparkler.  My daughter and I also made Golden Snitch Cake Pops using powdered doughnut holes that we lightly misted with water, dipped in gold sprinkles,  fitted with rice paper wings, and mounted on lollypop sticks .  Personally I thought these were the cutest things at the party.


Wiggly kids wrapped up the day with a “Spring Ball” karaoke dance party back in the cabin while we waited for parent pick up.   Overall a lot of little details, but such a fun day, and a very satisfied 10 year old Potter fan…   As for me, I am all caught up with Harry Potter for the moment – maybe a pizza pool party next year?

Here’s the list of fortunes we made up for Divination class:

You will receive important news by owl tomorrow! Your lucky number is: 3.1415…
You will make the front page of The Quibbler! Your lucky number is: 13
The golden snitch is right behind your ear! Your lucky sport is: Quiddich
You have many cauldron cakes in your future! Your lucky age is: 10
Don’t accept rides in flying cars from mysterious wizards. Your lucky color is: magenta
Beware of hooded strangers in taverns offering Dragon Eggs. Your lucky charm is: Blue Moon
Follow the Spiders. Your lucky day is: TODAY!
Hello. This is Tom Riddle. Your lucky number is: 789
It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live. Your lucky number is: 1 gajillion
Troll! In the dungeons! Thought you ought to know… Your lucky number is: 9 3/4
You ought to be careful. People will think you’re…up to something… Your lucky number is: 123,456,789
There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it. Your lucky number is: 987,654,321
There’s no such thing as magic…(or is there?) Your lucky treat is: Pixie Puffs
One can never have enough socks… Your lucky planet is: Neptune
It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Your lucky sock is: the left one
Anything is possible if you choose the right wand. Your lucky element is: Sulphur
Incidentally, that thing you are dreading – it will happen on Friday the sixteenth of October. Your lucky color is: Puce
Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure. Your lucky fabric is: Velour
You will live long and ride many broomsticks. Your lucky day is: February 30th
Pretty colored jelly beans can be deceiving… Your lucky animal is: Hippogriff
Friends are like chocolate frogs. It is good to keep them close by. Your lucky insect is: Dementor Wasp
You have a magical personality. Your lucky food is: Pudding
Solemnly swear you are up to no good and adventure will find you… Your lucky pet is: Thestral
Posted in Kids | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beach hopping in Costa Rica

Here’s a quick recap of our recent Winter Break week in Costa Rica with the kids – great adventure! We spent half the week on the beach, and a few days around the volcanoes (I’ll post separately about that part of the trip).  I could basically set up shop here for months – it’s so easy to slip into the safe, calm, healthy, easygoing lifestyle of CR.  We will definitely add this to our rotation with the familia!!


Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo is an awesome little beach town with lots of shops and restaurants arrayed along a long uncrowded strip of wide, fine, palm-lined sand. It’s a perfect spot for families with kids of all ages. The long crescent bay is bookended by an estuary teeming with wildlife (birds, monkeys, crocodiles!) on one end, and a dramatic promontory of lava rock with tidepools at the other (puffer fish! starfish! crabs!).   The rolling surf is just big enough by day for boogie boarding and beginner surfing, but calm enough in low wind for SUP and kayaks to venture out as well.


securedownload-9               securedownload-5

The Capitan Suiza hotel at the southern end is one of the only beachfront properties with a pool, and just far enough from the center of town to feel quiet and secluded.   Resident howler monkeys frolicked in the trees outside our room, while iguanas, cats, squirrels, leaf cutter ants and exotic birds entertained throughout the lush gardens. I wandered a few doors down each morning for lovely yoga classes at the Revive Wellness Center.  We also popped in for a peek around the newish Diria Hotel in the center of town, which had a nice but busy pool and beach scene.


  • Our favorite spot was Wok N Roll – hip vibe with an eclectic Asian menu featuring oysters, noodles, excellent bibimbap, kimchee, sushi, and more!
  • Bamboo Sushi Club – cozy enclosed courtyard off the main drag with decent sushi
  • La Esquina – atmospheric outdoor pizza restaurant with excellent wood fired pizzas and a small playground for kids
  • For a delicious quick snack, snag fresh empanadas from the Super Compro market at the north end of town.
  • Do not miss: It’s worth the short detour just down the coast to Avellanas beach to log in an afternoon at Lola’s, voted on of the 10 best beach bars in the world. Order an ice cold beer, a fresh organic meal, and a front row seat for world class boogie boarding and surfing. Wave hola to the resident mascot pig Lolita (who apparently enjoys an occasional dip in the Pacific herself!), and rinse off in the hand cranked shower contraption on your way out.


Northern Guanacaste Coast             

      Costa Rica 2015

Bedecked with beautiful beaches, scenic little bays, tiny surf towns, and breathtaking spots for sunset, it’s fun and easy to beach hop along the jewel of a coast up here. Here were a few of our best pit stops:

* Playa Flamingo – Slurp a mango smoothie and order tuna ceviche in a fresh coconut bowl at super casual beach bar Coco Loco. Dig your toes in the sand and cool off in the sea between cocktails…our perfect beach day fantasy realized…

securedownload-10      securedownload-18


* Playa Hermosa – a quiet grey sand beach town tucked between two mountains. Stop in to Roberto’s for a bowl of Costa Rican seafood soup and a game of backgammon under the palms, or book a stay for the views from the rooftop pool.

* Playa Panama – we wrapped our trip up with a luxurious weekend at the brand new eco-chic Mangroove Hotel on super secluded Papagayo Bay. Peace and quiet and pampering is the main attraction here. The restaurant on site is excellent, but it is also worth venturing off campus for dinner at Abbocato.   Surrender yourself to chef/owners Andrea and Paola’s tasting menu of the day featuring the freshest local seafood.

Costa Rica 2015

General tips:

  • We encountered a lot of cool local wildlife, our least favorite being ubiquitous and very determined mosquitoes. Wear bug spray!!
  • Currency – The Costa Rican currency is the Colon, but almost everyone accepts US Dollars, although if you pay in $$ you may get change in Colons. The current exchange is 1$ = 534 Colons
  • Definitely check the weather – along the Pacific coast the dry season is very dry (November-May: Dec-April being high tourist season), and the wet season can be very wet and can make some roads impassable (May-October). The cloud forests are a different matter as they have their own micro-climates.
  • WOW I wish there were better flights from San Francisco.  It was quite a journey for us to get there and back, but it was well worth the effort in the end. The smaller international airport at Liberia is WAY closer to the  Guanacaste coast if you can find a flight there. There are non-stop flights to the main airport in San Jose from Denver, Houston, BWI, Newark and a bunch of other mid-west/eastern US spots.  Car rental is pretty easy throughout the country, or if you are cool with small planes you can hop a Cessna on Sansa Air to easily access many small destinations around the country.
  • Pack light – rental cars and air shuttles are small, and airlines have strict weight limits. Tamarindo has a centrally located 1-day wash and fold laundry service called Back Wash if you need to refresh.

(Note: all pics by our in-house tour operator/talented shutterbug David Barsotti…)

Posted in Central America, Travel, Tropics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rainbow Soup

What do you feed to a group of hungry Brownie Scouts to kick off a meeting about healthy choices?  Rainbow soup of course!  This is a quick fun soup to put together with kids of all ages.  Shelling peas is an easy project for little hands, while older ones can practice their budding knife skills on asparagus stalks.  It’s full of vibrant colors, enticing kids to eat across the spectrum.   As the abundance of summer produce sets in, add or substitute ingredients as you please.  Fresh herbs from the market or your garden are an easy interchangeable garnish.  My only regret is not having made a triple batch.   The girls practically licked the pot clean!


  • 2 red tomatoes
  • Salt
  • 8 oz small pasta such as orzo
  • 2 Shallots chopped fine
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups good quality chicken broth
  • 2 carrots – peeled, cut in half lengthwise and cut into ¼” coins
  • 1 bunch asparagus – tough ends snapped off, and cut into ½” pieces
  • 2 small yellow squash – cut into small slices
  • 1 cup freshly shelled peas
  • 1 cup canned hominy – drained
  • 1 cup shredded chicken (optional)
  • 1 handful basil, mint or cilantro – roughly chopped


Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, and prepare a bowl of very cold ice water on the side. Submerge the tomatoes in the boiling water for approximately 15-30 second, quickly remove with a slotted spoon and place in the ice bath. Slip off tomato skins and discard. (If skins are not easily removed, return to hot water for a few more seconds to loosen.) Chop tomatoes into rough squares.

Add the pasta to the same pot of boiling water and cook according to the package directions. Drain and reserve pasta.

Empty and dry the pot.  Heat the olive oil shimmering. Add the shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes until they are soft but not brown. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add carrots, and simmer for 5 minutes until just tender. Add all remaining vegetables and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.   Add cooked pasta and shredded chicken if using.   If there is not enough broth, add more or thin with water.  Add salt to taste.

Ladle into bowls, making sure to get the full spectrum in each, and top with a small sprinkle of fresh herbs.

Posted in Cooking with kids, Delicious | Leave a comment

Market Day is far away

Wallowing in the doldrums of winter, I gaze longingly at my travel bookshelf and daydream about destinations to add to the short list.  Loving my cooking school adventure, but how do I not have a plane ticket to anywhere right now?  Here’s a link to an article on exotic global markets I wrote last fall for Wired.com:  http://www.wired.com/partners/marriott/2013/09/market-day-shop-like-a-local/


I think my bucket list is calling…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back to School…

It’s about 20 years overdue, but thanks to the enormous (and ultimately self-serving?) support of my family, I am at last attending full-time professional culinary school (doesn’t that sound so official?) this winter.

I have loved cooking at home forever, and have been lucky enough to eat a lot of delicious and crazy food all over the world.  But cooking in a professional kitchen is definitely a new experience.  Not least of which is the super flattering uniform, ever smudged little apron and jaunty white students cap.  Very stylish…

(I was going to insert a first day of school pic here of my in my uniform but I just JUST can’t bring myself to do it…)

Really one of the greatest aspects of food for me is that there is ALWAYS something new to learn, even in realms I thought I had already mastered. So…here are a few core themes I have noted in my first month of cooking school:

Work clean – Move everything unnecessary out of your way as you are working, and clean your prep area, knives and other utensils as you go.

Think ahead – Envision your cooking process and select the mixing bowls, pans, or other items you need with the whole project in mind so you don’t have to keep switching equipment as you go.

Create a logical workflow – Streamline your set-up so you have everything you need in front of you, line up the steps of your project to minimize the amount of back and forth or running around you need to do.

Taste at every stage – In most cases we season food just before it goes on the plate, but don’t wait until the end to taste and adjust!  Yes I have been tasting a lot of raw eggs recently, but it’s kind of part of the deal.

Embrace salt – You can work for hours to layer amazing flavors into a dish, and then they’re overlooked for a simple lack of salt.

Technique is transferrable – If you learn the basics of how to execute something, you can go on to apply it to many different cuisines or preparations.

“Cook time” is a ballpark – Rely on your senses rather than just a recipe to determine if food is actually done cooking. There are a lot of variables between ovens, kitchens, and ingredients that will affect the exact time a dish needs to cook.

• It really is about ingredients – Every chef I have met spends a good chunk of time talking about the critical importance of using ingredients that have been well raised, farmed, treated, shipped, handled, delivered and just only finally prepared.  We hear this a lot in the media these days, but the bottom line is that for better or for worse the level of care, attention and even love that goes into your raw ingredients very much ends up on the plate.  

• Taste is subjective – Everyone has a slightly different experience of taste based on their physiology, genetics and memory/food experience. No two people experience taste exactly the same way. That said, you can train yourself to taste in more detail through trying lots of different things, giving a new food a few chances before you decide about it, and slowing down and being mindful of flavor, aroma and experience as you eat.

Cooking is a discipline – We always reference the “art” of cooking, but a lot of culinary success actually comes from practice, presence, focus, repetition and attention to detail.

More to come.   Happy cooking!

Posted in Cooking school | Leave a comment