Five Dishes to Rock Your Palate

We’re foodies in my household. Meals are an event, so the kitchen has become far more than a refueling station. Yet, in all my nearly-burn- the-house-down-serve-up-the-occasional-food-poisoning years of experience, my role in the cooking process is now fairly limited. (Let’s be honest, I’m only allowed to touch the occasional spatula.) So essentially, I have the privilege of salivating over the menu- taking on the ever important role as Taste Tester– while my husband does all the fancy footwork to prepare each heavenly dish. 

But as much cooking as we do at home, we adore eating out. It’s exhilarating to experience a brand new food, bite into a unique version of an old favorite, and then just melt into the tabletop because it’s THAT good. Here are five dishes I can’t get out of my head….

1.) The Dining Room, Little Palm Island Resort. Dish to Die For: Prime Beef Châteaubriand, Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Foie Gras

Let’s get a little romantic. Close your eyes, and envision small, round tables set just off the beach, ocean waters lapping in the background at sunset, tiny Key deer grazing the edge of white tablecloths like magical creatures. Warm breezes kiss your skin just as a waiter arrives, carrying a silver platter like he’s about to bequeath you the keys to the kingdom. Whisking away the cover, you visually feast on a bed of buttery Caribbean lobster, atop tender prime beef, subtly sauced with rich foie gras, and graced with a generous shaving of truffles. The lightness of the lobster marries so well with the richness of the beef, highlighted by strong, tangy flavors of truffles and the silky texture of foie gras. Size was no match for my appetite: I savored every last bite.

2.) Joe’s Seafood Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Chicago. Dish to Die For: Double-Cut Colorado Lamb Chops. 

Walking into Joe’s is like stepping back in time to the days of swagger. Tuxedoed wait staff, rich linens, and a Sinatra-esque dining room sends the immediate message that diners are about to be really well-cared for. But more amazing than the atmosphere is the food. When dining at Joe’s, stone crab has to be ordered, and lots of it. Luckily, stone crab is so light and delicious, it really qualifies- in my book– as both appetizer and dessert— and by that I mean, it’s essential to order enough to continuously inhale throughout the meal. But beyond the crab,  Joe’s has an amazing menu, including one I knew was going to blow my mind: double-cut Colorado lamb chops with mint chimichurri sauce. I knew these chops were going to be unbelievably tender, barely-there salt savory, and minty, tangy-sweet. They lived up to every expectation.

3.) The Turf Room, North Aurora.  Dish to Die For: Butternut Squash “Mock” Risotto

Before I describe the universal wonder that is butternut mock risotto, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the most vital piece of advice in dining at the Turf Room: bring your thirst buds. Yes, yes, it’s all about the food…and the food is one-hundred percent delicious, but the cocktail menu at TR is out of this world. So water up before stepping foot in the door, because Jack, Jose, and Captain have some particularly delicious plans in store for the adventurous imbiber. But back to the food…I love fall dishes that feature warm, whipped squash…but The Turf Room takes it to a whole new level with the tanginess of blue cheese, savory shallot, and the crunch of candied walnuts. This side dish was so good, I actually stopped eating my entree just to make more room for it.

4.) Camille’s, Key West. Dish to Die ForNorwegian Eggs Benedict

My soul could live forever in Key West, so it’s only fitting that one of my favorite meals is served in an eclectic restaurant on Simonton Street, just blocks away from the Heron House, our favorite place to stay. Eggs Benedict is a delicious dish in any form, but to me, nothing tastes better than the Norwegian version. Smoked salmon on a crisp English muffin, topped with poached eggs, swimming in buttery Hollandaise. Camille’s eggs are always the perfect temperature, breaking the yolk just as my fork dips into the side of the egg, pooling the smoky salmon with savory yellow. I could eat breakfast all day.

5.) Better than Sex, Key West. Dish to Die For: Try everything.

Dessert is supposed to be last. Eat vegetables. Drink milk, and, maybe…if you have room after all that…dessert. But in this tiny, busy, candle-lit restaurant, dessert is the only item on the menu. From cocktails to coffee, every beverage is served in a glass coated in white chocolate, milk chocolate, or caramel. Pair a sweet beverage with bread pudding, molten chocolate cake, peanut butter silk pie, or lime cream pie. Each dish is arranged sensually on the plate, named to inspire a wink and a smirk from diners and wait staff alike. Eating vegetables may be the best way to keep our bodies healthy, but eating dessert feeds our hearts and souls.

Bon Appetit.




Five Ways to “Adult” Like the Child Inside

Adult life is not exactly a picnic. Sure, there are plenty of adventures and successes, but that feeling of carefreedom is missing, and sometimes, the reality of this is… sad. These days, yearning for that kind of emotional vacation sends me back to childhood. Not to the years of breakouts, break-ups, and breakdowns, but farther back…to digging moats in the backyard after a hard rain, to playing so hard I fell asleep face-first in a bed of toys, to dressing up in Mom’s old clothes while spinning Three Dog Night on a miniature record player. I’d like to go backward, not to rewind or redo, but to recharge. Hop into my time machine…to five easy ways we can “adult” like a child.

1.) Dance Parties. My daughter loves to sing. It’s invigorating to watch her belt out the lyrics to TOP’s “Tear in my Heart” or Queen’s “Bicycle” because she sings like her lungs are going to explode. She sings like it’s the only thing that matters. She sings like we all used to do, and I miss that. I miss donning fake jewels and fancy dresses in my cousin’s basement as we channeled Madonna for a “Material Girl” showdown. So the next time you see that weird girl in the car lane next to you (okay, so it’s me), blasting “Sweet Child of Mine”, air-guitaring Slash’s finest, Axel-dancing through the final chords…join in. Let’s all sing like we’re four again.

2.) Dress-up Days. Think giant purple clown hair. Gorilla feet. Leisure suits and poodle skirts. As adults, we aren’t invited to costume days that often. As kids, dress-up themes were plastered all over the school calendar–each one an opportunity to be someone else, if even for just a moment. But we can still enjoy the magic of pretend by organizing our own corporate theme days, Ugly Sweater Christmas parties, Dress-Like-Your-Favorite-Deciduous (Arbor Day anyone?), or at the very least, actually participating when we get that next crazy costume invite. See you at the Hogwarts Convention.

3.) PlaygroundsSkinned knees, run-amok hair, the smell of sweaty metal on the palms of our hands…playgrounds are magical. Barreling down a blue, plastic slide to bury your feet in just-hot-enough sand between your toes is a perfect way to reinvigorate that child inside. Whether we’re chasing our own kids or goofing around with a pack of “grown-up” kids, the playground is still a haven. Swing on.

4.) Play-Doh. Years ago, I attended a Teacher’s Institute training that included creating neurons out of pipe cleaners…come to think of it, there may have also been singing. Yep, pretty sure there was some very folksy sort of singing… But as much as my colleagues and I joked about how “lame” the activity was…(High school teachers are the worst when it comes to being too cool for school- literally)…I miss the playfulness of that training. Playing with pipe cleaners is fun. Just like Legos and bubbles and finger painting. It’s the kind of fun we all secretly enjoy, so why not just own it?

5.) Bounce House. Remember bouncing so high your stomach jumped into your throat? That out-of-control feeling when we jump up and can’t guarantee we’ll land on our feet is exhilarating. What’s so amazing about 2016 is the availability of that feeling without actually risking your neck….welcome to the bounce house. So maybe it’s under the guise of “protecting” your kid/niece/baby brother, but once we’re inside that netted bouncy playhouse…it’s on. So rather than swipe idly at the screen of our phones as the sounds of bounce heaven ricochet around us, let’s dive in, climb the tiny-footed rope ladder, catapult down the air-filled giant slide and just bounce.

Go on…be a kid again. 


Five Ways to Impress Your Teacher

As these summer days languish- and for some early bird school districts like mine- already linger in the rear view mirror, the introduction between teachers and students is right around the corner. First impressions are hard to shake– research suggests that it takes seven positive meetings to negate one bad impression–which is all the more reason to consider introductions a fresh start, something we should embrace heartily.

I’ve met so many extraordinary students in my years of teaching, but not gonna lie, certain students stand out in my memory more than others. Many kids believe that the ones I’ll love the most are the “good test takers”, the ‘A’ students, the kids who raise their hands, and always seem to know the answer. And while it’s true that I do appreciate those students very much, those are not the only qualities I love. In fact, they’re not even the traits I love most. In other words, you don’t have to be the highest achieving student in class to make a fantastic impression.

As you prepare to walk the halls this fall, check out these ways to knock the socks off your teachers.

1.) Ask genuine questions. Every teacher has been subject to the “tangent” game: the one where kids try earnestly to lead instructors off topic by asking a stream of questions about Rudy Giuliani, pungent cheeses, or the inherent connection between One Direction and the Apocalypse. Admittedly, it’s fun to talk about random things– even for teachers–but that’s not the same as asking a “genuine” question about String Theory. Be real with your teachers by asking questions that you actually what to know the answer to. They’ll love you for being engaged and thinking beyond the basics.

2.) Embrace their “people-ness”. Teachers want to be liked just as much as you do, and not just because they know their subject matter. They want to be recognized for their humor, creativity, friendliness, and exotic animal collections. Instead of focusing solely on those Algebra problems every morning, start the year with a little curiosity about Mrs. Johnson’s boa constrictor, Mr.Roberto’s punk band, and Miss Milchewski’s annual pilgrimage to The Great Ball of Yarn. 

3.) Be compassionate to your peersWhen the boy sitting next to you spills the contents of his entire book bag on the floor, why not be the first to help him pick it up? Extending kindness to our peers is not only the considerate thing to do, it builds good Karma, and everyone can use a little banking in that department. Taking a moment to step away from the seductive glow of the cell phone screen in order to observe the needs of those around us is a good way to remind ourselves how vast the world really is.

4.) Make eye contact. Don’t worry: I’m not suggesting that students stare deeply into teachers’ eyes–that’s creepy– but meeting Mr. Ellman’s gaze when he’s talking to the class signals attentiveness. Let’s face it: even if you’re avidly considering every word that drops from Miss Coleson’s lips, if you stare intensely at your desktop, she might assume you’re actually contemplating your latest Snapchat rather than the merits of the Monroe Doctrine.

5.) Press “pause”. I saved the toughest for last. Pressing pause is the hardest because it involves our emotions, and the impulse to react first, think second. It’s happened to all of us: the moment when we snapped in reaction to someone else’s words, and before you know it, a firestorm of angry messiness is exploding for all to see. So…press pause. The next time a fellow student or teacher threatens to “push your buttons”, press pause instead. There’s more strength and dignity in self-control than in the quick satisfaction of an angry comeback.

Enjoy your school year! 


Five Reasons to Read YA Lit

Growing up, the genre of Young Adult literature available to me was fairly small. Sure, I enjoyed detective work of the Bobbsey Twins & Nancy Drew; coming of age tales in Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High; and stark, realistic fiction by Paul Zindel, Richard Peck, and Cynthia Voigt. These titles were inspiring and entertaining, sending me eagerly unwrapping copies for every major gift-giving event (Christmas, birthday, Tuesday…) I gratefully pay homage to these YA trailblazers, yet I also can’t help but swim in a pool of jealousy when I view the vast titles available to today’s teen readers. What I wouldn’t have given to add a little John Green, Sarah Dessen, Rainbow Rowell, Simone Elkeles, Veronica Roth, or Victoria Aveyard to my repertoire as I navigated the murky waters of high school. But what I’ve discovered today, is that it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since I was a teen because YA lit is deliciously addictive and entertaining for readers of ANY age.

1.) Universality

We’ve all been there. Though we will diverge greatly in our adult lives from the paths of our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors–high school is a mandatory experience. Every one of us can remember athletic events, dating highs and lows, good teachers, bad teachers, embarrassing moments, cafeteria food, exams, Who’s Who and Who Isn’t Who….the list goes on and on. So take a trip back to teen life by reading YA, or if you’re in the midst right now, stay and ruminate with a great story to share the angst.

2.) Catharsis

Who wouldn’t like a temporary time travel experience? Just a quick hop back to the moment when Ms. Queen Bee orchestrated a humiliating scheme, but this time, we’d know what to say; or the time we chickened out at that key audition, tryout, prom invitation. You name it: I guarantee there’s a least one moment we’d all like a second chance to handle. Until Apple invents iTravel, there’s little hope of going back…except in spirit. YA lit is a great chance to root for the teenage experience.

3.) Hope

There’s plenty of darkness in YA lit, but the difference between the tragedy of adult fiction and the tragedy of young adult fiction is measured in shades of hope. Despite all that the hero faces, if he’s the star of a YA novel, his chances of coming out the other side are pretty good. Some may say this detracts from the reality of the experience, but in every romantic comedy or action-adventure story line, we lovingly expect the same, so why not embrace the kernels of optimism in these dramas?

4.) Fountain of Youth

Vowing to stay young at heart? Reading about every exciting first in life: school dance, rock concert, blushing romance…these thrills might only be new to us once, but in the eyes of YA characters, they become new all over again.

5.) Awakening

At the heart of every good young adult novel lies a deep connection to the power of relationships. YA celebrates best friendships, first loves, sibling bonds, and the truths we all long to uncover about our parents. It celebrates finding the Real Deal and awakening the self-actualized versions of ourselves, or at the very least, taking the first steps toward that completeness we all long to achieve.

Happy reading.

Five Heroines with Lovable Sass

The “good girl” persona is overrated. I’m not suggesting crime streaks, mean streaks, or streaking of any kind…but there’s something to be said for a little rebellion, a little edge, and maybe, just maybe, an awful lot of sass.These fictional heroines are worth noting for their irresistible sass.

1.) Nancy Drew- Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew Case Files

I hooked onto Nancy Drew’s detective work as a young reader, loving every second of her misadventures- the ones where she worked to solve cases as a teenager, surrounded by adults who constantly doubted her ability to “get the bad guy”. It was the first time I really wanted to be someone else, to walk in her shoes, to experience the same excitement and glory. Hands down, one of the traits that makes Ms. Drew so great is her willingness to set aside her personal security if it will move her closer to rectifying a wrong or following the path to justice. That independence, along with the courage to stand up for what she believes is right makes her a wonderfully sassy heroine.

2.) Jo March- Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Stepping away from the cloak and dagger world of Nancy Drew, I eagerly grabbed onto the bold, unconventional style of Jo March. She seemed less “perfect” than Nancy: more approachable yet still admirable in her willingness to step outside the norm of feminine expectations. Jo is wily, stubborn, and endearingly flawed, pushing away love because she’s afraid it might swallow her whole, all while holding tight to her values with ferocity. Each time she stands up for her independence, she’s deliciously sassy.

3.) Elizabeth Bennett- Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice

Though I’d never want to return to the days of women expected to be seen and not heard, I wouldn’t mind spending a day in Elizabeth Bennett’s world, just to be her confidante. With her quick wit, eloquence, and fiery determination, she’s the kind of woman who speaks her mind exactly, but somehow manages to maintain a little grace. The way she fights for her sisters’ hearts and reputations is just as admirable as the way she stubbornly protects her own. The sassy way she addresses Mr. Darcy is also incredibly entertaining.

4.) Scarlett O’Hara- Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind

Okay, so Scarlett is probably the least likable heroine on this list, simply because she often acts like a giant bulldozer, obliterating anyone or anything in her path to personal satisfaction. Yet, she retains heroic greatness every time she perseveres through the toughest circumstances (war, death, poverty) and manages to retain a sense of dignity. Yes, she’ll steal your boyfriend and cheat your sister, but she’ll never give up fighting for what she believes in, and she’ll look devastatingly beautiful while doing it: sassy.

5.) Tris Prior- Veronica Roth’s Divergent

I love young adult literature, so I can’t leave my list of worthy heroines without at least one from the genre I’ve fallen for. As soon as I stared reading Divergent, I felt a kinship with Tris. She’s bold, stubborn, and independent, yet often underestimated. It takes time for her to establish her worth, in large part because she doesn’t easily fall onto one path: she’s a girl who follows her heart, regardless of where that takes her. The fact that she burns her own path is what earns her the sassy badge.