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Musings, inspiration, reviews, tales, and the occasional rant (sûrement!)

The New Year has brought about such incredible change, mostly anticipated, welcomed, surprising, and often delightful. Some not so much. One of my most loved friends lost her mother to cancer just a few months after another dear friend also lost her mother to a longtime illness. I found out through her daughter that my longtime friend and gregarious soul, Marti, died in hospital, though not COVID related. I had plans to visit most of these folks the past year; that shit year that robbed us of so much on top of the many thousand deaths from COVID.

I was personally dealing with a gradual enigmatic illness that was slowly taking all of my energy, creating foggy brain, forgetfulness and a host of GI symptoms that I’ll spare you the details of. It was only through performing a food sensitivity test that I discovered I have quite high gluten and gliadin sensitivities, a level akin to celiac disease. What a difference finding out something like that, and within a week of taking gluten out of the picture, I felt so much better and continue to – although it is a process.

I was fortunate to have a good amount of work come my way recently after not having much of it this past year, so I’m just now acclimating to a gluten-free lifestyle, finding my stride. Although it’ll take some getting used to and I will probably be in transition for a while. A lot of my work the past 4 or 5 years has been with great organizations like GFF Magazine and Keto-Mojo, so alternative foods, recipes and lifestyles are not unfamiliar to me. I’m fortuitously armed with so much great information, many key ingredients and some wonderful and loved people as connections, resources and sounding boards.

Of course, I started thinking about the foods that I might have to live without, if I had to. Or… could I take on the task of researching and developing GF versions of favorites like croissants, rustic breads, fresh pasta, flaky tarts and quiche and so many more? I know that in taking on such an endeavor some foods will be easier than others but I am up to the challenge. Who is Snooty French without croissants, baguettes, and flaky tarts?!? Given how I was feeling, I’m happy to avoid these, but I sure would love the occasional flaky, buttery croissant…sigh.

If you follow my Instagram feed you’ll probably have seen that already I started revisiting some of the recipes I contributed to GFF Magazine and diving into delicious recipes by other talented contributors there. Savory soup by Simone Miller, a lush lasagna from Heather Crosby, magical baked goods by the equally enchanting Alanna Taylor-Tobin. See, I’m in good company, and so are you! One of my favorite things about developing recipes is that when you actually eat the finished product you don’t feel like something is missing. You gain a real sense of satisfaction from making and eating something that is more approachable, enjoyable and easier to eat for that many more people.

Change is good, it is all about perspective and mine has shifted into focus. Follow along here and via my Instagram account as the adventure continues.

Here’s the recipe for Alanna’s amazingly delicious Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Almond-Butter Oatmeal Cookies from GFF Magazine, that I featured in my Instagram recently. Make these, no one will be upset about it – and no one has to know that they just happen to be gluten-free AND dairy-free! À binetôt!

Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Almond-Butter Oatmeal Cookies

(from Alanna Taylor-Tobin)


1/2 cup sweet white rice flour (such as Blue Star Mochiko brand)

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 cup gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats, plus more for optional garnish

1/2 cup gluten-free quick (baby) oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or 1/4 teaspoon if your almond butter is salted

1 cup smooth unsalted almond butter

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup

6 tablespoons melted and cooled coconut oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 65%–70% cacao mass), coarsely chopped, plus more chunks for optional garnish

Flaky salt (such as Bitterman's Flake Salt, optional)

Position a rack in the upper third and one in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375ºF. Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the sweet rice flour, buckwheat flour, old-fashioned oats, quick oats, baking soda, and sea salt.

In a large bowl, stir together the almond butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture, stirring until combined, then stir vigorously for 20 seconds to create a chewy texture. Stir in the chocolate.

Using two teaspoons or a #40 spring-loaded ice cream scoop, form the dough into 1-1/2-inch balls and place at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Top each cookie with a few flakes of flaky salt, a few oats, and a chocolate chunk or two. Bake the cookies for 5 minutes and rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom, then bake until puffed and slightly cracked on top and set around the sides, 8 to 10 minutes. (Although they will seem underdone and soft at first, they will firm up as they cool.) Let cool completely, then devour.

Reprinted with permission from GFF Magazine

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Happier New Year to you all! Here we are, nearly a month in to it and I’m sure that you are all as thankful as I am to have put 2020 behind us and are hopeful and well intentioned moving forward into 2021. With every New Year there seems to be a glut of goodhearted declarations. All of the sudden everyone is going to be ‘Dry in January’, ‘Fit in February’, ‘Meatless in March’, and have ‘Abs in April’, ok, I made some of those up. I don’t know about you, but I’m just trying to keep from screaming or crying on any given day so the thought of taking up any of these well-meaning decrees is beyond me and beyond what I feel capable of right now.

Don’t get me wrong (or started, it’s my blog after all!), I think most of these are good ideas and I am making changes - slowly, gently, and because I want to. All through the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, I’ve made sure to move every day, to get outside and walk, get in a light workout most mornings and a rigorous one a few times a week (ok, at least once a week). I might be baking (and eating baked goods) less, and I’ll probably no longer be having a ‘Holiday-inspired’ cocktail every (other?) day, and ending each day with a sip or a nip, and I will be working even more meatless and/or plant-based dishes into our mealtimes. What I will NOT be doing is putting any added pressure on myself by jumping on the standard moniker bandwagon.

I will absolutely be cooking lots of comfort food this winter. After all, French food is the ultimate comfort food; creamy gratins, lush braises, hearty soups, flaky pastry, savory tray-bakes, cheese, chocolate, cheese and buttery goodness galore, and maybe some more cheese!

It also seems like a good time to do something else I love and that is to revisit projects that I worked on the previous year and dive back in to some favorites. I have been developing recipes and food styling for Keto-Mojo here in Napa for almost two years now and mixed in there I have the pleasure of occasionally working with some of my favorite industry folks on regular projects of theirs or on fun, one-off projects like cookbooks. Ayesha Curry’s latest cookbook, The Full Plate was one such project that I worked on late 2019/early 2020, thanks to my pal Jessica for bringing me onboard. As it was winter when I was testing these recipes, I find myself longing for a few of those comforting creations this winter.

The Full Plate is packed with accessible, weeknight-friendly, family-oriented, flavorful recipes that will surprise and delight with their ease, range and raves. Ayesha’s Jamaican red pea soup with spinners is the first one that I had to make again. A simple combo of canned red beans, coconut milk, sweet potatoes, and broth (use vegetable broth to make it vegan), a smoked turkey wing or neck offers smoky richness (which you could alternately acheive with a few hefty pinches of smoked paprika like I did, or a dash of liquid smoke), and the spinners (hand-rolled dumplings) can be made using a gluten-free flour blend with brilliant results. Soul-satisfying, simple, filling and deliciously moreish!

I recently made and posted the apple turnovers from the book on IG and other recipes from the book are on the repeat list for this winter, a time of year where we crave delicious comfort, especially when it’s as accessible as the recipes from this good book (those turnovers are just as good with pears!). Beet, walnut, goat cheese salad with maple dressing, hot honey chicken sandwiches, parmesan baked scallops, lamb pasta bake and wild mushroom orzo risotto will definitely make a comeback.

A month into the New Year and I already feel like I need a vacation. Well, no traveling yet, so I guess I’ll get into the kitchen and enjoy a cooking escape/excursion. Next stop, Comfort Town!

Want to satisfy some souls this winter? Here’s my adapted version of Ayesha’s Jamaican Red Pea Soup, enjoy! Get the book, and Happy New Year!!! XOXO

Jamaican Red Pea Soup with Spinners

Serves 4 to 6

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely diced, about 2 cups

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 (15.5 ounce) cans kidney beans (drained and rinsed)

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk

½ to 1 tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 large sweet potato (about 20 oz) peeled and cut into ½-inch dice

1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

For the spinners:

1 cup all-purpose flour (or sub GF flour blend)

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and green onions and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the kidney beans, coconut milk, paprika, red pepper flakes, sweet potato and broth along with ½ teaspoon pepper.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the soup to a simmer for 40 minutes. Taste the soup and adjust with salt and pepper; increase the heat and return soup to a vigorous simmer.

For the spinners (dumplings): combine the flour and olive oil along with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ cup cool water in a medium bowl, gently mix until combined. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough until it’s smooth. Scoop out tablespoonfuls of the dough and roll them between your palms into fat snakes. Drop the dumplings into the bubbling soup and simmer until the dumplings are cooked through, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve.

(couldn't help add this, acknowledging my acknowledgment!)

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Updated: Jan 2

2020 is nearing its exhaustive conclusion and as we inch closer to the end of this dark tunnel we are also that much closer to a COVID-19 vaccine, closer to a relief bill, closer to being able to hug our friends and families, closer to dinner parties, closer to my regular lunch date at Zuni Café, closer to being belly to the stage at a live music show, closer to seeing each other’s smiles again, and closer to breathing a huge sigh of relief.

December’s many festivities also bring with some of the darkest days of the year, and although they are feeling darker than usual right now there are plenty of things to celebrate. The aforementioned issues are each on their own reason to pop that cork on the bubbles (although it doesn’t take much to make that happen around here!), and we’ll absolutely do so like we did our virtual Thanksgiving, toasting our loved ones near and far via our computer screens.

Bringing friends and family into the kitchen with us via Zoom and FaceTime as we sipped, nibbled, cooked, chatted and laughed was such a tonic, and all without having to wake that sleeping uncle in the recliner to tell him it’s time to go. No cleaning up after and doing dishes for 25 people. No arguing politics with that one who just can’t shut up about it. None of it, but all of the food, fun, and people you’ve been missing. We look forward to catching up, checking in, laughing, crying, and making speculative plans for the days we can do so in person.

In our home we take a rather secular approach to the holidays and the decorating that comes along with. It doesn’t take much for me to be inspired to festoon many surfaces with seasonal, sparkly, evergreen-boughed, snow-kissed enchantment! Being raised in a home where matzo ball soup was served by the light of the Christmas tree might tell you a few things. Traditions are a big part of it for many folks and although we don’t do things like put up a Christmas tree (other than sweet little yule tree on Barry's desk!) I have forged my own rituals over the years. While many new customs have stuck and a few have definitely changed, there is always space for new ones, as Barry and I have made together.

Not surprisingly, most of my traditions center around food and one that remains in the festive mix is holiday cookie baking, or Cookie Day as we call it. This is a tradition I started with my sister around twenty years ago. The types of cookies changed a few times those early years until we found a rhythm and mix of recipes that were complementary, accessible and doable enough to get 3 to 4 varieties made in a day. We’d then divide the cookies up and assemble them into decorative containers that my sister would have purchased the day after Christmas sales the previous year. We usually assembled 12 to 14 of these gifts and then each took half to then go forth and spread the joy and lovin’ from the oven.

These aren’t your classic frosted or sprinkled cookies cut into tree, people or star shapes from sugar cookie or gingerbread dough. Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies have been made by Mom since sometime in the mid to late 70’s. Light and cakey, heady with pumpkin-spice (decades before it was a thing), and semi-sweet chocolate chips in every bite make for a seasonal offering and cause everyone who eats one a little eye-roll. My nieces now make the cookies for their families, and I love that the family recipe is being carried on.

Dried cherry-toffee-chocolate chunk cookies are another eye-roller, although a bit more for the sophisticated palate. Crunchy toffee holds the lacey, buttery, oatmeal cookie together. The delicate wafer is studded with bittersweet chocolate chunks and chewy dried tart cherries, beautifully balancing the caramelly toffee-brown sugar that could easily be rather saccharine without. I think this was a Martha Stewart recipe from way back, a definite keeper!

Rounding out the mix is a Cognac Snowball. My take on the classic Silver Palate Cognac Sugarplums are chocolatey, nutty, booze balls that should probably not be given to children, unless of course they need a nap. A base of ground Nilla Wafers (I’ve Snooted them up before with more high-brow vanilla shortbread cookies but always come back to the old school Nabisco standard) and pecans is held together with melted chocolate and a generous nip of Cognac, all rolled up truffle-like and then tossed in powdered sugar – a festive, spirited nibble with a subtle calming effect that will indeed cause visions of sugarplums!

We have made the lists, checked them twice, we have shopped, measured, mixed, rolled, scooped, dropped, baked, cooled, packaged and now mailed off the goodies along with a handmade card to lucky recipients across the land! And now, I can start one of my other favorite pastimes; planning menus for our holiday feast – more on that next time!

I wax nostalgic for treats of holidays past, some of which shaped my culinary trajectory. Great Aunt Marion’s lemon bars, that to little me in the 70’s were a revelation and cemented my lifelong love of lemon desserts (I’ve said before, if there is a lemon dessert on the menu, that’s the one for me!). A refined, buttery short crust holds a lush, tart and sweet citrus-punched curd that’s just able to hold its shape when cut yet so custard-like it barely does. Finished with a snowy landscape of powdered sugar it was nirvana and the humble lemon most truly exalted. Where had these been my short life?!?

My dear friend Marti would make and share sour cream walnuts and the most delicate sugar cookies; thin, crisp, buttery and simply but effectively decorated with tinted sugars and dragées. Marti graciously shared her recipes (I still have the handwritten 3x5 recipe cards!), however I was never able to recreate them with the delicious results she consistently had and I’m fine now with the delectable memories. I still dream about those walnuts, a veneer like an wintry iced pond, crunchy and sugary-sweet but the sweetness offset by the tanginess of sour cream and mild earthiness of the walnuts, sigh…

I hope you are able to maintain some of your favorite traditions, if a bit changed, or perhaps you are creating new ones, inspired by our current circumstances. I hope you can bake or enjoy in someone else’s baking. I wish you joy as the light returns and the days slowly start to get longer.

I can’t wait to catch up with folks during the holiday and I look forward to sharing with you all in the New Year. Hoping we all stay healthy and find happiness in our much smaller worlds this season and wait with anticipation when we can all share in new and old traditions in person; exchanging gifts, smiles, and hugs. I so miss hugs. I miss you all!

Love and hugs!



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