Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Southern California Charm- Part One

I had the wonderful opportunity to take a much needed long vacation to Southern California this summer. Let me tell you, I couldn't have asked for a better timed trip. I was on the edge of complete burnout right before hand and didn't really care about anything. I was done. I was finished with everything that comes with being a responsible adult. Nothing like ten days in the sun, sand, and sea to help get yourself back in line.

Not to mention, one of my good friends was getting married, so what a great excuse for a getaway! I'm a romance writer after all. Love is what I thrive on, and this love--one for the books to be sure.

But this trip had a lot of adventures and a lot of stages, so we are going to go one step at a time. Our trip wasn't a rush, so I'm not going to rush the telling of it either. One of the greatest parts about being in Southern California was NOT being rushed, so I may as well tell it how it happened.

It was a 12 hour drive to get from San Diego, CA from where I live in Reno, NV. I have only made one other 12-hr drive in my life and that was when I was driving to Phoenix, AZ. This ride was just about as much fun--insert sarcasm here--and I love road trips, so that's saying something. Traffic, hours of nothing but desert wasteland, a port-o-potty that hadn't been cleaned since 2009...yeah, you get the point.

We didn't even get into San Diego until about 8 at night, and by that time I was pretty sure my butt was permanently shaped like the car seat. But after freshening up and dropping off our things where we were staying, we headed back out into the night to meet up with some of my husband's friends he hadn't seen in a long time. I felt like a zombie, but it was nothing a few gin and tonics couldn't cure.

Three in the morning found all of us on the beach hanging out, laughing, and generally letting loose. We had danced the night away, and all of us had become fast friends, even those of us who were strangers to one another. It was an inspiring way to start our vacation, and that first night, despite how tired I was, remains one of my favorite of the whole trip. Something about being on the beach with good people in the middle of the night, playing in the surf, and forgetting about any worries...it's refreshing, and that's putting it mildly.

The next day, hubs and I decided to troll downtown San Diego--the Gaslamp District, I think was where we ended up--where we spent a leisurely day wandering around. We ended up at a gastropub called the Knotty Barrel. We had intended on just having a beer or two and then heading to the beach for a bonfire with our friends, but my husband and I ended up spending most of the the afternoon there, sharing appetizers, craft beer, and great conversation. It's one of my favorite things to do--waste a day talking with my husband. We never run out of things to talk about, and I never get tired of dating him even after marriage.

When we had finally saturated ourselves with beer, we headed to the bonfire, which was on a beach on the bay. All of our friends kept saying how cold it was. My reaction to this was to jump right into the water and swim around for most of the evening, because cold to native Californians was about 72 degrees. Everyone there thought I was insane. I just swam until my arms couldn't function anymore, because I love the water and rarely get a chance to swim. Hubs joined me for awhile, and we watched the sun go down and the supermoon come up. We snuggled in the water as they set off fireworks across the bay, and I thought to myself, "This is what complete peace feels like."

It was only Day Two, and I was already relishing and soaking up the California vibe. I thought, "I could definitely get used to this."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Earliest Travel Memories

So, I’m not always great at being able to think up a blog when I need to. In truth, I’m a terrible blogger. I feel like I have too much else going on in my life to devote my energy to a blog. Probably why I have like three failed blogs floating around in cyberspace.
Anyway, the point of that is while I was trying to run through the Rolodex of travel stories in my brain, I came upon this one. It is one of the most simple, yet one of the most pure, and probably something that instilled the love of travel in me from an early age.
I’m not entirely sure how old I was the last time my mom, grandma, and I went to see my uncle in the Mojave desert. I think I was around 10. I was an eccentric fourth-grader, and the annual summer trip to California to see my many uncles was something that had been a staple in my life, so it really didn’t feel all that special at the time. It was a given. It was something that was going to last forever.
My one–and favorite–uncle lived in the middle of the Mojave desert, and was the foreman of the alfalfa ranch that was being cultivated there. It was kinda odd, thinking back, because there were miles and miles of nothingness, aside from the lumpy, hilly highway my grandma gunned it over in her 1971 Chevy Caprice in order to make a normal road seem like a roller coaster to a young child, but then…there was my uncle’s house, and fields of alfalfa that seemed magnificent to a young mind. I always felt like I had gone to a different land when I was there.
I have many memories of our yearly trips there, but I was small, and the memories are patchy, but that last year stands out to me. Probably because I was older, but also because it was the last time I ever saw my favorite great-uncle.
I remember I swept the porch almost obsessively because I was thinking up stories in my head. I remember my uncle swatting flies until I thought he must have killed the entire fly population only to have ten more miraculously end up in the house. I remember Jake the dog, and Radar the dog with his weird tail, and how my mom thought he was gonna eat us. I remember my uncle trying to teach my grandma to shoot a hand gun and me (being completely oblivious because I was ten) running from a horsefly right into the line of fire. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I got a tongue lashing. As an adult, I realize it was a HUGE DEAL. I remember waking up to the bizarre sound of the hay bailer. I remember roasting to death, sitting in front of the swamp cooler, and watching Ray Stevens videos. I remember my uncle making tri-tip on the BBQ.
I remember innocence and wonder, and a hundred different things I will never get back.
It was the last time I saw my Uncle Stan. He passed away before I was ever able to go back. Time and life got in the way of our annual trip. People get older, circumstances change, and things that once were become no more.
But my heart is still there, sweeping that porch, because my head is STILL filled with those stories.
And I am happy I could share this one with you today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Low Carb Caprese Burgers

So, when summer rolls around, hubs and I like to grill...like, everything. There's nothing like the taste of charcoal and smoke permeating your dinner. Makes you feel like you're camping.

One night, we really didn't know what to make, and the contents of our fridge left a lot to be desired, but we did have some hamburger meat thawed out, as well as the basic elements of a caprese salad. Hubs decided to work his magic, and created this great hamburger patty.

Let me tell you, I didn't even miss the bun. And I LOVE me my carbs.

This is a great, tasty option for summer that will fill you up without the extra filler.


1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing
Black pepper
1 tablespoon dried basil
Mozzarella cheese
Fresh basil

Start by putting your ground beef in a large bowl and adding about 2 tablespoons of the dressing to your meat. **WARNING** A lot of salad dressing has a preservative that is also used as a meat tenderizer. If you use too much dressing, your patty is going to fall apart.** Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as about a tablespoon of dried basil.

Form into patties and grill away! (I suggest using a charcoal grill, but if you only have electric or propane, it will still work just as well.)

When your burgers are just about finished, put a slice of mozzarella cheese on top and remove from grill once it has melted. Top with tomato slice and fresh basil. Also, we like to give it a little extra drizzle of balsamic dressing once it is cooked.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Warm Your Innards-- Potato-corn chowder

So, I know it's spring, and we are coming up on the type of weather where people normally don't want to eat soup, but I went on a giant soup kick a couple months back, and given I live in a place where the spring season is questionable all the way through till June, potato-corn chowder just seemed like it made sense one day. Although, I'm pretty sure the day I made it, the weather was gorgeous, but sometimes you just crave some soup, you know?

This recipe is totally adaptable depending on your tastes, as are all of my recipes, and all recipes in general, honestly. But I found this one to be packed with flavor and very satisfying. I don't usually measure things. I tried to make the measurements as accurate as I could, but use your own instincts and discretion. 

Enjoy ! :)


1/2 teaspoon flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 half a medium yellow onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Pancetta--as much as you desire
4-6 yellow potatoes, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 parsnip, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
3/4 can of vegetable broth
1 can sweet kernel corn, drained and rinsed
1 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 large tablespoon of sour cream
Cheese of your choice (I used some nice sharp white cheddar)
Salt and Pepper

Heat a large skillet/sauce pan on medium-high heat. Melt the butter and whisk in the flour until it forms a roux. It should smell kind of nutty and have a light golden brown color. Be careful not to burn it!

Add onion, garlic, and pancetta and saute on medium heat until the onions begin to turn translucent. Then add the chopped potato, parsnip, and seasonings. Cover with the vegetable broth and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes and parsnip are very fork-tender.

Add corn and cook an additional three or so minutes.

Add milk, half and half, sour cream, and cheese. Add a bit more salt and pepper. Continue to simmer until the soup thickens to your desired consistency. Adjust flavors and seasoning as needed.

Top with some micro greens and get your nom on!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crowd-Pleasing Shepherd's Pie

I call it crowd-pleasing because it has been pleasing a lot of my crowds for almost ten years.

I have always liked experimenting with food, and one day I was visiting with my dad and he made me shepherd's pie for lunch. Now, while his rendition may have been closer to authentic, I thought it was gross (sorry, Dad) and that I could really make it a whole lot better. So, I did :)

This recipe is one of the first I created on my own and remains a favorite of a lot of friends who have sampled it over the years. It's undergone a lot of refining, but this recipe is what I've found so far to be the most tasty. It's great for a no-hassle midweek meal, and it is completely customizable depending on your palate.

It's not gonna win any points for presentation, but I can guarantee you won't be disappointed in the taste!

1 package lean ground beef
Dried sage
About a half an onion, diced
A bunch of carrots (chopped)
A bunch of mushrooms (chopped...I use Baby Bella. Your choice)
1 zucchini
1 can of Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup
A bunch of potatoes (russet makes the best mashed, but red have better flavor)
Light sour cream

About 15-20 mins before you start cooking, prepare the potatoes by boiling them. I cut mine into pieces so they boil quicker.

Preheat your oven to 350

Heat meat in a skillet at medium-high heat with the onions, garlic, and spices. I use lean ground beef because there is too much grease runoff otherwise, and ruins the flavor. If you want to use regular ground beef and drain it, go for it. I'm just too lazy for that lol. Use as much of the spices as you want per your taste buds.

When meat is cooked through, add the carrots, mushrooms, and zucchini. Turn heat to medium and add the soup. Cook until the veggies are tender (especially the carrots) and the soup has coated everything.

When the potatoes are tender, drain and mash them, adding as milk, butter, and sour cream per your taste buds. When they are the consistency you want them, pour the meat mixture into a baking dish and top with the potatoes. Bake for about 15 minutes or until potatoes start to look golden in places.

Remove from oven and enjoy with some crusty french bread and a glass of red wine!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Grilled Chicken and Pasta Carbonara with White Wine Sauce

I know it's been awhile, but that is because I got obsessed with trying out new recipes I found on Pinterest. I know it sounds lame, but it actually helps me expand my knowledge of food and flavors, thus giving me more to play with in the kitchen!

When I lived in Arizona years ago and was barely making enough money to get by, I was living off of frozen pizza and canned soup. One day, I did a side job that gave me enough money to actually go to a real restaurant for a change. I ordered a pasta carbonara dish and have been trying to make something similar to it ever since. I think I hit the nail on the head with this one...

Although, I think mine is better ;)


Boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2  a white onion (finely chopped)
2 generous teaspoons minced garlic
3/4 cup diced prosciutto
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon fresh chopped Italian parsley
1 cup chopped portobello mushrooms (chopped in large chunks)
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup artichoke hearts (drained and rinsed)
1/4 can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom with Roasted Garlic soup
1/2 or so cup of half and half
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Herbed poultry seasoning

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet. Add the onions, garlic and prosciutto. Saute stirring frequently until onions start to become translucent. Add the wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc) and reduce the heat to bring to a simmer.  

Add the parsley, mushrooms, Italian seasoning, rosemary, thyme and artichokes. Let it simmer until the wine reduces a bit. Don't add the salt and pepper until you have added everything else and tasted it. The prosciutto can be very salty and overwhelming, so you don't want to oversalt. 

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil with salt and olive oil. Cook pasta of your choice until al dente. Drain, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and set aside. 

While your pasta is cooking, set up any grilling device you may have (BBQ, electric grill, grill pan etc). Salt and pepper your chicken and add the herbed poultry seasoning to both sides. Grill, turning every so often, until cooked through and you have some nice grill marks on the outside. 

When the wine has reduced a bit in your sauce, add the soup and the half and half. The measurements are not set in stone here. A lot of the sauce is up to your own personal taste. Stir together and taste. Add more soup, half and half, and salt and pepper depending on what you would like. Add desired amount of cheese as well. Play with the flavors till you get it to your level of perfection. I even added more wine to mine toward the end. 

Once the sauce is how you want it, add the pasta and toss to coat and heat through. 

When the chicken breast is done, slice and place on top of pasta, top with Parmesan cheese, then enjoy your dinner with a glass of the wine you used to cook with!