Shrimp Cucumber Roll - Tails Up & Out

Always a seeker of how to take ordinary ingredients and serve them up differently, an idea caught my eye the other day while I was working a catering gig. The chef was serving up coconut shrimp, sort of standing up with the tail sticking out. Of course, he served them with their tail shells still on. Which made sense for his presentation, so people could grab and bite away. I’m not usually a fan of shell tails on. Two reasons, really. One is that people often just bite up to that point and leave that cute little shrimp meat inside the tail, missing out the tail section. Two, it’s an extra thing people have to deal with, and can be messy depending on the presentation. But for this application, tails on it is. Tails UP & OUT to be exact.

So, borrowing from the ‘standing up shrimp’ idea I decided to create a shrimp roll of a different kind. I didn’t want something heavy, or that needed to be fried up or warmed up, making it more work for serving. I wanted something pretty, and pretty delicious. Using shrimp, avocado, daikon radish shoots and dab of wasabi sour cream, I wrapped everything up in a cucumber slice. Normally, we buy extra large, jumbo or Tiger Shrimp. But for this appetizer, using a smaller shrimp (medium 35 count) creates a one bite app that can be made ahead, kept chilled and served as guests first arrive.

Since we are all super busy with just days before Christmas I’m not going to make you read a ton of my mind’s meanderings. We are just going to get down to it, so you can serve this up for Christmas eve or day of. Also, no amounts for this one. It will all depend on how many guests you are having. An English cucumber will yield about 20 long slices. A large Gwen avocado will give you plenty of slices, then some.

Ingredients

Shrimp, smaller sized, cleaned and deveined
English Cucumber, long thin slices
Avocado, small, thin slices
Sour Cream
Wasabi paste (amount depends on how much heat you want)
Daikon Radish Shoots*
Aromatics for shrimp boil (bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic cloves, parsley, lemon, salt)

* You can use any micro sprout you find. However, the daikon radish sprout has a spicy note to it, so if you use something milder, you might want to increase the amount of wasabi paste. Use your taste buds as your guide.

It’s all about the green for this fresh bite.

It’s all about the green for this fresh bite.

Instructions

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber lengthwise. And set aside covered with wet paper towels.

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2. In a small mixing bowl, mix together sour cream, wasabi paste and salt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to assemble. I used two heaping tablespoons of sour cream with 3/4 t wasabi. (only 1/4 t. shown below, because I tasted it wanted more heat so I added more.)

Wasabi comes in powder form or paste, and can be found in most grocery stores in the Japanese section.

Wasabi comes in powder form or paste, and can be found in most grocery stores in the Japanese section.

3. To get the shrimp really flavorful, prep the poaching water by bringing to a boil 6 cups of water with 2-3 bay leaves, 1 T peppercorns, garlic cloves, parsley and salt. Then let simmer for 10 minutes to allow the aromatics to infuse into the water.

The aromatics will lightly infuse flavor into the shrimp.

The aromatics will lightly infuse flavor into the shrimp.

A pot of goodness.

A pot of goodness.

4. Meanwhile, get an ice bath ready (a large bowl of water with ice cubes with a smaller bowl inserted in the middle) to transfer cooked shrimp immediately after to stop the cooking.

Nothing fancy, just a simple ice bath shocker to say ‘hey, no more cooking for you!’.

Nothing fancy, just a simple ice bath shocker to say ‘hey, no more cooking for you!’.

5. Once the water has simmered, squeeze the lemon into the water and toss it into the pot. Then add the shrimp and let cook for 2-3 minutes until they turn opaque pinkness orange. Transfer them immediately to the ice bath.

6. Cut the avocado into small strips. Sprinkle with course salt. (You can squeeze a bit of lemon, too.)

The avocado will add a creaminess to this bite.

The avocado will add a creaminess to this bite.

Mise en place. Get everything ready and in place.

Mise en place. Get everything ready and in place.

7. Assemble by laying the cucumber strip down and placing shrimp, avocado and radish shoots on the end of the cucumber, and begin to roll. Since shrimp curl when they cook, I found that straightening the shrimp out a bit helped with rolling it up.

Ready, set, ROLL.

Ready, set, ROLL.

8. Once rolled up, squeeze or place a dollop of the wasabi sour cream on top. (I used a piping bag because I find it easier. You can use a plastic bag with the tip cut off, or simply dollop it on).

Just a little squeeze of wasabi sour cream with brighten and bring heat at the same time.

Just a little squeeze of wasabi sour cream with brighten and bring heat at the same time.

Place on a platter. Or maybe a tiered plate rack. Whatever floats your shrimp boat. This bite size appetizer is light and a refreshing twist on the high fat, high calorie fried shrimp roll. I adore how the sprouts stick up. It’s colorful. It’s playful. It’s just the right size bite.

If you don’t have wasabi paste, then you can make any kind of jazzed up sour cream you like. Or even use mayo or yogurt. Some ideas:

  • smashed avocado mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • lime zest mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • siracha mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • jalapeño mayo/sour cream or yogurt

You get the idea. Mix up a bit whatever creamy option you like with something you love that pairs well with shrimp to make it tad more special.

But wait, there’s more. Because I hate to waste, and I had cucumber left over, I cut it into thick slices and created a vegetarian option. All it took was some radish shoots, avocado slice and dollop of wasabi sour cream to create a bite for the non fish eating crowd. Another ‘leftover’ was the outer peel of the cucumber. I tied it into a knot and used it to decorate the plate. Two for one, all the way around.

Extra cucumber, comes to the rescue of vegetarians!

Extra cucumber, comes to the rescue of vegetarians!

Pretty, green pop in your mouth freshness.

Pretty, green pop in your mouth freshness.

Now that is a whole lot of LOVE going on. You might notice a new love sign. The large one was given to me by my sister, Jill. It brings me such joy that people notice a simple sign, and begin to spread the love. The whole idea is catching on. 2stirwithlove, everything you do.

Now that is a whole lot of LOVE going on. You might notice a new love sign. The large one was given to me by my sister, Jill. It brings me such joy that people notice a simple sign, and begin to spread the love. The whole idea is catching on. 2stirwithlove, everything you do.

These make a great pass-around appetizers as well as one that looks great on a buffet. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and a Shrimp Cucumber Roll, with their tails sticking out!

 

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Post Note: I made these again but I forgot the avocado. So in true ‘use what you have’ mode, I swapped it out with mango slices. I have to say, I think I liked it even more!

Fish & Bean Soup

You know the old saying, “Soup Is Good Food”.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s soothing. It’s filling. It warms your belly, and your soul. It cuddles you from the inside out. For me, it really doesn’t matter what time of year it is, I tend to always enjoy a bowl of soup. Naturally, soup fulfills its goals most definitely during the fall and winter months.

Soups can run the gamut from super complicated and time consuming endeavors, all the way to ‘throw it all in a pot and cook’. From thin, clear broths to thick, chunky stew types. From vegetarian to hog filled meat pleasers. No matter what kind you are making, the key is flavor layering. Building up flavor profiles one by one gives depth and makes the soup richer.

Even though I featured this soup with a simple ‘how to’ in my recent blog post Monday Night Dinner, some of you asked for more specifics. So if you ask, I want to deliver. Whatever I can do to make cooking easier, and a pleasure for you. JuanCarlos was the one who made this soup for our guests that evening. I have made versions of this by adding spinach and scallions. You will see that the add on possibilities are vast. Savoy cabbage would be great, or a scoop of rice. But I like to enjoy it like this, clean and pure to let the broth sing and the fish shine.

So, here goes it. This recipe and the steps are so easy you won’t believe that it takes practically no time to cook. The determining factor is the kind of fish used and how they are cut. Shrimp, Calamari (Squid) and Monkfish all cook in the same time, and super fast. I mean, 5 minute FAST!

I would venture to say if you had all your ingredients out and ready to cut, you could make this soup in 20 minutes start to finish.

Get the timer ready!

A few simple ingredients make a fish soup that will be remembered.

A few simple ingredients make a fish soup that will be remembered.

Ingredients

3/4 lb Monkfish, cut into bite sized pieces
3/4 lb shrimp, cleaned/deveined, cut into bite sized pieces
2 calamari bodies, cleaned, cut into rings
1 c onion, diced
3-4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 c parsley, chopped
2 qts broth (fish or vegetable)
1/4 t red pepper flakes (add more if you like more heat)
1.5 t salt
1/4 c Olive oil

Instructions

1.Cut the onions, garlic and parsley. Add the onions and garlic to a pot with oil, salt and red pepper flakes and
cook over a medium low heat, softly sautéing them. Then add the parsley, and cook slowly.

The aromatics. This is the beginning of flavor building.

The aromatics. This is the beginning of flavor building.

Build up the flavors and let the onions and garlic flavor the oil.

Build up the flavors and let the onions and garlic flavor the oil.

Then add the parsley and let it do the same.

Then add the parsley and let it do the same.

2. Meanwhile, clean and cut the fish into bite sized pieces.

Monkfish comes in a long strip. I cut in down the middle, then cut small 1” cubes.

Monkfish comes in a long strip. I cut in down the middle, then cut small 1” cubes.

For soups, I usually get a smaller shrimp and then still cut them in 1/3’s so they are small enough to fit on a spoon.

For soups, I usually get a smaller shrimp and then still cut them in 1/3’s so they are small enough to fit on a spoon.

No one should have to take the time to clean squid. Buy it cleaned. Just make sure the inner cartilage is removed. Then slice ringlets.

No one should have to take the time to clean squid. Buy it cleaned. Just make sure the inner cartilage is removed. Then slice ringlets.

All the fish is ready to go while the aromatics are cooking.

All the fish is ready to go while the aromatics are cooking.

3. Once the aromatics have softened (you don’t want caramelization, just a translucent cook through), add the
beans and their liquid. Slowly warm through.

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4. Add the broth. If you only have 1 quart of broth, do as I did and add quart of water. Just make sure that you
taste for seasoning since water isn’t seasoned where I come from. Bring to a boil.

5. Lower heat to a simmer and add all the fish pieces. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes until the fish is tender.
DO NOT cook longer or the fish will get overdone and rubbery.

Monkfish in the pot.

Monkfish in the pot.

Squid next.

Squid next.

Shrimp ahoy.

Shrimp ahoy.

Taste the calamari and make sure it’s cooked through. Also, taste for seasonings.

Look at how beautifully cooked and tender each piece of fish is. A bowl of Good Food.

Look at how beautifully cooked and tender each piece of fish is. A bowl of Good Food.

All that is left is to serve it up immediately, garnish with more parsley and enjoy a warm bowl of clean broth with hearty protein. It will warm your soul, bring a smile to your face, and joy to your heart. Seriously, how much more can one ask from a soup?

Rice Noodle Rags with Stir Fry Veggies

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Yes, noodles again. It should be abundantly clear by now that I like noodles. It goes deep, my friends. My love for the noodle is profoundly imbedded in my DNA, pulling me toward them. A comfort that wraps me up like a warm blanket. And so, I am forever toying around with combinations of ingredients to conceal… I mean, accompany the noodle.

I resemble that joke about “have some coffee with your sugar.” That is my philosophy with noodles. If left to my own devices, I would eat them straight up plain. Not extra items need be added. However, I will admit that the other ingredients do enrich their flavor and bring more nutrients to the table. And for those reasons, I chop, dice and cook up noodle-enhancing ideas.

Let us start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. It didn’t actually start with the noodle. But instead, with pan on which I would be cooking. This stir fry noodle story actually was spawned by my husband’s complete and utter obsession with the Chef Frances Mallman. He is a world renown chef and an outdoorsman who loves to cook in the wild, and therefore has big grills and planchas. Thus the impetus for us buying a plancha.

What is a plancha, you ask? It is basically a flat metal plate for cooking. We purchased ours online from Little Griddle.

Funny thing is, I have used this plancha more frequently than my grilling, outdoorsman-mimicking husband. And that is how I came up with this stir fry a la plancha style dish. I was keen on using it, so I grabbed all my veggies and started thinking about what I would stir… fry up with love.

Don’t ask me why I had all these veggies in the house. That answer should be completely known to you all by now. I see it. It looks good. I get excited. I buy it. (It is then my job to figure out what to do with them once home.)

Now with the plancha perfectly situated on my stovetop (I’m less the outdoorswoman grilling type so I brought it indoors), I began stir frying up a storm.

I’m not going to give you amounts. This truly is about pulling out what you love and using it in whatever quantities you have or making it for the amount of people you need. (Hint, you can get an idea of amounts by looking at the photos.)

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ingredients

Baby Bok Choy, leaves separated
White or Nappa Cabbage, sliced
Purple Cabbage, sliced
Yellow & Orange Pepper, bite sized pieces
Bean Sprouts
Long Hot Pepper, sliced
scallions, thick slice
Red Onions, large dice
cilantro, chopped
Rice Noodle Rags
Turmeric
Cayenne Pepper, optional
Olive oil, salt, pepper

 
A bounty of good nutrients to counterbalance my rice noodle addiction.

A bounty of good nutrients to counterbalance my rice noodle addiction.

instructions

Chop and dice vegetables in bite sized pieces. Clearly you might not have a plancha like ours, so you can use an equivalent. A wok, of course, would be perfect or a large grill pan. Use what you have, the idea is to sauté/stir fry the vegetables over medium high heat. Meanwhile, soak the rice noodles in warm water for 15 minutes. Then submerge them in boiling water for another 5 minutes, and set aside.

Rice noodle rags soaking in warm water.

Rice noodle rags soaking in warm water.

I combined the sweet and hot peppers with the onions and scallions. Then add oil to the plancha and began stirring.

Look at that rainbow of colors. Also know as nutrients.

Rainbow equals nourishment for your body and soul.

Rainbow equals nourishment for your body and soul.

Then I add some turmeric and dash of cayenne pepper to the cabbage. If you don’t want any more heat, leave the cayenne out. There is spice in the long, hot peppers. Or make it spicier. Your call.

Cabbages getting turmeric-ed and spiced.

Cabbages getting turmeric-ed and spiced.

Remove the other veggies, then stir fry the cabbage separately, and do the same with the bok choy.

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The bok choy leaves are more tender than their stems which is why I didn’t cook these with the cabbage. I felt that each needed care with their cooking times to keep the veggies crisp but tender enough. Also, there was about 8 cups of bok choy, so the plancha would have been too crowded.

Bok Choy, bright green and vibrant.

Bok Choy, bright green and vibrant.

Once all the veggies are cooked, put them all back on the plancha and add the cooked rice noodles. Stir in the bean sprouts to warm through and stir all together. Top with freshly chopped cilantro, or if by chance you have made my tahini-peanut sauce, this would be a great place to use it. If not, this is great just as is.

Than is a boat load of goodness.

Than is a boat load of goodness.

Turned into a bowl full of yum.

Turned into a bowl full of yum.

Plancha or no plancha, find a way to stir fry up some nutrient packed veggies and toss in rice noodles for that warm blanket comfort feel. I promise you will continue to find ways to stir up noodles. If not, then you can add noodles to your veggies!

Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

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In today’s world of hustle and bustle, technology and device driven social contact, there is one aspect (well, probably many) of our new reality that makes me truly long for days of yore.
Connection. Real, soulful, personal connection.
I miss those times when getting together with loved ones was easy, almost expected on a regular basis. When weekends were spent visiting friends and family, and not traveling in a car for hours to watch a little league, or spent in front of a computer trying to catch up on work. Nowadays, it takes calendars, a team of coordinators, pie charts and graphs and law firm to find a date that matches up for everyone. When I was younger, we had our midday meal at my grandmother’s house every Sunday in Brooklyn. It was known and expected and it was a comfort and joy to gather all together. When we moved out to Long Island, everyone then drove out to us for the day. We were a family, and friends were always welcome to join.

I long for those days. I’m not saying every Sunday but I do yearn for time spent enjoying a meal with people I love in a chill atmosphere just so we can catch up. I fully recognize some of the reasons why this has become difficult. People move further away from one another. Jobs and schedules are more demanding. Kids have extracurricular activities that require more time and attention. But I guess this new paradigm of life is what irks me. We put so much more emphasis on things that cause us stress, and less on carving out time to hang with people we care about. I know I might get some backlash about the kids’ activity portion. It brings joy, etc. But when did sports and violin practice consume 75% of a kids free time? When do they have time to socialize and be kids? Now, that is a whole other topic. But, you all get where I’m going.

 

So given that long diatribe, it completely warmed my heart that when my friend Tecla’s dad was back in NYC visiting from Tuscany, JuanCarlos and I were top of his list to visit. High on the list!! We were tickled Parmesano Reggiano. We made a date for a Monday night and as we were deciding where to meet, it was a no brainer to invite them to our home. Unfortunately, our dear friend Scott, Tecla’s hubby, was unable to join us, and he was missed.

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A simple meal is all that’s needed, since the purpose of the visit was spending time together. We did add an appetizer and soup because we wanted the evening to last longer. More time requires more food. Well, at least that’s my thinking.

Here is what we served, and the elegant, simple table setting we served it on.

Appetizer & Soup

Eggplant rounds with roasted tomato & goat cheese

Sliced eggplant dusted with flour, quick sauté, then placed on a baking. Top each one with a spoonful of roasted tomatoes (sauce), a dollop of goat cheese, some thyme leaves and drizzle of olive oil. Bake until cheese melts.

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Seafood Soup

This is the perfect starter on cold night. A light fish broth chock full of shrimp, monkfish, calamari and beans.

Simply sauté garlic, onions and parsley. Stir in cannellini beans to add a bit heartiness. Then add fish stock and bring to low rolling boil and add the fish. Cover and lower to a simmer until the fish is cooked through.

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

Main Course
Pork Roast
Oven roasted Heirloom Carrots
Oven roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter Sage
Quinoa with scallions

 
Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

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Roasted Pork
Roasted vegetables & Quinoa
 

Cinque colore salad with oil cured olives

I’ve taken the traditional tri-colore salad and amped it up with a few more colors by way of citrus fruits and oil cured olives. I used both the juices from the grapefruit and oranges then added lemon, lime and zest whisked with olive oil, salt, pepper for the dressing. Fresh, bitter, sweet, sour, peppery. This hit all the right notes.

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Dessert
Gluten Free, Dairy/Egg free chocolate tart. This is not my recipe. Nor did I make it exactly as the recipe stated, but this came out chocolatey, rich and delicious. I made a slightly altered version of Brandi’s Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake. I didn’t have chocolate to shave over top so I created my own decoration with a random almond sliver swirl. I must have been channeling crop circles.

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Table Setting & Decor
It was a Monday night so there was not a ton of time for a formal table setting. It was more of a last minute task. So no time for ironing meant no tablecloth, and a need to display a napkin that no one would notice the wrinkles. Deep green colored velvet placemats kept with a winter warm theme. White dishes and gold charger popped nicely off the deep color mats and made it feel rich and elegant, but not pretentious. Just the right touch to make our guests feel special, yet not a lot work for me.

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The heartiness of my cabbage floral arrangement, plus elements from my Fall themed arrangement lasted long enough for me to arrange them at the end of the table with some candles to warm up the setting.

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Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

There is nothing more satisfying than making a meal that nourishes the body and the soul, and sharing it!

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Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

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We had such a great night. We all love food, travel, family, and living life richly. So conversation was a flow as we enjoyed a simple meal together. Cherishing the time we each carved out for one another in our busy schedules, and realizing that anything worth enjoying takes a little effort. I’m glad we all made the effort. And even happier that we were on Paolo’s list during his short visit. Our turn next… in Italy!!

I hope that with all the rush of the holidays you, too, can carve our time in your schedules to share a meal, laughter and love with the people you love. Dig in, fork first!

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

 

Thank Fullness

I’m really digging this idea of posting my gratitude on Thanksgiving instead of a recipe. At this point, you are already in the thick of cooking up a storm and a food recipe would be a bit too late. Although, I suppose this could be considered a recipe of sorts. One without food ingredients or instructions, but a recipe for living thoughtfully, gratefully and lovingly.

I usually pause daily with grateful glee, but I do enjoy looking back on a yearlong’s journey of gratitude to feel the magnitude. I count my entire family’s accomplishments as part of my blessings because they create such joy in my life. So, here goes another acknowledgement for all of life’s waves washing upon our shores.

And as always, I am grateful for family and friends, health and abundance but I like starting with my favorite bunch of achievers - my nieces and nephew.

Gabrielle Brooke

My oldest niece, with a sharp eye for design, decor, and beauty is out there paving her way and turning heads with her multitude of talents. She consistently wows and impresses at her job at Traditions, producing successful marketing campaigns and in-store events with proven, quantitative results. The owner was so impressed with the store’s overall success and increased business that she took the entire staff to Paris to celebrate. Gabrielle, amongst great works of art, furniture, culture and food. A perfect mix.

Gabrielle Brooke in chez Paris!

Gabrielle Brooke in chez Paris!

Gabrielle has garnered such great exposure that it has attracted the attention of other companies in need of marketing and social media presence. Her entrepreneurial spark was lit this year as she took on private clients, in addition to her full time job. She’s always willing to lend hand or good advice, as I can confirm since she has guided me through the social media quagmire. With a blend of kindness, poise and strength, instinct and resourcefulness, she has what it takes. I fully expect her to head up her own firm, using her intelligence, grace and charm.

And a last minute gratitude addition; she will be closing on the purchase of her first home before year’s end. WooHoo!

Holiday Sales Event at Traditions

Holiday Sales Event at Traditions

 
Social Media and Marketing Manager, Gabrielle

Social Media and Marketing Manager, Gabrielle

John Joseph
After going above and beyond, doing an awesome job at a start up company last year, John gained invaluable experience that helped him branch out and build his own brand, Sauc. He is also in process of launching a second brand, John & Tom's. From the NextGen Summit to Burning Man, he is an adventurer putting himself in places to seek knowledge. Through research and travel, he sought out experts to help him grow his company.

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But more impressive is how he grows, always thoughtful in the things he puts forth into the world. His entrepreneurial spirit soared this year, as he navigated through the business world in the most gentle, giving way. Helping others and always putting good energy out in the world. Watch out world, we have a serious do-gooder on our hands. Thank goodness.

Michella Rae

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Allow me to introduce you to the next Erin Andrews… Michella is taking every opportunity to put herself in scenarios to be seen and heard in her field of Communications and Sports Reporting. She garnered a kick ass internship with Fox Sports this summer. Normally, interns just assist, watch and learn. However, Fox Sports was smart enough to take notice and be so impressed with her abilities that they had her conducting on-camera interviews, reporting and field producing. Back at school, she is shooting, editing and conducting post game interviews for IMG Media, which covers all of Georgia’s sporting events. Michella has some of the most natural on-camera talent I have ever seen. Her sports knowledge, research ability, confidence and sheer star power continues to soar. I’m always blown away with her poise and professionalism. Check out a clip below and watch out for her on the sidelines of the SuperBowl one day!

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Gianna Marie

Big things happening for Gianna in her 3rd year at Binghamton as she excels academically and socially. She moved into her first apartment, and independent living, which also meant cooking for herself. She loves telling when she’s making one of my recipes or a pasta dish that we made together. And during her breaks home, she always finds a way to carve out a time to spend with me. Warms my heart, to no end. Her gentle soul and caring propelled her to do volunteer work with animals. She is so good at taking care of those in need, whether two or four legged. I know about the former, as she helped me big time this summer with projects big and small. She is majoring in anthropology with a minor in forensic health. Gianna took on the extra credit by working directly with her professor on an independent study of the analysis of bones. Fortunately, no real bones in this photo. CSI, leave a spot open for Gianna Marie.

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Melanie Nicole

Mel graduated from HS and received a Senior Honors Award in Foreign Language. After years of begging, she finally got the dog she always wanted. Charlie makes her smile, for sure. Tons of schools visits lead her to chose the small college of University of Scranton which has proven to be an ideal fit for her. So in August, with Charlie along for the ride, she headed off to Pennsylvania where her focus is criminal justice/pre-law. Mel immediately made a slew of new friends and is rocking her first year of college like a champ.

Nicolette Grace

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She may be the youngest in the family, but she is a big achiever in her own right. While juggling two highly intense and competitive sports, soccer and lacrosse, she also received straight A’s in her sophomore year in HS. She is a dedicated team member, a top defender and captain of her soccer team. She leads by example with her strong work ethic, making it easy to see why she is loved by her coach and peers, and by me! It’s because of her natural leadership qualities that she was chosen to take on the role of coaching the 5 year olds’ soccer team. She is bright, and funny, but more importantly has the strongest sense of morality and doing the right thing even when it’s not popular. Nicolette is driving, yes driving and doing very well, taking it as serious as she does everything she tackles.

 

My siblings and parents…

Alyssa

After decades of hard work, she is thinking about the next stage, and how to work and play at the same time. That idea transformed itself in purchasing a vacation/work-from-home place in Boulder CO. Hard work and determination paid off. So happy for her on this next chapter, where she can explore nature with a healthy work life balance.

Jill

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Traveling like George Clooney in the movie “Up In The Air”, she had some awesome opportunities of visiting more than NYC this year. Her travels took her to Los Angeles, Switzerland and Phuket, Thailand. Although more air time keeps her away from her family, she did get a chance to spend quality time with our brother, Robert, in LA, with her co-workers in Thailand, and was blessed to hang out with my favorite animal, the elephants.

 
 
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Robert
Continuing his career as a screenwriter, he finished rewrites on a script about a rags to riches true story about Fernando Montanyo, who emerged from the slums of Buena Ventura to dance in the Royal Ballet of London. Robert’s passion
for capturing stunning imagery is ever present, including location photography he shot as he gears up to make an independent feature about a murder that took place in Amish country.

He also started his own business as an astrology reader. He has deep interest in this subject and pure desire to help others navigate the celestial energizes. His research and knowledge are incredibly on point and valuable. He has guided me through some interesting astrological times, steering me in the right direction. Check out his instagram @thestarscience

 

Adrienne & Gene

This year marks one year since my Mom’s knee replacement AND exactly a year later my Dad got a new knee of his own. Talk about timing. Now, between them they have two good legs to stand on and ton of good health.
We couldn’t be more fortunate. They also traveled to Miami for their annual winter retreat, and to NC to visit Jill, Bobby and the girls. We are looking forward to watching them take many painless walks together.

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These two enjoying a gift certificate from their grandson, John, to their favorite eatery in Miami,  Harry’s Pizzeria

These two enjoying a gift certificate from their grandson, John, to their favorite eatery in Miami, Harry’s Pizzeria

JuanCarlos

My talented husband landed one of the biggest clients he has ever had - The Waldorf Astoria renovation. Of all the signage design companies in the world, ribbit, inc. was chosen. And wisely chosen.

I couldn’t be prouder. And worth celebrating.

This year several other cool projects came knocking on ribbit’s door. Some smaller like H Club in LA, and others bigger like The New Wild Dunes Hotel and The Waterfront in Charleston, SC.

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Leap frog! LEAP! You have always been my prince.

As for me, being a part of my family and framily is such a joy.

I have been blessed with work that continues to feed my love of food and entertaining, as well as in the production world. I feel honored that so many of you enjoy my blog. And I am continually grateful to those who buy and read my books… and then take the time to thank me like these two young readers!

On that note, my biggest accomplishment this year was taking the leap, Thinking first, then jumping to pitch my children’s book series Think then Jump as a TV series with my friend, Stephanie Kontzamany/Skala Connections. We went to this year’s Kidscreen Conference and met with several interested parties, but it was the BBC who showed interest in developing a pilot for a potential TV series. This was one of those overnight successes that took a decade. Definitely a lot of Thinking before Jumping. It’s still a long road ahead to see what transpires but I can’t begin to tell you the triumph and gratitude I feel in reaching this point and receiving such kind words about my books, the stories, the illustrations. There literally are no words to express what this means to me.

 
Stephanie and I heading into NYC to meet with the BBC about funding a pilot for The Grumpy Frog!

Stephanie and I heading into NYC to meet with the BBC about funding a pilot for The Grumpy Frog!

Then I had the most unbelievable experience of working in a prep kitchen for a James Beard Award winning restaurant group. Can you say “pinch me, now, I must be dreaming.” What a joy it was to wake up early to make the donuts, as they say. I didn’t actually make the dough or fry them, but did some of the decorating. I had my daily pastry duties and learned so much from Chef MJ, and am forever grateful to the executives who granted me this opportunity. I had no idea how much I would truly love this.

The kitchen team

The kitchen team

Donuts, extraordinaire

Donuts, extraordinaire

Chef MJ and me. I adore her!

Chef MJ and me. I adore her!

I was also super fortunate to be able to celebrate a special birthday with my dear, best friend Emilce in the South of France. Taking time to celebrate with the ones we love… a gratitude ricochet.

And as if all that weren’t enough, this year I also hit year 13 of good health. Each year another reminder of how blessed I am for surviving and thriving.

As much as the big accomplishments are a wonderful to rejoice, and easy to recognize, it’s the small ones I like to focus on. One, because they force you to dig deep to see the blessings in the small gifts. Two, because they actually come more often, daily even. Like the beauty of a body of water as it reveals itself upon reaching the peak of a bridge, or the burst of color in floral arrangement that came together just as it was envisioned, or the love that is felt when a text arrives from a friend reaching out with gentle support.

I am fully aware at how the world we live in can seem bleak. So much destruction, so much bickering, and so much grief. But if we neglect to appreciate, and cling to good, then it will be difficult to get through the harder times.

So I focus on those. So many grateful moments. So many positive blimps in day. So much to make me smile every moment. I, too, need reminding of all that. With my super support system showing me so much joy, they help me flip the switch off on negativity and see the light.

May light shine on you. May it be bright and joyous. May it be filled with gifts you need to be your truest self. May you be the light to others, and shine brightly today and each day. Light of love.

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