Muffins & Mimosas


IMG_0065Each year before the annual Home Tour, I’ve made it a tradition to host a little get together at our place before we head out for the long walk around the ‘hood. You know, build up our endurance. This year, my mom, my friend Carmen, three of my co-workers (Jackie, Kate and Mandy), and two of Jackie’s friends joined in the pre-tour festivities. Some of our neighborhood volunteers also dropped by for their morning break after working all AM.

Menu? Continue reading


Dude, you have to try this

The 4th of July or the weekend right before it is a big day for our neighborhood. The neighborhood association hosts a block party called Freedom Fest, we shut down the street and bring in a band. There’s a watermelon eating contest, kettle corn, a barbeque, and one of the local realtors hosts a beer keg. Everyone gathers in their front yards with friends and family, heads to the concert, and then ends up back in their front yards after the neighborhood festivities have concluded. Our neighbors across the street, Jaime and Corey, have a cute little picnic table and umbrella in their front yard that just beckons for a block party. It’s the perfect setting for Freedom Fest. This year, Jaime & Corey were again hosting a party for their friends and we stopped by to wish them a Happy 4th of July. Alex is a home brewer, so we brought them a bottle of his brew. We are fortunate that he has a large brewing space in the back of the garage, so he always has a little something brewing (no pun intended). This one was a chocolaty stout. Very rich and malty.

After the sun set, I (as usual) was sitting on the couch in my PJ’s. I heard a rather frantic knock on the door. Continue reading

Living History

IMG_0068This weekend, Floral Park opened its doors and invited everyone to experience the history that we do, each and every day.  This is our proudest moment… the annual Home Tour.  It’s a chance to peek inside a handful of homes and gardens to see how they have been both preserved, and modernized, by the current caretakers. It’s also a rare chance to see how these homes have evolved over the past century, and how each caretaker puts their own unique stamp on the history of the home.

First, put yourself in the 1920’s and 1930’s when these homes were built.  News was heard over the radio and through newspapers.  World War I had just ended and the Great Depression Continue reading

A Delightful Evening


img_1745Two of our neighbors decided to host a small get together to celebrate friendship.  Cute little invitations were hung on all the invitees doors. Instructions: bring a bottle of champagne, dinner would be provided.  Inscription: A friend is someone that knows all about you and still loves you.

The party was hosted at Mary and Richard’s home.  It’s one of our most grand homes, and yet it’s completely comfortable. Outside it’s a two story English traditional home, covered in stone, adorned with a slate roof. It was built in 1936 by J.C. Horton, who was a well known developer, and his wife.  Eventually a shopping plaza in Santa Ana would be named after him. Mrs. Horton was a great entertainer and the dining room still has a (working) butler’s bell hidden under the dining room rug to signal the staff to come and clear the plates. Can you imagine?  Call me immature, but I ring the bell whenever I get a chance to visit their dining room and imagine my butler Carson will bring me more wine Downton Abbey style. Ha! Mary carries on the entertaining tradition very well, but is far more casual about it than I presume Mrs. Horton was, and there are no butlers today.genMid_PW16006827_4

Speaking of lavish parties, Jess (Mary & Richard’s next door neighbor, and co-host for the evening) and Mary put together quite the spread. Pinterest would be proud of their cheese and charcuterie platter, with all kinds of scattered nuts, fruits, cheeses, meats, and crackers. They had hors d’oeuvres in the breakfast room and dinner buffet style on the long dining room table under the giant sparkling crystal chandelier. Richard had been busy in their chef’s kitchen making pasta of all kinds for dinner, including Lobster Mac & Cheese. (Did I mention Richard and Mary own a restaurant?  Yum!)

IMG_1790But, as things normally go, everyone gathered in the sun room where the bar was. Here, everyone put forth their champagne offering for the evening for everyone else to sample. To make things a little sweeter, Mary put out a bottle of Chambord for everyone to mix with their champagne. As we sampled, we celebrated the community we have built and the friends we have made. True to the inscription promise, in this community we are not alone.  In our neighbors we have a helping hand. With these friends, we create happiness. And this night, in Champagne & Chambord we were all delighted.

How to be Neighborly: A friend is someone that knows all about you and still loves you.

 Champagne & ChambordIMG_1794

  • 1 glass of Champagne or sparkling wine
  • 1 tbsp Chambord
  • Garnish with blackberry

Toast to friendship!

Wine Country Weekend

About 1 ½ hours away from us is Temecula, Southern California’s wine growing region. We have been attempting to get together a tasting trip for over six months now, so when the opportunity arose, we jumped on it and took a day trip out there. It was a great time to relax, catch up, and enjoy simple food and good wine. We took a picnic, grabbed a bottle of wine (or more) at the winery, and set up quite the spread. Wineries supply the glasses with the wine!

Now, you don’t have to bring a table cloth and serving ware, but I find it completes the experience. Here’s everything you need for a perfect Wine Country Day Trip.


Picnic Checklist


  • Bottled WaterIMG_1859
  • Table cloth
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Small plastic cocktail plates
  • Small sharp knife
  • Cheese spreader
  • Forks
  • Spoons
  • Wood cutting board
  • Large platter (not breakable)
  • Plastic bag for trash
  • Towel for cleaning & wiping
  • Ice chest
  • Ice

Suggested Food:IMG_1854

  • Cheeses
  • Crackers/Pita Chips
  • Toast
  • Pesto
  • Honey
  • Nuts
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Seasonal Fruit (grapes, apples, peaches, etc.)
  • Sliced meats



On Puff Pastry…

The Smart & Final down the street from us has the BEST puff pastry.  Nine sheets for $20, which is really good because they are extra large sheets.  I’ve been known to make pizza’s out of them.  Unfortunately, they only have the pastry once every couple months, so if you are lucky enough to be there on the right day, and someone hasn’t gotten to it first, then you grab it… quickly.

IMG_1885So, there I was Saturday morning at 9:00 am, and there it was.  With a light from heaven shining upon it.  The only problem was that there was only one box left.  I felt guilty because Continue reading

Eating Local

IMG_1877Sunday was our second Breakfast Club get together, and what a morning! It was warm, slightly breezy, bright and sunny. The “club” meeting was held at Sue & Ashley’s home. They have a stunning traditional home with a brick façade and two rocking chairs on a generous porch. Their kitchen is the size of a small home with a custom wood island imported from Denmark. They have at least 3 refrigerators in there, but I can’t find them because they’re hidden by the ample white cabinetry. Who knows how many ovens they have… it must be several… (#Jealous) On this day those ovens were busy making Julia Child’s clafoutis with ripe spring berries from Ashley’s well-loved book filled with all kinds of sticky notes and tabs.

As Ashley wrapped up her clafoutis, we took a tour of Sue’s generous garden, and enjoyed the sunny morning. Squash, parsnips, celery, herbs, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, peas, and so much more. My contributions included an egg soufflé with swiss chard and zucchini she had picked and brought to the garden exchange just last week, so it made sense to pay a visit to the source. My other contribution was also locally sourced. I was feeling adventurous, so I decided this would be the perfect time to test out a new recipe with the most unusual offering from last week’s garden exchange… grape leaves. Little did we know we had so many vineyards and vintners in this neighborhood.

How to be Neighborly: Eat locally.

What does one make with grape leaves? Dolmas. Dolmas. And more Dolmas. Seriously, Google it. That’s all there is. OK, there is a tart looking thing, but Dolmas are the most popular, so that’s what I went with. I had no idea how many steps were involved. That said, I found the simplest recipe I could, and went with it. They turned out great. Even better, all the ingredients were grown (except the rice) within one block of my house. Now, that’s eating local.

Neighborly Dolmas

  • 25 fresh grape leaves, stems removed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 ½ c wild rice
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 c chicken broth
  • 1/2 c minced fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh dill
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh oregano
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh chives

IMG_1870Put 2 tbsp oil in a pot with onions, garlic, salt and pepper and cook on medium-low heat until the onions are tender, but not brown. Add rice and cumin and cook for about 1 minute. Add 3 cups of broth, bring to a simmer then cover. Simmer on low for about 20 minutes until rice is cooked. Once the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and mix in mint, dill, oregano and chives.

To assemble the dolmas, begin by lining a large pan with about 3 grape leaves to prevent the dolmas from sticking. Next, roll the dolmas by laying the leaves vein side up, filling with 1 heaping tablespoon of rice, and rolling like a mini burrito, pulling the sides inward to keep the rice contained. Place in rows in the pan. To cook the dolmas, pour the remaining 1 cup broth over the dolmas along with 2 tablespoons oil, cover and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes until the broth is absorbed. Remove cover and let cool for about 1 hour.

Thanks to Toni for the grape leaves and Julie for the herbs!

Neighborly Garden Egg SouffléIMG_1874

This is a play on my Mom’s famous “Teacher Appreciation Eggs.” This is perfect for any brunch and serves TONS. I’ll give you the base, you add your favorite mix ins. This day, it was zucchini and chard from Sue’s gardens. Next time, it will be whatever is in season. Be creative. Stay fresh.

Soufflé Base

In a VERY LARGE bowl, combine:

  • 12 eggs, beaten
  • 1 quart cottage cheese
  • 1 lb shredded cheese (Monterrey jack or cheddar work well)
  • 4 oz can mild diced green chiles, drained
  • 1 tbsp cilantro
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c bisquick
  • 2-3 drops of tobacco

Mix Ins (take your pick, or mix & mingle)

  • 1 zucchini & 2 c chard, chopped
  • 1 c ham & 2 c mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 c cooked pork sausage
  • Choose your own adventure

Put the mixture in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. The top should be brown and crusty.

Noche de Altares (Night of the Altars)

Santa Ana has a very rich Hispanic culture. Every November, a good portion of the downtown streets are shut down and families set up large altars to deceased family members for Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead is an important day in the Hispanic community. It is believed that the souls of the departed return during those nights to visit family and friends and enjoy the offerings at the altar. Offerings of marigolds, bread, textiles, traditional dishes, and candles are placed on the altars. Elaborately decorated frames surround pictures of loved family members and friends. People walk the streets to see the glowing altars, several dressed in day of the dead fare with sugar skull face paint and long lace dresses and elaborately decorated hats. It’s truly unique. For such a somber day, it’s very celebratory.

How to be Neighborly: Remember those who made a difference in the community.


Reprint from OC Register, 2007

This was our first night of the altars, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty, the sense of community, and the pride each family took in constructing their altar. As Alex and I were walking through the altars, we saw a small altar set up in the corner of a restaurant our former teacher, mentor and friend had frequented. Mr. Ward…

Mr. Ward was the band director of our volunteer marching band, The Santa Ana Winds. It was the band where I met Alex. It was the group that tied me to Santa Ana, where I spent every Monday night windspracticing for 15 years. He believed in me and my creativity. He gave me the chance to be a leader. He even introduced me to this neighborhood. I was a docent at his home for the annual home tour in this very same neighborhood I would move to 20 years later. I can see his balcony from my living room window. This was the restaurant where I shared my first martini with him. And there he was on the altar, next to the owners’ other family and friends. Next to his photo was a martini.  His Martini.

I wasn’t expecting to see him, but I was so glad to see him remembered. He was there that night. I saluted him and thanked him for everything. You are missed, Mr. Ward.

Mr. Ward’s Martini

  • 3 oz Bombay White Gin
  • Splash dry Vermouth
  • Spanish Olives

Put gin in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add a splash of vermouth.  Shake vigorously until ice cold.  Pour into martini glass. Top with olives.  SAWinds2000

Toast to a teacher that did something special for you.

Ad Hoc

When Alex and I get together with our best friends, we always offer to bring something.  A side dish. An appetizer. A salad.  Host’s choice. Without fail, they ask for 1 of two dishes:

  1. Summer Salad (more on this in another post), or;
  2. Grits

Grits?  Yes, grits.  These aren’t just any grits. They are life changing grits.  Overstated? Maybe… but I can’t live without them and apparently neither can our friends.

It all started at Ad Hoc in Napa Valley. Alex and I took an extended weekend after I completed a class I was teaching up in Northern California.  Ad Hoc is a family style restaurant created by legendary chef Thomas Keller.  It’s a pre-fix menu, and we happened to be there on skirt steak night.  We were served a beautiful fresh salad with endive and radicchio, which I’m sure came from the French Laundry garden just across the street.  Next came the steak and it was served with a side of grits.

Now, about grits.  My Mom used to try to serve me grits for breakfast.  I wanted nothing to do with them.  I thought for sure her single mom frugalness passed some kind of inappropriate line when she served me those. (Sorry, Mom.  Perhaps they may taste better now that my palette is more mature).  SO, legendary chef or not, I was skeptical.  But, I tried them, and this is where my life changed.  So simple.  So creamy.  So salty.  So. Amazingly. Good.

So, here’s my grits that you can share with your friends, family and neighbors as you choose.  Or you can eat them all yourself.

Sautéed Shrimp & Kale with Grits

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 onion sliced
  • 1/2 lb shrimp
  • 4 sundried tomatoes (Chef Mila’s Oven Roasted Tomatoes, if you have them)
  • 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 c kale, chopped
  • 1/4 c white wine

Put the olive oil and onion in a frying pan, and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the shrimp, sundried tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper, about 3 minutes.  Sauté until shrimp pink.  Add kale and sauté until wilted, but still bright green, about 2 minutes.  Add white wine and remove from heat.  Serve over grits. Serves 2.

Life Changing Grits

  • IMG_17222 c water, cold
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3/4 c quick cooking grits
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 c comté cheese (or gruyere, cheddar, or other melting cheese)
  • 1 scallion, chopped

Put the grits, salt and water in a sauce pan, and cook on medium high heat, stirring.  Once the grits start to bubble, add the cream.  Continue stirring until cream is combined and absorbed, about 2 minutes, then add the cheese. Sprinkle in 1/2 scallions.  Melt the cheese, and serve immediately.  Top with scallions.  Serves 2.