Six Months In


FP Yellow cropped2On March 13, 2016, with the encouragement of my Breakfast Club, Neighborly Life was launched.  The goal?  To share Life / Recipes / Stories / Tips / History.  I’ve been surprised by the level of interest, and responses to my posts.

Thank you for your support & interest!  If you haven’t yet, I welcome you to follow me by clicking the “FOLLOW” button on the right, or bottom of this post, and entering your email.  Don’t forget to confirm your follow by responding to the automated email!

flagSo here’s the highlights of the last six months: Continue reading


The Tap Room

We have a beautiful home, but one thing, and one thing only, happens when our friends come over. We leave the beautiful house, all head to the back yard, and eventually end up in the “Tap Room.” This is a huge garage space that was constructed 2 owners ago as a car workshop. The last owners had an art/photography studio in there. We’ve turned it into a play space and workshop for Alex.

IMG_0914My husband is a home brewer, so one year I bought him a kegerator for Christmas (#WifeoftheYear). Now, he always has some home brew on tap, and we’ve created a pretty comfortable space for us and our friends. This is the place where you can grab a beer, kick your feet up, listen to music, play darts, and dance. (That’s usually the order of all our parties in the Tap Room, by the way.)

How to be Neighborly: When in the Tap Room… Dance.

What goes with beer? 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

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



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.

How does your garden grow?

Unlike a lot of Southern California, we are fortunate to have some larger lots in our neighborhood. They aren’t huge, but they are pretty good sizes for an urban community. Many of our neighbors use their land to grow all kinds of fruits and veggies. We even have a neighbor that hosts bee colonies which help pollinate all that our gardens produce. I have a small herb garden just outside my kitchen that is always filled with Mint, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary and Basil, and we recently added a raised planter. They’re on the south facing side of the house and they do quite well with very little effort on my part. Alex may differ with me on that as he is the designated waterer. We also have a large avocado tree that produces small but creamy fruit. For anyone that gardens, you understand that a lot of what you produce goes to waste, because there are only so many (insert fruit or veg here) you can consume.

Enter Sue, gardener extraordinaire, and even better neighbor. She’s an avid gardener whose side yard produces some beautiful tomatoes and other gems that her partner Ashley whips up into divine cuisine. She had a brainstorm after meeting with several local home gardeners who all faced the same dilemma- an abundance of home grown goodies but a lack of diversity. So, she created the Garden Exchange.

How to be Neighborly: When life gives you (enter harvest here), trade them.

Depending on the season, home gardeners meet every 2-4 weeks at a designated host’s home and exchange their crop. You place your harvest on a table, and then you get to “shop” from the local “market.” BYOF (fruit). BYOV (veg). BYOS (snacks). BYOB (beverage). All free. Take as much as you brought. All honor system. Surprisingly there are always leftovers. The exchanges have offered products ranging from tomatoes, eggplant, kale, potatoes, rhubarb, lemongrass, peppers, persimmons, citrus, avocados, and herbs, to honey, eggs, baked goods, succulents, homemade beer and sangria. Since my garden has limited production, I usually bring something homemade to share. I’ve done pumpkin bread, mustard, rosemary cashews, and the persimmon bread using persimmons from the prior exchange.

Last night’s was hosted at my house, and we attached a theme to this one. The flowers are currently in full bloom, so we encouraged attendees to bring a floral arrangement from their clippings. Wow. Was it stunning. My BYOS was a contribution of simple carrot soup.

Fast & Easy Carrot SoupIMG_1820

  • 6 large carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • ½ onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 14 oz can tomatoes

Put all ingredients, except tomatoes, in a pot and just cover the veggies with water. Bring the water to a boil and allow carrots to cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Put the carrot mixture into a blender with the tomatoes and blend until smooth. Adjust salt to your taste.

How to Host Your Own Garden ExchangeIMG_1822

  1. Location, Location, Location. Pick a host home and evening (we found 7pm works well as people will be home from work by then)
  2. Publicize. Start with neighbors you know garden, or can see their trees, and email them or place a flyer on their doorstep, or use if you have an active neighborhood. Let non-gardeners know non-organic contributions are welcome (baked goods, crafts, succulents, homemade beer, etc.). The more the merrier.
  3. Set up:
    1. You’ll need at least two 6 foot long tables for the produce
    2. Sign in guests. First come, first served. We “shop” in order of arrival.
  4. Provide Instructions
    1. Let people know they can take as much as they brought. If they brought a lot, take a lot. If they brought a little, take a little.
    2. Invite “shoppers” in order of arrival to take produce.
    3. We usually have lots left over after one round, so cycle through again until you run out.
    4. The host keeps the remaining goods.

The whole thing take about an hour, but people always stay to chat and munch on all the goodies people bring. Good luck! Have fun! Be neighborly!


alex sum

Two of our friends were generous enough to put together a private cooking class at Hipcooks. These two are always supporting the local community. They live, eat, and thrive in DTSA. They have even been known to guerilla garden in the city. They wanted to introduce us to this new establishment, so they hosted a party. A group of neighbors headed downtown and were presented with chef hats and aprons before we began the class. Alex and I had actually brought our own aprons: me, my Wonder Woman, and he, his Darth Vader, naturally.

Hipcooks, which is perfectly described by it’s name, is an interactive cooking experience where there is no precise measuring, recipes, or rules. It’s cooking from the hip (that’s my kind of cooking). Tonight we were to make tapas of all kinds.


We started off with Sangria, of course. Red wine, some liquor of your choosing, fruit, et voila… let the party begin. Next we made an arugula salad- tender baby greens, massaged with good olive oil, sprinkled with flaky sea salt and lemon juice. The tortilla was next, which is not the flat flour Mexican bread you are thinking of. This was an egg and potato mixture, first sautéed, and then baked in the oven until set. We concluded by making empanadas. This was a first for me. I never realized they could be so easy- particularly when I found out I could purchase frozen wrappers at the Argentinian grocery store & deli about 3 blocks from my house. #whatafind! (*)

How to be Neighborly: Support the local flavor.

At the end of the cooking, we all sat down at a long table for a community dinner to enjoy the food we had just made for each other. Gracias, D & D! Great friends. Great night. Great food. Great fun.

Here’s my cooking from the hip version of empanadas from my own kitchen (measurements are provided for support, not precision):

IMG_1698Cooking from the Hip Empanadas


  • 2 sausage links (I get Argentinian chorizo from the above noted store, but any Italian pork sausage will work)
  • ¼ onion, diced
  • 8 mushrooms, diced
  • 8 sundried tomatoes (Chef Mila’s Oven Roasted Tomatoes, if you have them)
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • Empanada wrappers/dough (*)
  • Egg, mixed

IMG_1682Remove the sausage from the casing, and cook in a frying pan on medium high heat for about 3 minutes.  Add the onion, and cook until the onion is translucent but not brown. About 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook about 2 minutes until they start to show a little color.  Add the tomatoes, oregano, clove, salt, pepper cumin, and paprika and sauté for about 2 minutes.  Deglaze the pan with the wine, and immediately remove from the heat.  Stir until the wine is soaked into the meat.

Place one large spoon full of the meat into a empanada shell and pinch the edges together.  To form the edge, bring the corner of the dough up, and pinch, then fold inward, and press down to seal.  Continue this motion until it forms a twist all around the edge.

Place on a baking sheet, brush some egg on the top, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  Makes about 10-12 empanadas.

Garden Chimichuri Sauce:IMG_1701

  • 1 c fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • Pinch of salt

Put all ingredients in a mini food processor and combine until mint is minced.

(*) Help! I don’t live near an Argentinian grocery store Empanada Dough:

Reprinted From Gourmet 2004- I’ve made this and it’s amazing dough.  Very buttery and flakey.  It’s actually very easy, and you probably have all the ingredients lying around somewhere.  It’s worth a try, even if you do live close to frozen wrappers.

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)

Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

Form into balls, and then roll into 4 inch circles.

Sharable Moments: March 2016

It all started with a rainbow and some encouragement. Now, I’m finding inspiration at every turn! Not everything has made the blog, but it may someday. Here’s what kept me busy & inspired in March:

  • Sunday, March 13- Breakfast Clubfruit
    • Assignment: Fruit. Even if it’s simple, make it count
    • Made awesome technicolor sweet potatoes, a gift from my yoga instructor.
    • Blue Apron arrives for Chef Alex, now I’m competing for kitchen time! Some intriguing combinations in this box.
  • Tuesday, March 15- FPNA General MeetingIMG_1468
    • Wine & post-its. Jess, Julie and Sandy, among others, get the Legacy Award. Bravo ladies!  Well-deserved for your service!
  • Saturday, March 19- Girl’s Day Out with Alisha!IMG_1505
  • Sunday, March 20- Social Sunday
    • Impromptu Bloodies with Jess & Milo (for a little Dog Whisperer therapy)Untitled
    • St. Patrick’s Day Party, complete with bag piper!
  • Monday, March 21- Thursday, March 24- Chicago Training
    • Wine, and focaccia, and cheese, and charcuterie, and fish, oh my! Progressive dinner & shopping at Eataly with my work friends.
    • Bubbles & Vosges Chocolate at the airport as we wait out the snow storm
  • Friday, March 25- Crust Off
  • Sunday, March 27- EasterIMG_5862
    • Assignment: Fruit 2.0. Back to simplicity, my mom needed fruit, so I delivered this!
    • Check out my mom’s colorful Easter eggsIMG_1713








Thanks for the memories!