Brezel or Pretzel? I will take two!

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would have fallen in love with Germany. It truly was never on my radar of must see places. So, why is that? I truly have no idea but thank goodness I have always been up for an adventure and ready to travel to any new destination. The recommendation actually came from a Dublin tour guide at Trinity College giving us an inside look at the Book of Kells. She raved about her Rhine Getaway on a Viking River Cruise. Immediately, I looked them up and began planning our next adventure. We traveled from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland along the enchanted Rhine. I was excited and eager to see the new sites but truly had no inkling how beautiful and mesmerizing Germany would be.

We had many stops along our journey throughout the cruise but I fell in love with Heidelberg. We went in late November (our anniversary time) and the Christmas markets where in every little town. I absolutely loved it. I mean it is like the Kentucky State Fair and Ham Festival (my home town festival), food, and crafts all in the spirit of good ole’ St. Nick or for some Grumpus. The smells of fresh bretzels (pretzels – I just taught you some German) Bratwurst, Kolch bier (beer – German Kolch has four ingredients only water, yeast, hops and barley), Gluhwein (spiced wine), and other delicacies were this country girls dream.

We started this day’s adventure docking in Heidelberg. It is a beautiful city along the river with its iconic red sandstone. The Old Town of Heidelberg starts from Sophienstrasse Street and brings you to Heidelberg castle. In the middle there is the Heidelberg University (the oldest university in Germany), the main shopping street (Hauptstrasse – this is where all the vendors were located at and the main Christmas decorations) and it includes to famous Karl-Theodor-Bridge|the Old bridge|the baboon bridge.

Several folks know of my love for National Lampoons Vacation with Chevy Chase. Do you remember in the Christmas vacation movie, Clark is drinking eggnog from his moose cups with Cousin Eddy? Now focus on the Christmas decorations – the windmill, wooden thing sitting on the sofa table. Eddy in all his glory attempts to spin the windmill and all of the wooden pieces fall down. Well did you know it is actually one of the first types of Christmas trees. This type of pyramid shape with the windmill on top was for a purpose. They would decorate the five levels with small wooden figurines and place candles on the outside. The smoke (rising heat) from the candles would cause the windmill to spin giving a carousel type of feel to the tree. When we saw this in Old Town Heidelberg, I immediately thought of Cousin Eddy and did not get too close to it for fear of destroying it..

We toured Heidelberg Castle which was nice and was even visited by our very own Mark Twain many years ago. The gardens were immaculate and the views over the city were breathtaking but what I loved most was the world’s largest vat of wine. Yes, the world’s largest at the castle nonetheless. Once, we went to Henry VIII’s Hampton Castle and I thought there was some cool wine storage areas there and of course Henry’s fountain of wine but nothing on this one! The Heidelberg Tun holds over 58,000 gallons of wine – 58,000! I got to sample some wonderful red wine from the Baden wine region. And chocolate too – heaven!

To bring a little bit of Germany here to Kentucky (cause we can’t be doing that) during our extended Covid-19 isolation, the girls and I used my sourdough starter to make pretzels. If you do not have a starter, you can create your own, buy a starter kit for as little as $8.95 on Amazon, or find a friend who will share 1 cup with you.

Viking Bragi – Our wonderful waiter bringing me an entire stand of pretzels!!!!

Sourdough Pretzels from A Chick in Her Garden is the perfect way to capitalize on the starter and to have loads of fun with your kiddos. So check out her website!

Sourdough Pretzels from A Chick in Her Garden


  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 4-5 cups flour (I use unbleached, all-purpose)
  • 1 Tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • Sea/Kosher Salt for sprinkling
  1. Melt and dissolve butter and sugar with hot water in a mixing bowl. 
  2. When the butter and sugar are dissolved, add your sourdough starter.
  3. Gradually mix in 3-4 cups of flour.
  4. Turn out onto a well floured surface.
  5. Knead in the flour and continue adding flour until you have a firm ball of dough.
  6. Place the dough in a well greased bowl.
  7. Put the bowl in a warm place and allow it to rise for 2 hours.
  8. After the dough has risen, punch the dough down and turn it back out onto a floured surface.
  9. Knead a few times, (punch it too for good measure) and roll out into a log.
  10. Cut into 16 equal pieces.
  11. Roll each piece out (“like playdough snakes”) and tie into a pretzel shape.
  12. Boil a pot of water and add remaining sugar and baking soda.
  13. Poach each pretzel for about 1 minute. I was able to fit 3-4 in the pot at a time.
  14. Remove from the water to a wire rack to drain.
  15. Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with salt.

Preheat the oven to 450°F

  1. Bake for 15 minutes.
  2. Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.

This was a huge success and the girls loved it! They especially liked playing in the flour and then eating the pretzels! This made quite a bit so we laid the cooked pretzel on a flat tray in the freezer for about 30 minutes, then I placed them in a freezer bag for another day! Hope you enjoy our adventure to Heidelberg, Germany and some fresh bretzels from our kitchen to yours.

If you haven’t liked the blog, please do so for the latest travel and cooking adventures. Farewell or Abscheid!


Isabela Island, the Galapagos – Ceviche anyone?

Of all my travels, this is one that transcends time and place. It is as magical the third time as it was the first. The Galapagos Islands are a must see!

From elementary school to college, we learned about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. We studied origins and how species have evolved over time. We know that some of the most unique species on this earth are located on these islands. But have you been there? Have you seen the Blue footed Boobies, the tortuga’s, or the iguana’s. The vastness from lush agricultural land to dry and arid conditions will blow your mind.

The Galapagos Islands were surreal for me. Just imagine Darwin fascinated by all of the species, recording and writing it all down as he traveled around the islands and then onto the Indian Ocean. His actual discovery or his epiphany of evolution actually occurred in the Indian Ocean months after he had left Santa Cruz island of the Galapagos.

The Research Station which is in need of funds to continue the work of Darwin in Santa Cruz

He was fascinated by the finches and how they adapted from island to island. He kept going back to his notebook, looking at his drawings, and contemplating how different and unique each finch was to the island. There are more than 100 small islands and 13 major islands in the Galapagos. The unique islands are home to tortoises, iguanas, fur seals, sea lions, sharks, sting rays, and many indigenous birds. It was the birds and their differences from island to island that had his brain churning. I completely understand Darwin needing a few months to put together natural selection, I mean my mom brain works a little slow sometimes. It may take me a few minutes or even a day to remember, why did I come in here? What was I coming to get? Ah, well never mind…..

Some of my best memories are here on the islands. Jamie and I got to experience the Galapagos together, hike a large shield volcano, and kayaked in the Pacific Ocean. I was in my first trimester two years later and snorkeling with sea turtles and white-tipped sharks. The different species on land and sea, the beautiful aqua-blue water, and impressive sunsets were just the tip of the iceberg or lets say volcano. The old adage states, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, I do not know of anyone who has traveled with me, that does not see the beauty in the diversity. Sometimes I wonder if others who yearn for a more homogeneous society could stop and see the actual beauty within things that are different. I know that Darwin saw it, I saw it, maybe others can too.

I have been so fortunate to have experienced this raw beauty personally but for those who have not had the opportunity, let me share these with you. I love looking back at these pictures and remembering the wonderful, fresh seafood each day.

Snorkeling was amazing. I can honestly say that our sites were phenomenal and well worth a full day at sea. Here are some of those pictures:

So, if you ever want to go – let me know and I will grab my passport and pack my bags! Seriously, add this to your bucket list.

One of my favorite dishes in Ecuador and especially on Isabela is ceviche. Ceviche is a fresh, summer time dish. However, I crave it year round. Ceviche is unique because you do not cook it. The acid from the lemon or lime will over time cook the shrimp. You can add a variety of items to go with your shrimp from jalapenos for spice, to onions and tomatoes for the basics. Cilantro is the second star player next to the lime juice.


Simple ingredients and with a little bit of prep time, you will have a wonderful dish.

2 lbs of Shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tail off

2 cups of lime juice

1 red onion diced

1 10oz container of petite snacking tomatoes – diced (that is what I had on hand) You can use a can of diced tomatoes if you do not have fresh on hand

1/2 cup of diced green pepper

2 Tbsps of cilantro paste or 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional – if you like a bit of hit, you can add jalapenos or red pepper flakes, also it is really nice with avocados too!

Dice shrimp and pour lime juice in a bowl, place in the refrigerator for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until they are no longer pink (I have done this in the morning, and had it ready to go for lunch or even supper). Be sure to give it a shake or stir at least once during the process.

Next, after the shrimp are nice and pink, add your diced veggies, salt and pepper along with the cilantro.

Wahoo, you are done. You can serve this dish in a ton of ways. Some will serve it with popcorn, tortillas, tostados, or as a chilled soup. Either way, you cannot go wrong. One last tip, if you need to rush this, mom brain is in neutral, no fear. Take 2 lbs of pre-cooked shrimp and let it thaw with the lime juice and you just sped up your cook time tremendously.

Mis viajes son tus viajas, my travels are your travel! Hope you enjoy!

May the luck of the Irish…Happy St Patrick’s Day with a bit of lamb for dinner

St Patrick’s Day 2020 – what a memorable year thus far. We kicked off this decade with so many well wishes and never would I have thought that a mere 77 days after we watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve that we would be here, Covid-19. However, here we are! With such uncertainty, I wanted to go back and relive all those Irish memories again. However, this time I am focusing a bit more on the west coast of Ireland. Particularly just over the river Shannon and after the Cliffs of Moher, where the ocean meets the sky, and I will be sailing (did you sing that, I know I did). So join me and my family as we celebrate our heritage and our resilience as Americans and as Irishmen. This too shall pass my friend.

The ring of Kerry will forever be my favorite. When I was a little girl, I bought a poster at Walmart. It was of a winding road and lined by stone fences. An old horse and cart was hauling a load lavender headed to the market. It was of Ireland and for some reason, I was captivated by it. I was 10 years old and I used my money from my piggy bank to buy the poster. The caption on the bottom of the poster was County Kerry, Ireland. I made a promise to myself that I would go there someday. Well for those that know me well, know that when I set my mind to something, I follow through.

When I did go, I loved every ounce of it. The charm, the accent, the whiskey, and the landscape. It was all that I had ever wanted and more from a trip. We left Kerry and headed across the river Shannon on a ferry boat. I witnessed dolphins splashing around in the cold waters near our ferry as we headed to County Clare. We had the amazing opportunity to walk the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs raise 702 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. The sheer force of the winds and the dramatic depths of the cliffs will make you speechless. To stand there is to stand in awe of the miraculousness of this earth. This area is known to over 20 native and protected seabird species. Falcons, razorbills, and puffins are just a few that call the Cliffs home. We were so lucky to have fair skies and good weather in November. We were able to walk the cliffs and explore so much of the area. County Clare, Galway, and County Mayo were so mesmerizing to me. Galway – if you don’t immediately think of Steve Earle, then we can’t be friends. When Steve Earle was living in Ireland and working with local musicians, he penned the famous Galway Girl song. If you are a bit younger than I am, Ed Sheeran, did a remake. You still get my point. There’s nothing like a Galway girl…..

When you look at the hotspots to go, these are not typically on the top of your list in Ireland with the exception of the Cliff’s. If you have the chance, slow down and enjoy the views and the slower pace of life (kind of like we are doing right now but in a non-forced way) while viewing the Irish landscape, do it.

In County Mayo, city of Cong, you will find a quaint area to relax and have a good drink while walking the streets of the town. I mentioned earlier in a blog about the movie with Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne called The Quiet Man, filmed in Cong, Ireland. We had so much fun touring the area and even recreating parts of the movie.

The colors are fascinating in the town of Cong, a statue of John Wayne and Maureen are near the production site, and then my husband, reenacted the priest who married a lovely couple (who were from Melbourne). Our trip with CIE tours was fascinating and the small number of folks traveling in November allowed our group to get to know each other a bit more. We still keep in touch with our friends from New Jersey and Australia. While traveling, you get to meet so many wonderful people from this beautiful planet and learn from them. I learned a ton of slang from our Aussie friends. Jumper for example is not to jump a person or to enact harm on someone but in fact a sweater. Yep, a sweater is a jumper. I know right! I am thinking back to standardized test: a baloo is a bear. No sense but hey when in Ireland do as an Aussie would do. We also learned that you cannot pump your own gas in New Jersey. Seriously? I thought that was for those rural gas stations and older people? Nope the entire state follows that logic, from what I am told. Our Irish bus driver talked to us about crack. Crack apparently is not an illegal substance but in fact a joke on the emerald isle. This is a bunch of crack (not illegal). I truly hope you travel. I pray that you have the opportunity to learn new slang from friends across the planet. I hope we will get to normalcy soon. So here are a few more pictures of our home away from home, Ireland.

For this St Patty’s Day 2020, with all that is happening in our neck of the woods, we went all out. I mean why not??? I have been quarantined for the last four days homeschooling my children. They have recently taken to not liking each other very much and it appears we still have 8-14 days of this isolation or more. Therefore, may the luck of the Irish be forever with us.

Grilled Lamb Chops

Lamb Chops

8-12 lamb chops

Montreal Steak Seasoning

Wok Oil

Drizzle oil over chops, sprinkle the Montreal Steak seasoning over the chops. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat your grill on high, place lamb chops down to sear, then reduce heat to low and slow cook them. 3-4 minutes each side. Super delicious and great with potatoes or rice.

Shepard’s Pie

1 lb ground lamb

1 12 oz bag of frozen peas and carrots or shredded carrots and canned peas

1 tbsp of minced garlic

1/2 red onion diced

1/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese or mixed cheese

2 beef bouillon cubes

3/4 cup of heavy cream

Salt/Pepper to taste

2 lbs of potatoes

1/2 cup of milk

1/4 cup of butter

1 tsp of chives

Salt/Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan of a 9 x 9 baking dish.

In a skillet on medium heat, brown the ground lamb and onions. Add garlic. Cook for an additional minute. Add to a greased loaf pan. Add other veggies (onions, peas and carrots), salt and pepper.

Boil potatoes, when softed, drain, add milk and butter, salt and pepper. Mash. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

With remaining grease from the lamb, add two bouillon cubes and the heavy cream. Stir until mixed, combined and thickened. Pour over the veggie and lamb mix, stir. Add 1/8 cup of shredded cheese to the mix.

Add mashed potatoes on top of the lamb mixture. Sprinkle remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Top with chives if desired.

P.S. if you want to cheat, you can buy mashed potatoes ready to go and you will cut your time down significantly. with these ready made items.

Yum, this was so delicious – kids had a second helping!!!

Keto Shepard’s Pie friendly version

1 lb ground lamb

2 12 oz bags of frozen cauliflower steamed according to package directions

8 oz of diced green beans

1/2 red onion, diced

1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese

2 beef bouillon cubes

3/4 cup of heavy cream

Salt/Pepper to taste

2 beef bouillon cubes

3/4 cup of heavy cream

Salt/Pepper to taste

1/4 cup of butter

1 tsp of chives

Salt/Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan of a 9 x 9 baking dish.

In a skillet on medium heat, brown the ground lamb and onions. Add garlic. Cook for an additional minute. Add to a greased loaf pan. Add other veggies, salt and pepper.

Steam cauliflower, when softed, drain, add heavy cream and butter, salt and pepper. Mash. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

With remaining grease from the lamb, add two bouillon cubes and the heavy cream. Stir until mixed, combined and thickened. Pour over the veggie and lamb mix, stir. Add 1/8 cup of shredded cheese to the mix.

Add mashed cauliflower on top of the lamb mixture. Sprinkle remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Top with chives if desired.

P.S. if you want to cheat, you can buy mashed cauliflower ready to go and you will cut your time down significantly. with these ready made items.

So we have had all kinds of fun things happening since my last blog, Upward Basketball for both girls, a new semester, husband going on the KETO diet (which has been good but a learning curve for me), two new programs to speed through the approval process at my university, and now COVID -19. I had hoped that our spring break would allow me to slow down and catch up but like anything in life, you never truly catch up. I hope you enjoy these dishes, our pictures of Ireland and a little bit of our quarantined time.

May the road rise to meet you, may the wind always be at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields, And, until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of his hands.

Slainte means health in Gaelic, what better time than now… Slainte to us all.

Sweet Sweet Sea Bass oh how I love thee in Santo Domingo

El Poder Brutal – Brutal power
La Cara del Diablo – The face of the devil

Have you ever…. No its not a game. Have you ever had a meal, dish, food, entre, or dessert that smacked you in the face with its yumminess? Have you ever had to use every ounce of control to not lap it up like a starving dog – or kid? You must have also heard the expression, “it’s so good, it will make you smack your momma.” Well, I better not do that, today is her birthday. Well, six years ago, I had sea bass in a seafood sauce for the last time in Santo Domingo, Ecuador at Andalucia’s restaurant. The chef was a Columbian who had trained in Paris, married a lovely Ecuadorian girl and moved to Santo Domingo to serve me this dish. I am sure that is exactly why he went to culinary school – to serve me this amazing dish three times. It was so good that I still want to smack my momma – it was that good.

Lightly Breaded Corvina (Sea Bass) with a beautiful garlic, butter, wine seafood sauce at Andalucia’s in Santo Domingo, Ecuador

As a professor, I have had the opportunity to take students on study abroad trips. We got to travel to Ecuador and see the Andes, tropics, Amazon, and the coast of Ecuador along with the Galapagos Islands (that will be another post with about a million pictures). Three of our trips were in January right after the New Year. We headed south to the capital of Quito, then traveled west to Santo Domingo and then onto the Pacific Coast to a quaint little hole in the mountain town of Same (pronounced Saum a). We had some amazing friends who helped host our groups each time and they are responsible for introducing us to Andalucia’s. Even when I say the name Andalucia, my mouth waters. How crazy is that??

Santo Domingo de los Colorados or simply known as Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is the capital of the province Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas (pronounced by a Kentucky gal as sack a chil yas). The reason for telling you this is to learn about the indigenous people of Santo Domingo known as the Tsachilas or simply the Colorados Indians. This ethnic group was known for the men dying their hair red and using the seeds from the achiote plant to do so.

Santo Domingo has a rich, cultural heritage with the Tscachilas. We had the opportunity to visit and learn from them while we were there. We got to see the achiote pod, cut into it and even use the seeds to paint our faces similar to the Tsachilas. While there we listened to their tradition music and instruments made out of bamboo. The idea of continuing the practices and rituals of ancient people fascinate me. How often do we through tradition by the way side simply for the pleasure of the here and now. Those rich cultures provide a since of understand and knowledge of those who have gone before us. I truly wish we did more of that today.

In the province, we visited a pineapple farm, cocoa farm and a bamboo farm. Some of the sweetest pineapples are not the ones we have in the grocery stores in the US. The best pineapples are actually the third production pineapples. The first produce gets graded and if it is of great quality, equal eyes (the circles on the pineapples are called eyes), no abnormalities or blemishes then, it heads off to the good ole USA. The second production or those with blemishes are a bit smaller than the standard size and they show up in smaller markets or local grocery stores throughout the country. But, the third, oh the third time is the charm. These smaller hand sized pineapples are so sweet and juicy, you could eat them straight out of the fields. Those beauties known as queens are typically found in the open farmer’s markets.

Have you ever walked in a bamboo forest? Well, you should if you ever get the chance. Of all my travels and crazy adventures, I have only had one experience that was close to the vastness of the bamboo and that was the Black Forest in Germany, another blog – I promise with a bit of schnapps. Bamboo can grow to 100 feet tall and they are one of the fastest growing species. Did you know they can grow three feet in a 24 hour period? Yes, a bit invasive if not cared for but they are also gloriously producing massive amount of O2. Which I gratefully appreciate as it filter more of the CO2, and produces twice as much oxygen. As we hiked through the forest, it was at least ten degrees cooler in the forest. We were able to drink water from the bamboo and learned how the indigenous people used the bamboo for drinking, construction, musical instruments, weapons, and so many other functions.

Chocolate, cocoa, cacoa all of these are the same. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory and how rivers of chocolate would flow. I never once really thought about how it grew, what it looked like or the process behind it. As I have ripened with age, I have developed an appreciation for the finer aspects of this product. Dark chocolate paired with a fruit or wine, adding nuts and cheese to a tray of this wondrous creation is just what any doctor (PhD that is – ha) ordered. Cocoa tree is a short tree with a waxy leaf. It produces a fruit not like an apple tree or peach but one where the fruit or pod is produced on the actual bark or trunk of the tree not a flower off of a stem/leaf. The pod grows and ripens into a yellow/brown chocolate color, when cracked open a series of seeds enveloped in a fleshy material fill the pod up. If you tried the fleshy material covering these seeds, it would have a sweet bitter taste to them. For chocolate production, the seeds are set out to ferment, dry, and then roast. Once roasted, you will cut them up into nibs (similar to nuts) and eat them or continue the process of melting them down into glorious chocolate.

Transitioning back to the city, we had such wonderful hosts with the Velastegui’s. They own and operate Radio Zaracay in Santo Domingo. Our connection with this family started back in the 1980’s when Bowling Green, Kentucky had a sister city in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. Holger and his family studied at Western Kentucky University and developed a close relationship with faculty and friends from Kentucky. When we were there, they were gracious hosts and ensured that our time in Santo Domingo was simply the best. I love this country and the people. I have been 19 times and have truly seen and experienced new things each time because of the connections made over the years.

The connections with families in Santo Domingo opened the door to that glorious restaurant, Andalucia, for three years. I ordered the same dish every time simply because I could and it was worth it each time. I recently was shopping at Kroger, our local grocery store, and ran, literally ran to the freezer aisle when I saw the words: Sea Bass. I had wanted so badly to do this blog, to write about this dish since its creation in August, this restaurant, this city. However, in good ole Murray, Kentucky, I figured I would never see this amazing fish in our markets. Now, Nashville or Louisville yes, but not Murray. So on this beautiful January day, I bought all that they had in stock. Yes, I truly took everything that was in the cooler and I do not feel bad about it all. I take no chances! When good luck and fortune of corvina (Spanish word for seas bass) came my way, I grabbed it. My littlest, who by the way is an avid grocery shopper, asked, “why are you buying so many?” I simply said, “baby, when good things come along, you soak it all up – every last ounce.”

Hard to get a good picture when she is in action at the grocery store, gotta love Kroger’s little carts!

So for all of you wanting to know if I mastered that taste from Andalucia’s, well, I sure did come close.


Sea Bass filets (4-5)

1 egg

1 cup Panko Breading – I used whole wheat

1/2 cup Italian Style Bread crumbs


1 tbsp olive oil

For Seafood Sauce

8 oz (1 cup) of Evaporated Milk (being January – we are a bit health conscious so we use evaporated instead of half n’ half.

1 cup of white wine (I used Chardonnay)

1 tbsp of minced garlic

1 tbsp of butter

1 lb of shrimp (I cut some in half and some whole)

1 tbsp of chives

1 tbsp of parsley

Salt and Pepper

In a baking dish, crack your egg and beat it. Add salt and pepper. In a baking dish or flat plate – add your panko crumbs and your Italian Style bread crumbs. Mix. Take your thawed sea bass, coat in egg wash both sides, then into the bread crumbs. Coat both sides. You can keep the skin on, it is one of the few fish like salmon that you can eat the skin. If you want heat, you could add some chili powder or cayenne to the bread crumb mixture.

In a saute pan or skillet, add oil. Cook the fish, 5 minutes on each side. I used a warmer to keep them warm while cooking the rest of the fish.

In a wok skillet or other sauce pan on medium heat, add your evaporated milk, butter, salt, pepper, chives and parsley. Once it is mixed and started to warm, I add the wine slowly (no real reason but this how I do it). Let the mix come to a boil, the reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add shrimp during the last five – six minutes of the simmer. Salt and Pepper to taste.

You may feel the need to add more butter, salt and or pepper to your liking.

I served this dish with roasted asparagus drizzled with a balsamic glaze (store bought) and a salad.

I truly hope that you have traveled to Santo Domingo and back with me in this blog. I love the country, the traditions, the people, and the food. If you haven’t signed up, please do and enjoy the latest food, travel and all. Lots of love and sea bass –


P is for Puerto Vallarta & Pineapple Chicken Fajitas

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Back in 2006, we had the opportunity to explore the state of Jalisco in Mexico. Jalisco is the western most state adjoining the Pacific Ocean. It is known for agave, tequila, and mariachi bands. We landed in Guadalajara after the Christmas holidays but the decorations were still adorning the beautiful landmarks within the city. We toured the city, artwork, and then went out and about the state.

We left the iconic city and traveled west to a famous town known by many as Tequila, Mexico. We had one of the most fascinating tours of a distillery that I have ever been on. We were able to see the agave production in the field. This in turn leads into what they call harvesting the pineapple. Now, it is not a real pineapple but the bulb of the agave plant. The sharp spade creates the appearance of the “pineapple”. We then saw the workers harvesting the “pineapples”, loading them into trucks, and then to delivering them to Jose Cuervo. We learned about 1800 Anejo and the aging process of tequila. Now, I am not a huge fan of tequila but it was so fascinating to learn and try the raw product, 6 months, and over a year old tequila. The coolest aspect was learning that the charred bourbon barrels from the bluegrass state (Kentucky – home to bourbon) were shipped to Tequila for the aging process. After bourbon has been aged, they no longer can reuse the barrels. They then re-char them and send them south to age tequila. How cool is it that white oak harvested in Kentucky, used to make wonderful bourbon, then is reused to age tequila – truly a reduce, reuse, and recycle concept.

We naturally sang a few songs about friends of mine and a little salt and lime. If you have the chance to tour Jose Cuervo, please add it to your must see list. It was a complete experience from the farm to the glass. We left Tequila (again, that would be a good country music song – ha) and headed further west driving toward the Pacific. As we traveled the winding roads around the Sierra Madre Mountains, we had glimpses of the beautiful Pacific Ocean. We stopped along the way at a village town to eat. We had one of the best fajitas that I have ever had. The key was how they cooked the food – over an open fire and a piece of rebar. Now, I love the open flame cooking but I am typically fresh out of rebar at our house. The authentic experience overlooking the Pacific was truly memorable. We were only in the entire country for 8 days total and then in Puerto Vallarta for two nights. I wish we could have had a little bit more time to explore this city and to unwind and relax. However, we typically are a non-stop go, go, go family. To this day even after all this time, we still talk about the rebar food, corn tortillas, tequila and the hospitality of this amazing state. If you are thinking of a trip to Mexico – look at the state of Jalisco. Guadalajara is a beautiful Spanish colonial town, Tequila adds a little salt and flair, and Puerto Vallarta is a great beach town to enjoy the waves and awesome food from the Pacific.

Pineapple Chicken Fajitas

4 Boneless, skinless Chicken thighs

1 Pineapple – sliced

1 medium red onion – sliced

1 cup of Bell Peppers – sliced (I love the trio of red, orange, and yellow)

2 Tablespoons of Cilantro (fresh)

1 Tbsp of Cumin

1 Tbsp of Chili Powder

1 Tbsp of Garlic Powder

1 tsp of Oregano

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 Tbsp of oil

With A cast iron skillet, add your oil and let the pan get hot. Throw in your diced chicken and cook. Once it starts to cook, I take all of my seasonings except cilantro, take these and add them to the chicken – chili powder, cumin, garlic and oregano. Once cooked, I remove and add the onions, followed by the pineapple and last the peppers. Once they have been in the skillet on medium high heat for a few minutes bring back the chicken and add the cilantro.

We warmed corn tortillas with this dish but you can make this into a fajita salad, nachos, or whatever your stomach desires. You could easily substitute shrimp instead of chicken. Just cook your veggies, seasonings first then the last 3-5 minutes add your thawed shrimp and cilantro. I hope you all enjoy and add a bit of pineapple to your next dish.

Adios Amigos

NOLA – Red Beans and Rice

Jackson Square

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade! Here’s to the 20’s! Sorry I could not help myself. I tell you what, the teen’s, is that what we are calling the last decade? Well my teen years were awesome – so much happened in just ten years. I truly feel like it was one of the best decades of my life, two kids, another dog, three moves, new careers, a doctorate and lots of travel and food. What more could you ask for? Well naturally, I want to keep on traveling, blogging, cooking, and enjoying this beautiful planet. I thought I would share one of my all time favorite food cities in the world. I have been to 5 of the 7 continents (Africa and Antartica – I am coming to you this decade) and of all the places I have traveled, New Orleans (NOLA) is one of my favorite places. I love the atmosphere, ambience, and the aroma of fabulous food.

If you are going to NOLA, first you must understand the history of the city and the state. It was claimed by the French in 1682 by LaSalle (not the guy from NCIS, New Orleans) and the city was founded in 1718. The center of the city was formed around the Vieux Carre (a square) which is where the French Quarter is currently located. This beautiful city that sat at a high point above the mighty Mississippi river was a hub for trade for France. The territory was given as a part of the Treaty of Paris to the Spaniards in 1763. This succession allowed for beautiful baroque architecture, iron work and arches throughout the city that enhanced the French influence but two great fires in the late 1700’s destroyed parts of the city and the architecture. Spain later ceded Louisiana back to the French and three years later, Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in 1803. The Brits wanted a piece of this precious real-estate as well, thus the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson played a tremendous role in this war and was the victor thus Jackson Square in his honor.

I tell you all this to give you what the city weathered and yet keep tradition and customs alive. Still in the city today you have French, Spanish, and Creole customs alive within the city. This city truly became the blend of a unique, rich culture. This heritage is what I think draws me to this city time and time again. This is also a town that has weathered wars, slavery, storms, and fires and yet has stood the test. When Katrina came, many believed New Orleans would not survive and yet it still stands and it celebrated its 300th anniversary, in style might I add, in 2018.

For my 35th birthday, my husband had a work trip in New Orleans. We both had never been to the city and instantly signed up! This was the absolute best birthday. I had so much fun! I celebrated my birthday at several of the restaurants in the quarter or right off of the quarter. Here are a few of my favorite NOLA things: If you are in NOLA, you must go to Mothers. It is the red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo and the famous po’ boy mecca. Do not be dissuaded my the menu on the wall and the walk up-order counter. Trust me you cannot go wrong with any of it. This restaurant was established in the late 30’s and during World War II, it was coined the “TUN Tavern New Orleans” because 5 of the 7 children of the owners joined the United States Marine Corps and became a local hangout for many Marines. As a wife of a Marine, this was a must and our first dining experience in the city!

We also had another wonderful dinner of prime ribeye, garlic shrimp, and asparagus at Brennans for my actual birthday. This restaurant has been around since the 40’s and the chandeliers and ambience of the place was the perfect setting to celebrate. To top off the evening, I had the traditional bananas foster for dessert. We dressed up and made reservations for the beautiful place and it did not disappoint.

The following evening, I was still celebrating. As you are aware, I like to celebrate this momentous event multiple times. We went to GW Finn’s. The amount of mounted fish on the walls and ceilings were quite unusual but intriguing. We started with oysters on the half shell, Swordfish, Red Snapper and to top off my fabulous birthday, cheesecake. Again, you will need to make reservations for GW Finn’s.

If you are going to take time and go to this iconic city, you need to go to Cafe Du Monde’s and get you a chicory coffee and a beignet. We went to the original location that year and the line to get a beignet was two blocks long. We went back to NOLA last year but, we went to River Marketplace and had zero line. I recommend seeing the original location in the quarter and if the line is too long visit the one just down the river. They not only have the traditional beignets but also beignet fries which was easier and a little less messy.

Now if you are in NOLA, you will see iconic places like Pat O’Briens and the Funky Pirate. Here you can get the traditional a Hurricane and a Grenade. It is a wonderful way to celebrate birthdays – trust me.

No matter where you go in the city, the blend of cultures, religions, people, food, and drink create an amazing experience in this beautiful city. The traditional Red beans and rice always brings back these amazing experiences. So here is my recipe for red beans and rice – New Orleans style.

Red Beans and Rice

2 Smoked Sausage links cut into bite size pieces

1 can of Dark Kidney beans, drained

1 can of Light Red Kidney beans, drained

1 red onion diced

1 tbsp of minced garlic

1 can of rotell

2 tbsp of chili powder

1 tbsp of oregano

1 tbsp of olive oil

3 cups of chicken broth

2 cups of Jasmine Rice

1 Bay leaf

Green onions diced – optional

salt and pepper to taste

In a rice cooker, take two cups of Jasmine rice and three cups of chicken broth and set to cook. I have used a Hamilton Beach rice cooker for the last 10 years and it is a must in our house.

In a large stock pan, add the oil, cook the onions, garlic, sausage, and beans till the onion is translucent. Once the rice is cooked, add the rice to the pan, rotell, chili powder, oregano and bay leaf. Stir, cover, and cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Once it is done, add sliced green onions for garnish – optional. If you wish to add more heat, you can add more chili powder, red pepper flakes, your favorite hot sauce, or an actual chili pepper in there. If you want to add a bit of extra flair, in the last 4-5 minutes add peeled, deveined, shrimp. Salt and pepper to taste.

This is a one pot meal. My kids love this and it brings me back to the French quarter each time. My husband and I will add a bit of red pepper flakes to our bowl for extra heat. I hope you have enjoyed NOLA and red beans and rice. If you haven’t been to New Orleans, do it! You will love the city as much as I do. If you haven’t subscribed yet to my blog, please do so to get the latest blogs.

Happy New Year, Happy New You, Happy New Decade, and may this be a year of good food, glorious travel and great friends! Saluer!

No place like home for the holidays – Maw’s classic Sweet potato casserole

December 27th was my grandmother’s birthday. We affectionately called her Maw primarily because my brother (the oldest) named her that. My paternal grandmother was my only living grandparent and I was blessed to have her in my life. Now let me tell you about my not so typical grandmother. I use to dream of a grandmother who would bake you cookies, have sleep overs, and essentially spoil you rotten. I was completely envious of friends and cousins whose grandmother did those things. However, in my forties and especially today, I see what she did leave me and the rest of her grandchildren. GRIT. Pure 100% determination to survive. You see my grandmother was born in 1932 during the great depression. Her father lived in a community called Golden Pond, Kentucky. Golden Pond is one of those communities that unfortunately no longer exist. A piece of land between the Cumberland and Tennessee River, Golden Pond was a hot spot for government, electricity, and moonshine. Even Al Capone liked my hometown’s moonshine. When the Tennessee Valley Authority came into western Kentucky to build a dam for rural electrification, thousands of people lost their home to the construction and modernization. Jolly Jones, my great grandfather and many others, were forced to leave and create a new home. Growing up during the depression, my grandmother was resourceful. She could cook, sew, can vegetables, and loved taking care of animals. Her life was not easy.

Golden Pond, Kentucky
My aunt and grandmother

She fell in love with a man who was older, divorced, and had a child. In 1950, falling in love and marrying a man that was 12 years older than you was the talk of the town. She shouldered the stigma and married the talented, musician. My grandfather could build anything, in fact I got married in the chapel that he had built. He could play any instrument and had an ear for music. He played with the famous, Boots Randolph (also from my hometown). Boots was known for playing the saxophone and trombone. I am guessing some of you are wondering if you have ever heard of his work. I bet you have in fact, I bet you heard it recently. Rocking around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee or Turn on your Love Light by Jerry Lee Lewis? Maybe, you’ve heard of ELVIS!! Look him up – trust me. My grandfather would play with him but his love of alcohol killed any dreams he had of being in the spotlight. My grandmother keep things going by working at the sowing factory or any where she could while starting their family. They had four children (two red-heads) and battled poverty and alcoholism. They moved to Texas for a new start and yet alcohol still found them, so they moved back. One son was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A cattle stealing ring was going on throughout Kentucky and Tennessee. My uncle was squirrel hunting and ran up on the incident. He was shot and died at the age of 12. My grandfather hit the bottle even harder coping with the loss of his youngest boy. And in the early 1970’s, he came home yet again drunk, angry, and with a gun for the final time. My grandmother suffered, lost more than I can imagine, and yet continued. Maw persevered and started going to school at night while the youngest (my aunt) was still at home and in high school. She worked weekends at a local nursing home to make ends meet but finally received her LPN degree. She worked hard and became a nurse at the penitentiary. Yes, you heard me – my grandmother was a nurse with the worst kind of criminals. She retired from the state penitentiary after working over two decades there. So no, she did not bake cookies nor knit me a sweater. She did not coddle me in fact she was tough on me.

My brother’s wedding 1996

So on her birthday, I want to pass on to my girls grit, perseverance, and pure determination. Life is tough. It does not always deal you the best hand. Get up. Keep trying. Never let someone tell you no. If you have a will there is a way. She worked – she did not let folks give her a handout and do nothing. She fought for her kids. We not only share a middle name but she gave me the resiliency to never give up. For that, I am eternally grateful. Happy Heavenly Birthday Maw – I love you.

One dish she made year after year for the holidays was sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. My absolute favorite. You can add nuts, slice and dice but to me – sweet potato casserole must have roasted marshmallows or it’s an imposter.

Sweet Potato Casserole

4-6 medium sized sweet potatoes, washed, peeled, and sliced

1/2 stick of butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla (pure)

2 Tbsp sweet condensed milk

1 Tsp cinnamon

1 bag of medium size marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray non-stick cooking spray in a 9×13 dish. Wash, peel, and slice or cube your potatoes. Boil your potatoes until fork tender. Add butter, sugar, vanilla, condensed milk and cinnamon. Mash or use an emulsifier to puree the mixture. Place the mashed potatoes in the 9×13 dish and top with marshmallows. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. If you like a like bit more roasting, quickly broil on high for 1 minute. This will yield a bit of summer burnt marshmallow for you!!!

Sweet potato casserole

As I close on what would have been my grandmother’s 87th birthday, I leave you with not only my favorite dish of hers but more. I ask that you see people for more than just their clothes and money. See her. See what she survived, what she did, and the difference she made. Her story is worth telling. Her story made me me. Eat, live, and fight for the life you desire. Never let circumstances dictate you. Cheers to a New Year!

Happy Holidays to you!

You better Belize it – Amazing Pineapple Jam

On this cold December day, I cannot help but think about the warm sun, sand, and the Caribbean Sea. The smell of salt in the air and the breeze off the ocean. You see back in May, I had the opportunity to travel to Belize on a study abroad with some outstanding students. We traveled throughout the country and hit one of the islands along our trip. While on the mainland, we saw beautiful orange, grapefruit, sugar cane, and pineapple farms. We toured and climbed an amazing ancient Mayan archaeological site, Xunantunich (pronounced: shoe naan too niche). I am saving this one for another blog post – so stay tuned.

After our mainland exploration, we took a ferry boat ride to the island, Caye Caulker. As soon as we arrived, we knew father time ran slower and the island vibes sang through the night. We walked from the ferry terminal to our hotel in sand and sidewalk. We were only there for three short days but this island is truly singing my praises and I will return to Caye Caulker. Not only do you have great access to the beach, bars, food, but also to some amazing snorkeling. We were able to take a charter out with Carlos Tours for a full day and snorkel around the island. His crew was amazing and Carlos ensured we got to see the best of the best in Belize. They also prepared a wonderful lunch for our hungry students that was sensational. We got to snorkel with varieties of colorful fish, stingrays, and even sharks! Let’s just say that I allowed the students to get out first and snorkel then slowly head into the water. I will have to say these sharks were being feed quite well by our captain however, I did not want them to confuse me for food.

On the island the food was fresh and delish. Each morning at our hotel, they served us breakfast in an open air restaurant. We had exceptional views and breezes from the ocean along with the local cemetery. It was literally adjacent to our dividing wall! We were also there during a full moon which was extra special! Or creepy – not sure but we survived. At breakfast, you typically get scrambled eggs, bacon and toast along with fresh fruit. The pineapple jam was absolutely delicious. It was as if I could taste the sweet ripened fruit freshly cut from the farm and a hint of cinnamon. After devouring the wonderfully robust coffee, I asked our server what brand was the jam and where I could buy it. He stated it was not from the store but a speciality jam created by one of the local cooks in the hotel. I immediately told him I would kill for the recipe and I love canning jams. I left it at that and we went about our day. When we arrived back to the hotel, I had a hand written note with the recipe for this glorious masterpiece. So on this bitter cold morning, I sip my robust coffee and eat my pineapple jam and toast and reminisce of warm sea breezes and island adventures.

Pineapple Jam

Notes – you can skip the canning piece if you just want to gobble it up right away. Also, this is for a water bath canning, you could use a pressure cooker as well.

3 Fresh Pineapples, diced

3/4 cup of white sugar

1 tbsp of cinnamon

Ladies and gentlemen its that easy. Take diced pineapple, sugar and cinnamon and cook on medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Then take an emulsifier or a potato masher and puree the pineapple to the consistency of your liking. We like a bit of chunkiness but not a lot in our house.

For water bath canning. Make sure your water covers 1″ above the rim of your jars. For three pineapples, I was able to make a dozen small 4 oz jelly jars. Do not forget to sterilize your jars prior to canning. With the jam warm, fill each jar leaving 1/4″ gap at the top. Wipe the rim clean and screw on lid and band. Bring your water bath canner to a boil, place filled jars with tongs into the water. Boil for approximately 10 minutes. Using the tongs, carefully remove the jars and place on a clean kitchen towel for 24 hours. You should start to hear the lids pop a few minutes after you have removed them from the canner. And there you have a Tropical Paradise Hotel Especial.

This jam is not only wonderful on toast and biscuits, it is also amazing on a banana split! My kids beg for me to add this and my strawberry freezer jam to our homemade banana splits. I tell you this island is absolutely Belizable and my time in this small Central American country was fabulous. If you get a chance to head to Belize, you better do it! Trust me you won’t regret it!

Belize it! It is really that awesome!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Duck Duck…Peking Duck

Flashback November 2003, my first taste of duck. I just said yes and I do to my best friend in front of friends and family in my beautiful hometown. We partied and danced the night away then quickly gathered our bags and headed to the airport in Nashville. We boarded the plane early for us newlyweds at 6am for our dream Hawaiian honeymoon. You see, travel and adventure were always at the forefront in our relationship. We had went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Boone, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and to Ecuador in our dating era. We were so determined to travel together; we would save change and use that money to help us travel. We had been dating 5 years when Jamie asked me to marry him and our deal was to have a Hawaiian honeymoon. We were budget conscious and ensured that the most important aspect of the event was our honeymoon. Jamie set up the entire arrangements for the honeymoon and I focused on the wedding. We went on a Norwegian Cruise Line, freestyle cruise to Hawaii. It was our first time on a cruise and definitely was not our last. We traveled around the islands and then onto an island in the Republic of Kiribati, Fanning Island. The most important part for you to know about that island is it is also known as Gilligan’s Island. We got to travel across the international date line and have 2 thanksgivings that year. On the first Thanksgiving in 2003, I got to taste duck for the very first time. I love being on cruises or places that you have a meal plan. You can be a bit adventurous in your meal choices and always have a back up plan that does not blow the bank. The duck was beautifully moist and had a sweet soy orange glaze that would make you want to smack your momma – it was that good. It was so memorable due to our honeymoon, two Thanksgivings, and the ambience of the beautiful Norwegian ship, the Sun.

Fast forward 2018, Beijing, China. I had the opportunity to speak at Beijing Normal University. My former graduate assistant was back in her homeland and living out her dream job. I was honored and so excited to be back in China and work with her on this project. I made sure I flew in early so that I could enjoy the city and see the sights with her and one of my students. Beijing is so vast and diverse. When we were there for our adoption, it was a quick two days. We hit the major highlights but missed a lot of what this city has to offer.

If you go to China, get jade! Just do it, pay for it, and you will have no regrets. In Chinese culture, women will wear jade on their wedding day. We bought jade earrings for our daughter when we adopted her a few years ago. The intricate carvings and workmanship these Chinese artists do with jade is outstanding. If you get a chance to go to the Beihai Park on W. Dianmen Street, do it. It is a beautiful park and has a pretty cool boat ride through the park. I probably would not recommend renting a bike and traveling the five miles on the highway to go there, but hey, I survived. When you haven’t ridden a bike in like 5 years or more, why not rent one and ride down a 8 lane highway to get there because the taxi was taking too long? When in Rome, I mean Beijing… I digress. The Dashanzi Art district is worth the hour train ride in the city. This is so cool, the once manufacturing area of Beijing that caused quite a bit of smog in the city has been transformed into an artist village. The 3-D art work was amazing to see and play around with while we were there. Of course, I got my picture in front of a painted horse thinking of my Old Kentucky home.

So often, friends will ask me what I eat in another country and how brave I am for trying new foods. Seriously folks, there are some amazing foods out there to try from all over the world! Try it – get out of your comfort zone and try it. These are just a few of the highlights of the food I tried while in the city. When we were in Beijing with the adoption of our daughter, we had tried to eat duck however, we did not get the chance to try it. The wait at the restaurant was a bit too long and we were afraid we would miss our meeting. I knew this time around, I was going to eat duck in the city if I had to wait three hours – it was going to happen. Boy, it did not disappoint. They do a bit of a show and carve your duck right in front of you.

It was just as I had remembered it from our honeymoon cruise. DELICIOUS!!

Fast forward – Present day. Our local Kroger grocery store is getting geared up for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday. They are feverishly stocking shelves and the coolers. I happened to walk by and I spotted DUCK!!!! In all the years since our honeymoon, I had never seen duck in our local grocery store. I literally squealed like a little girl on Christmas morning. A few folks turned to see if I was alright or just having an attack of some kind. I reassured them I was not insane but in fact thrilled to have duck. The confused glare from one older gentlemen made me want to tell him the whole story of my excitement but I figured I just needed to get the duck and get home.

Ahhhhhhh, sweet, sweet duck – where have you been? Leesburg, Indiana – I see, thank you Maple Leaf farms for making me a happy girl!

This beautiful farm raised duck out of Indiana helped me to celebrate our 16th anniversary in style. Maple Leaf farms out of Leesburg, Indiana has been raising ducks since 1958. The quality of the duck was outstanding.

Peking Roasted Duck

1- 4-5 lb Duck, innards removed, thawed (took two days in the refrigerator)

2 Halo oranges

1 tablespoon of fresh diced ginger

1 tbsp of minced garlic

1 tbsp House of Tsang Stir Fry oil

1 green onion diced

1 tsp of dried orange peel (I microwaved the fresh peel to dry it out since I did not have any dried and then diced it – it worked)

1/2 tbsp of sugar

1/2 tbsp of salt

2 tablespoons of light sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons of Shao Xing Cooking wine (This is my favorite brand but most rice wines will work)

1 tsp of Chinese 5 spice (or 13 spice – I have on hand) powder


1/4 cup of sorghum

1 tbsp of rice vinegar

1 cup of hot water

First, get your large plastic bag ready. I used ziplock 5 gallon zip and lock bag. Next, I made diagonal cuts just along the skin of the duck breast, then reversed it to create a diamond pattern. DO NOT cut deep, light cuts just through the skin of the duck will do. I dried the inside of the duck out prior to stuffing the duck with 2 of the halo oranges.

Combine the marinade ingredients, ginger, garlic, green onion, soy sauce, Shao Xing, salt, sugar, dried orange peel, and the 13 spice powder. Pour over the duck and let marinate for 24 hours.

Next day, preheat the oven to 425 degree. Make the glaze. Take the glaze ingredients(sorghum, water and rice vinegar), mix, and cook on medium heat till combined. Place the duck in a large roasting pan, be sure to spray with Pam cooking spray. Brush the duck with 1/4th of the glaze and place in the oven.

Cook on 425 degrees for 35 minutes. Then add another 1/4 glaze (half should be gone by this point) to the duck and reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Roast for another 20 minutes. Pull duck out and use the remaining glaze (1/2) and roast for an additional 10 minutes till the internal temp is 170 degrees. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.

I made orange flavored, steamed broccoli (I used a bit of the duck sauce pack on the broccoli since I did not use it on the duck – it was good). Jasmine rice and hoisin sautéed mushrooms. Not bad for 16 years of saying yes to all of our adventures.

Yellowstone and Bison Steaks, its what’s for dinner

We took a trip out west a few years ago. We visited Spokane, Washington, parts of Montana, Wyoming and made a pitstop at Yellowstone National Park. We went towards the end of April, part of the park was still closed but it was absolutely breathtaking the sites and of course Old Faithful was faithful. It was my first time traveling through that part of the country and the magnificence of this part of our country was surreal. The majestic scenes, the wide open spaces, and the wildlife made you realize how beautiful our planet truly is and how we should support our national parks. President Roosevelt realized this and did his part to preserve the beauty and we should too. As we drove through the park, you would be amazed at what you might see going down the road. We even got to pass some bison who happened to be taking a morning stroll through the park.

Some of the best sites were driving around in Yellowstone and throughout Montana. We saw several ranches along with bison roaming in the park.

We intend to take our girls out there when they are a bit older and can enjoy the beauty and education of the national park. We stayed at a quaint B&B in Gardiner, Montana. Yellowstone Suites B&B was beautifully done and made us feel right at home. The old victorian style home is near the northern entrance of Yellowstone which was perfect for our trip. It is located just a few blocks away from Roosevelts original entrance. I highly encourage you to go through that entrance. You can see if the opening picture the arch in the background. We ate out at one of the restaurants in town. The town of Gardiner made you feel as though you were back in the wild west with a one street town with their saloons and shops with the mountains as your backdrop. The Yellowstone Mine Restaurant was spot on with authentic decor and great food. I had the bison burger which hit the spot after a cold jaunt walking around Yellowstone.

At home, we wanted to bring a bit of the park and the mountains to our table. We decided on a cold November night to make Bison steaks, roasted brussel sprouts, and sweet potato. Naturally, I wanted a bit of a Kentucky twist and added some home grown products to the table.

The Bison is seasoned with Montreal Steak Seasoning, garlic and celery flakes. The sweet potato has Kentucky proud sorghum from my hometown of Cadiz, Kentucky. The brussel sprouts have bacon and honey drizzled over them after roasting them in the oven. This was a fantastic meal grilled and cooked at home.

Bison Steaks

4 Ribeye Bison Steaks

2 Tablespoons of Montreal Steak Seasoning

1 Tablespoon of garlic

1 teaspoon of celery flakes

1 teaspoon of dried minced onion

Take seasoning and mix, then apply to one side of the steak. Let it rest and let the steak come to room temperature. Preheat your grill. It is always best to let your steak sit out a while before grilling. Cold steaks on a hot grill do not cook as well. Grill steaks to your likeness.

Brussel Sprouts with bacon and honey

Brussel sprouts 2 cups sliced in half

1 Tablespoon of honey

1/2 cup of bacon – cut into diced sized pieces (you can by these precooked and add towards the end)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, sprinkle your brussel sprouts with salt and pepper on a non-stick cookie sheet. Add your uncooked bacon to the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the sprouts.

Once out of the oven, drizzle honey and add a touch more salt to the sprouts and serve. YUM!

Just look at majestic beauty of Montana

Hope you enjoy!!!!

Oklahoma is the place to be – enchilada style!

It has been a while since I last visited Oklahoma but oh how I love this southwestern state. Several years ago, my family was headed out for a family vacation out west. Cue: National Lampoons Vacation theme song. I had just turned 16 and had my permit. My dad let me drive several hours from Weatherford, Oklahoma to Santa Fe, New Mexico, our final destination. I was thrilled to drive plus I went through three states. The landscape was so vast and so different than the Kentucky and Tennessee landscape. I immediately feel in love with the long distance views, sage brush, and cattle ranches. I went back to Oklahoma City ten years lafter my first excursion to the southwest and took a group of students to a national competition. The city was vast and expansive compared to my earlier memories as a 16 year old. Isn’t it funny looking back at our perceptions of life compared to now? I am so curious how my 60 year old self will see this 40 year old.

While in Oklahoma, I made sure we tried the best of the best in the city. We went to museums and stockyards. We tried amazing steak houses, wild game, and some of the best enchiladas to this day.

Being a young teacher, competing in a national competition had my nerves going everywhere. We asked our hotel attendant where we could find the best Tex-Mex food near our hotel. Without hesitation, she told us of a small local restaurant that was once a home. We pulled into the gravel lot in the back of the house unsure if we were in the right place. Several folks were already there at 5 pm for supper which made me feel better. We sat down at mix-matched tables and chairs which by today’s standard is eclectic. However, in 2005, this was unique to say the least. The menu was a two sided sheet of paper and I ordered the house special, enchiladas. They were baked and stuffed to the brim with chorizo, onions, beans, cheese, and a homemade enchilada sauce. You know that feeling when you first bite into something delicious and you know that you just lost all internal control to stop eating. Well, I ate way too much and asked our waitress for the recipe of the enchilada sauce. When she brought it out to me, I had no clue how easy it was to make your own sauce instead of buying can. If you have these ingredients pictured below, you can make it at home.

It by far changed how I approached cooking sauces. I assumed it was so much easier to just by the can already done but most sauces are this simple.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

1 can of tomato sauce

3 Tbsp of chili powder

2 Tbsp of cumin powder

1 Tbsp of garlic powder

1 Tbsp of oregano

Mix all ingredients on the stove top and bring to a boil, reduce and simmer. You can even do this in the microwave if you are running behind on time. One other tip – if you like your sauce to be thicker, you can add a bit of flour to thicken it up while cooking. We like ours thin.


I double this batch to make an extra one to put in the freezer

You will need a 9 x 13 pan and preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

1 lb of ground chorizo, pork, beef, or turkey (we like ground chorizo)

1 can, drained kidney beans (you can use black beans if you prefer)

1 red onion sliced

1 Tbsp of minced garlic

1 Tbsp of chili powder

1 Tbsp of cumin

1 tsp of oregano

1 Tbsp of fresh chopped cilantro (reserve some for garnish)

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar Cheese

10″ Tortillas

1 Tbsp olive oil

Start by spraying your 9 x 13 pan with a non-stick spray, pour enough enchilada sauce to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Next, put oil in your skillet and cook ground chorizo, garlic and onion together until done. Drain and place in a bowl. Add your beans. Add remaining seasoning. Add 1/2 cup of cheese and mix all ingredients together.

Get your assembly line ready, 9 x 13 pan, sauce, meat mix, and tortillas. Take the tortillas and add approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of meat mixture into the shell. Fold then two ends and then roll the sides together to create a pocket style tortilla. Repeat till you have filled the entire pan with the enchiladas. I do not stack them but instead line them up side by side. Next, add more enchilada sauce to cover the tortillas, sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Serve with guacamole and blue corn tortillas

Freezer Enchiladas

Take the remaining meat mixture and sauce, in a 9 x 13 freezer safe pan, coat with non-stick cooking spray, add enough sauce to layer the bottom of the pan. Next, layer two shells, add meat mixture, top with cheese, shells, more sauce and repeat until you have used the meat mixture. The top layer should be tortillas, sauce and cheese. Wrap in aluminum foil tightly. I always write the date, and instructions for this wonderful freezer meal.

Oklahoma is the place to be….and if you can’t be in Oklahoma bring a taste of Oklahoma to you. I hope you enjoy these enchiladas!

Shrimpin’ in Orange Beach, Alabama

We just got back from a fabulous fall break in Orange Beach, Alabama. I hate to admit it but I had never heard of Orange Beach until my cousin talked to me about renting a condo with them. For those inquiring minds like me, I immediately googled favorite stops and things to do in and around this emerging beach town. I was excited for our family to have a bit of a getaway after an intense few weeks at home with work, soccer, track, and school.

Being so close to the Florida state line, it was easy for us to take a drive along Gulf Beach Highway. The FloraBama line is hopping with new condos, restaurants, and plenty of things to do for all. We took a day to visit the first Naval Air Station in the country down in Pensacola, Florida. For visitors to come on base, I assumed there would be an application to fill out ahead of time just to see the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime museum, the Naval Aviation Museum and Fort Barrancas. However, we were able to drive up to the gate, show proper ID, roll down the windows for the guard to view our car, and that was it. We were only allowed to travel on the Blue Angel Parkway and Taylor Road to see the visitor sites. The lighthouse is an amazing site to see however you must be 40″ tall in order to climb inside of the lighthouse. A small entrance fee into the museum and lighthouse but totally worth it except for your calves – they will strongly disagree. We even got to talk a walk out to the beach and see the lighthouse from the beach area. We then headed over to the Naval Aviation museum, the admission is free so another win for us Dave Ramsey folks. Jack our guide and former pilot was an amazing tour guide. He walked us through from start to finish sharing with us his personal stories of the Korean and Vietnam War. The sheer progress we have made in aviation over the last 100 years is phenomenal. The kids loved climbing in and out of the planes. We had fun shooting down the enemy and dodging them left and right to avoid their deadly missiles. We finished up the last portion of the morning walking through Fort Barrancas. The old Spanish fort was deactivated after World War II due to advancements in technology. The sheer infrastructure and design blows your mind away at this 1800’s old fort. Used during the civil war by the Confederacy and later surrendered to the Union, the brick and stone walls still stand and serve as a reminder of our need to secure our borders. The National Park Service now runs the fort and you can tour it for free.

We finally got to spend a very windy day at the beach but enjoyed putting our toes in the sand, building castles and finding lots of seashells for our classmates back home.

Sometimes you just need a little salt in the air to relax the mind. Our trip would not be a trip without focusing on the food. From the popular fast food restaurant of the Shrimp Basket to the Original Oyster House and finally to The Gulf, food was superb and hit the spot. The Original Oyster House was actually in Gulf Shores just a few miles down the road from us. The friendly service and upbeat decor made for a lively evening. I highly recommend the mouthwatering, with just the right amount of salt and breading, gator bites. My grilled flounder was great with a bit of cajun seasoning and the baked, stuffed crab was my husband’s highlight – though he did not order it and ate half of mine. You feel my struggle. It had diced green and red peppers in it that truly topped it off.

We tried Shrimp, tomatoes, mushroom, and pesto pizza at Lillians. If you love pesto like my cousin Erin – you must try this. It was delicious but oh so different. We wrapped up our short five day trip with a stop at The Gulf. So here is the low down, it is a bit pricey for the amount of food and the fact that you go to the counter and order your food, sit down and wait outside. However, I will tell you it was the best meal we had while we were there. I could have ordered more but you know I am frugal and my husband is even more so than me. I ordered grilled sea scallops, pureed cauliflower with pomegranates, and crispy brussel sprouts. My husband ordered the shrimp taco and we got an appetizer of crispy (which means slightly fried but not really) cauliflower. I wanted to immediately buy cauliflower and make this over and over again.

When you are on vacation, you typically do not want to cook but I am probably one of the exceptions to the rule. I love to try the grocery stores and local shops. I decided since it was the National Shrimp Festival, we would have a shrimp boil back at the condo. Blalock Seafood and Specialty market was high on my priority list to visit. Now, I have been to grocery stores that sell seafood and fish and Pike’s market in Seattle, but I have actually never bought seafood from the market. In good ole Kentucky, it is frozen or if you are lucky Kroger will have a sale on some fresh salmon or tilapia but never seafood. Blalock’s is a family owned and operated market place which I loved supporting. They had ahi tuna, mahi mahi, a white fish that I have no clue what the name was, shrimp – lots of shrimp, and lots of seafood dips to accompany your meal. I was floored when I walked in to find a selection of wine – bonus points. I walked away with four pounds of shrimp for 8 hungry souls and my go to Zatarrain’s shrimp boil in a bag. This by far is a one pot meal and so, so easy – just takes a bit of time and timing.

Shrimp Boil

4 lbs of Shrimp, shell on

2 large onions (I like red but my cousin likes yellow – so I went with yellow)

6 medium sized, diced potatoes (I had Yukon Gold so that is what we used but a red would be great as well)

12 Niblet (aka mini) ears of corn

2 14 oz packages of your favorite sausage (I like polish sausage but any will do)

1 tablespoon of butter

1 Lemon sliced in half

Salt and pepper

In a large stock pot, add 5 quarts of water. Drop the Zatarrain’s bag in the water with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of butter. Dice your potatoes. While you are waiting for the water to boil, slice your onion into strips and dice your sausage into 1 -2″ pieces. Rinse the shrimp with cold tap water and set aside. Once your water has come to a boil, add your potatoes, boil for 15 minutes.

Next add your corn, onion and sausage. Continue to cook for five minutes, Squeeze both halves of your lemon in the water, add a touch more salt and pepper, drop lemon halves in the water. Add shrimp and boil for 1 minute. Turn off heat and set aside. Drain water and serve.

This was so awesome and a nice meal to have in the condo. I hope you enjoy our travels and foods. Till next time Orange Beach….

At The Original Oyster House, they have a gift shop. I am a loyal and dedicated National Lampoons fan for life!!!!!

The Emerald City – Seattle

Oh Seattle! How I love this city with its eclectic culture, breathtaking views, and marvelous cuisine. I first went to Seattle in January of 2010 for a conference. It was actually warmer in Seattle than in Kentucky that year, which blew my mind. My idea was mountains, January, and the Pacific Northwest would be a blistering cold trip for us. Oh how I was wrong. When we flew in to SeaTac the temperature was 55 degrees compared to the single digits in Kentucky. Seattle was crystal clear for the first few days and we got to see spectacular views of Mount Ranier before the drizzle of rain the last few days of our trip.

We ventured throughout the city seeing the iconic sites of Pikes market, the first Starbucks and then a ferry boat ride to Bainbridge. This city was amazing and we even hit a few museums. The Sci-Fi museum is a must for any lover of Star Wars, Star Trek, and ET. On our second journey in 2016, we visited Chihuly gardens and glass museum. It was sheer perfection with the larger than life sculptures. The details that were so life like had you making a second glance to see if it was actually a pumpkin, flower, or not.

One highlight that is very near Chihuly gardens and the Sci-Fi museum is the space needle. Going at night will literally take your breath away. Even in January with the wind biting through your so called windbreaker jacket, it was well worth it. The culture and vibe of a city at night in lights creates the perfect setting for our final night in the Emerald City.

Food, glorious food. The selection of fresh seafood, chowder, teas, and numerous ethnic foods along with my all time favorite cheesecake are literally a block or two away from anywhere you want to go in downtown Seattle. We woke up the first morning and went to Pike’s market. We selected fresh bread and cheeses along with Washington’s number one produce, apples. We followed that up with a lunch of Pacific northwest chowder and cheesecake. I was in awe of the amount of tea shops as we walked the city streets on that first day. The Asian influence in Seattle is evident in the cuisine, tea shops, and spice stores. We walked into a tea shop and had our first tea experience. Little did we know at that time in 2010, we would travel a mere six years later back to Seattle and then leave there for China to adopt our daughter. Isn’t is cool sometimes when you see how this experience set the tone or the pace for an amazing journey years later.

We ventured to Bainbridge Island the next morning, while we were there we felt a bit like we were playing in the best movie of my childhood, The Goonies, the scenes looked so similar but we were not in Oregon. After we ferried back over to Seattle, we tried a flight of local craft beers. Everywhere we travel, we like to try the local food, beer and liquors. We had a crab boil for lunch but I was dying for salmon for dinner. If you are in Seattle you must try salmon. It is fresh from the market and will ultimately change your world.

To bring a little bit of 2010 and 2016 home, I made salmon for dinner. I love when I can find a whole filet on sale. This time I added a bit of flair with a cedar plank. Salmon cooked with a cider plank adds the extra smokiness to the dish. Sides? Well for our family we like potatoes but are love riced cauliflower or rice as a side dish. Our family is a 100% Royal Basmati rice family. My colleague and office mate’s family were from India. She introduced me to basmati rice in 2007 and we have never strayed. The aromatic rice blends well with any meat dish, especially salmon. I typically go for a green veggie when eating salmon or any other colored veggies. Asparagus is always a win with a bit of Stir fry oil and salt lightly baked or broiled to accompany your meal.


  • Salmon Filet, thawed, skin on
  • Cedar plank soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes in water
  • 2 Tablespoons of Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon of Splenda Brown Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of ground Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of course salt
  • 1 teaspoon of course pepper

Preheat grill or oven (375 degrees), Take cedar plank and place it on a baking sheet if you are going to cook it in the oven. I lined my baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place Salmon skin side down on plank. Mix your seasonings in a bowl and rub on the top side of the salmon filet. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes in oven. Grill for approximately the same time. We had enough salmon for two adults and two children, plus seconds for the kids and left overs for our lunch the next day.

Sides: Basmati Rice and Baked Asparagus

  • 2 cups of Basmati Rice
  • 3 cups of water
  • Hamilton Beach Rice Cooker
  • dash of oil

It takes 12-15 minutes to cook the rice, the cooker will automatically kick off and keep the rice warm while your salmon finishes cooking in the oven or on the grill.

Asparagus in my mind needs very little to make it delectable. A little bit of oil (stir fry or extra virgin olive oil) and salt go a long way. I roast this in the oven or the grill for about 12 – 15 minutes on 375 degrees.

Last, we like avocado in our home. We drizzle extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with Himalayan Pink salt. When you combine heart healthy foods and kids, you typically do not get great results. However, in our house our kids love grilled foods and veggies. Certain veggies may not be their favorite but they still have to eat it. Our oldest loves the stems of the asparagus and not the tips. Our youngest only wants tips on her plate – so it is a win-win for us. Our kids loved this salmon meal so much the other night they asked for seconds. I hope you enjoy a bit of the Emerald City in your home with this Salmon dish.