Critique and a Fall Hot Chocolate

img_2610One of my favorite parts of belonging to a critique group is watching how an idea forms at the beginning of a story with a full circle of that idea at the end of the story…in other words, watching the story arc unfold. I’m so excited to read, The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass ( I loved the first book, The Candymakers and enjoyed being part of the beginning critique sessions for the second book. The characters Logan, Miles, Daisy, and Philip are off on a new adventure. The unfolding of this adventure is exciting!

Speaking of a new adventure, I was also inspired by this book to whip up something chocolaty. Chocolate and orange are fun to mix together, so I decided to mix them in a hot chocolate drink. Below is a recipe for homemade hot chocolate with an orange twist.

As your child reads the story about the Candymaker kids, and the twists and turns they encounter, enjoy the recipe below. This book is also a great reading accompaniment to Halloween candy. Wendy Mass tells her readers on the dedication page to, “Read with candy!” I know I was. Have a happy Halloween!

Do you have a favorite part of your critique sessions?

Hot Orange-Chocolate Cocoa

Serves 2


  • 2 1/2 cups milk (almond or soy milk can be used)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened chocolate mix. (Can use Carob powder for a caffeine-free substitute)
  • 2 teaspoons turbinado sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp orange peel (grated)
  • one candied (or glazed) orange peel
  • whipped cream of choice (optional)


  • Heat milk to a near boil in a saucepan. Be careful not to bring to a boil as it can alter milk taste.
  • Add chocolate mix, sugar, and orange peel. Stir until all ingredients are dissolved.
  • Pour into two 8 – 10 ounce mugs. A larger mug is better for stirring – and more whipped cream!
  • Top with whipped cream.
  • Place one candied orange peel on top of whipped cream.


First Days of School Comfort Food

My grandmother(Ma) and me when I was 10 yrs. old.

My grandmother(Ma) and me when I was 10 yrs. of age.

Happy first day of school!  When my kids come home and smell sauce cooking on the stove, they are excited for spaghetti. When I was little, I loved the smell of sauce cooking, too. One day after school,  my mom asked if I wanted to help make spaghetti sauce. I was eager to start! I asked Mom if she learned from her mother. To my surprise, she said no. She learned from my father’s mother. My paternal grandmother, Ma, had taught her when she and my dad were first married.

My parents met in France in the town of Chaumont, while my dad was serving in the U.S. Airforce. They dated for three years and were married in a beautiful Cathedral in the town of Troyes. After the wedding, they moved to the United States and lived close to my father’s family. My dad’s parents warmly accepted my mom as their daughter-in-law and his two sisters lovingly accepted her as their sister-in-law. My mom only knew a few food names in English such as steak and eggs (and ate alot of that because they were the only words she knew!) And so, Ma helped to teach my mom English as well as how to cook.

Ma, nicknamed by my oldest sister when she was a baby, was an amazing person. She always saw the bright side of life. She used to play the accordion and the piano without ever taking a lesson or learning to read a note.  Ma was often in the kitchen cooking and the house would smell great. One morning when I was little and spent the night at her home, I woke up to the  smell of something delicious. I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to find out what it was. Ma was browning a ground beef and sausage mixture. I asked Ma why she was making this so early in the morning and she said, “I make half the meat for the dogs and the other half for our sauce. The dogs love it!”  I hadn’t noticed all three of the dogs sitting by the table, waiting patiently. “What lucky dogs to have this for breakfast!” I replied. I loved Ma’s sauce so much, she let me have it for breakfast. I had had breakfast for dinner, but not dinner for breakfast. I will always remember how fun it was to eat spaghetti with sauce early in the morning!

Now, I make sauce every first day of school . . . for dinner. It is a comfort food. It is comforting for me because I tear up from missing the kids as well as from thinking about Ma, and it is comforting for the kids to come home to a familiar meal. At dinner time, the first day excitement is felt as we pass garlic bread and talk about the happenings of each child’s day. Spaghetti with sauce, garlic bread, and a special dessert; the perfect way to end a first day and to start a new year.

Serves 8


  • 1 lb (500g) ground beef – May substitute 1/2 – 1 can red kidney beans for a Vegetarian meal.
  • 1/4 lb (125g) hot Italian sausage (bulk or cut off skin of sausage to mash into ground beef) Omit as Vegetarian option.
  • 1 link hot Italian sausage – sliced (Omit if Vegetarian)
  • (4) Tbs Extra Virgin olive oil
  • (1/2) large bulb garlic – finely chopped
  • (1) Tbs Italian seasoning
  • (1/2) Tbs dried basil
  • (1/2) Tbs dried oregano
  • (2) Tbs dried parsely
  • (1) 28 oz (793g) crushed tomatoes
  • (1) 15 oz(425g) tomato sauce
  • (1) 12 oz(340g) tomato paste – keep empty can to add 1 1/2 to 2 cans of water
  • Salt/white pepper – to taste


  • In large, heavy-bottom  pan, heat olive oil on low and add garlic. Stir until golden yellow.
  • Add meats and stir until browned thoroughly (Omit meat and add beans if Vegetarian option)
  • Add seasonings and stir
  • Add crushed tomatoes, sauce, and paste and stir
  • Add water
  • Stir well and keep on low heat, stirring regularly.
  • Simmer for one hour.

Serve over your favorite pasta and enjoy!

4th of July Pudding in a Cloud

IMG_1144Happy 4th of July! I took a trip to visit my childhood friend from when I lived in Africa. She lives in Texas and I was thrilled to take a long weekend to stay with her and catch up with our lives. On my flight there, I took pictures of the different cloud coverage while en route. The beauty of the changing clouds was surreal and it was so cool to see the vast, beautiful sky.

While taking pictures of the clouds, I was thinking of Michele and I’s time together when we were little and living in Africa. She and I had so much fun attending school, going on mini trips with our parents to places like a malachite mine, swimming in lakes and rivers while camping, and hiking on the Lufimi River in the Congo.

One of my favorite desserts to make when Michele would come over was Pudding in the Cloud. The ease of making instant pudding mixed with my favorite topping, whipped cream, made it an all-time favorite. And it’s a dessert I still love to make, and my kids really enjoy.

Whether you are celebrating today with childhood friends, family, or co-workers, this dessert is great for everyone. Have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Pudding in a Cloud


  • 2-4 Large Packages of instant chocolate pudding (may use any flavor pudding and amount will depend on the size of your bowl)
  • 1 can whipped cream (may use any variety of your favorite whipped cream)
  • Red and Blue M&M’s or any favorite sprinkles (amount varies)


  • Decide whether you will use one bowl such as in picture above, or individual cups or bowls.
  • Make pudding according to package directions.
  • Scoop pudding and place a small layer on bottom of bowl.
  • Add a small layer of whipped cream onto the top of the pudding.
  • Scoop another layer of pudding onto the whipped cream.
  • Add another layer of pudding onto the whipped cream layer.
  • Continue to layer until a whipped cream is the top layer of the bowl or individual cup.
  • Sprinkle Red and Blue M&M’s (or any favorite sprinkles) on the top layer of the last whipped cream.
  • Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.







Strawberry Moon Coconut dessert

strawberry moonYesterday was the kid’s last day of school and it happened to fall on the night of the Strawberry Moon. Every last day of school we have a bonfire. Last night, neighborhood families came over and we sat around the fire pit, talking about the past school year. A large amount of papers from the kids’ notebooks went into the fire when the topic of the Strawberry Moon came up. Unfortunately we couldn’t see all of the moon, but some of the haze peeking through the clouds sparked our curiosity. My neighbor, Natalie, filled us in on the night event.

The Strawberry Moon is so named because it occurs in the month of June when strawberry fields yield the ripest fruit. It occurs when there is a full moon on the same night as the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. There is also a reddish glow on the surface of the moon, hence, a strawberry color. The year of 1967 was the last Strawberry Moon and it is predicted to be another 46 years before the next one.

I wonder if we will be sitting around a bonfire at the next Strawberry Moon? If so, I will be ready with the story of this one. Maybe it will occur on the last day of school for my (great) grandchildren. And maybe we will have the dessert below while my kids tell their children about this very cool lunar event.

Did you get to see the Strawberry Moon? If so, where might you be for the next one?

Strawberry Moon Coconut (Non-dairy) Dessert

Serves 2


  • 1/3 cup vanilla soy or coconut milk
  • 4 dates, pitted
  • 1 – 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 cup coconut, shredded
  • 1 package of moon-shaped almond cookies (or any cookie in shape of a half-moon)


  • Blend first 3 ingredients in a high-powered blender.
  • Add coconut and fold.
  • Place moon shaped cookies on a plate, either on the side of the plate or at the bottom, in a row.
  • Place one or two scoops of dessert onto cookies or on the side of cookies.
  • Enjoy on a warm summer night!



Memorial Day Salads

IMG_1489Happy Memorial Day! It is a day to remember and honor those who fought for our freedom and to give thanks. My kids’ grandfather was in the Navy and was a New York City fireman. He passed away six years ago and we miss him everyday.

I am so thankful to have known this man as my children’s ‘Grandpa’. Kind, caring, strong, honest and a true family man; we had great family visits, whether he and grandma came to us, or we went to see them. We never lived in the same town, so all of our time together was spent on vacations that were 24/7. After 20 years of anywhere from one to two IMG_1488weeks, 3 to 4 times a year, 24/7, you got to know each other very well. We learned about our daily lives and talked about everything from what was in the newspaper that day (grandpa read the paper every day) to stories of war and the way life was when he was growing up.

Most of that time was also spent cooking . . . breakfast, lunch and dinners together. One of Grandpa’s favorite salads was potato salad and served along side of that was Grandma’s macaroni salad. My potato salad and Grandma’s macaroni salad would be at every visit, in the summer months.

Since Grandpa’s passing, I’ve taken over making Grandma’s macaroni salad and it warms my heart when I see her smile, the way we do when a familiar taste graces our taste buds. I know this means she is happy with how I make the salad, exactly as she would make it. I also know, it means Grandpa would approve of it too.

Macaroni Salad


  • 1 cup mayonnaise – add 2 tablespoons of milk, stir until blended
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked, drained
  • 1/2 cup onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery


  • In a large bowl, stir first 4 ingredients until smooth.
  • Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat well.
  • Serve chilled.

Potato Salad


  • 6 eggs -hard boiled and peeled, chopped
  • 10 red or white potatoes – boiled, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup dill pickle relish
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup celery – finely chopped 
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sliced black olives


  • In a large bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, relish, mustard, salt, and pepper until smooth.
  • Add eggs and mix well.
  • Add potatoes and fold.
  • Stir in remaining ingredients and serve chilled.


Food Revolution Summit and University Student Life

Interestingly, the Food Revolution Summit ( I just spent the week listening to, takes place at a time when the Wall Street Journal published an article about students at Yale, Brown and other universities demanding a change of policy regarding racial inequality. Presidents are pledging HUGE, multi-million dollars to support these changes. They are pledging to hire more racially diverse professors, to increase classes on racial diversity, and to give more scholarships to racially diverse students. This gives me hope.

What would happen if these same students and students of all races . . . no matter what color your skin, your hair, your eyes, your body type; no matter what economic place you or your parents are in; no matter what state you were born in; no matter what country you were born in; no matter what religion you practice; whether you are vegan or vegetarian or meat eating . . . but simply ALL students stood up to the policy on FOOD at their universities?

Imagine the impact of all students demanding a change in the food available for them to eat and the policies regarding food at universities. Imagine the impact of these students realizing that their strength is within a UNIFIED collaboration of each person seeking to make a change for the greater good. It would be a greater good that will benefit each students health, their environment, their jobs, their lives, and the world they live in.

I say to these students, Yes!! You are doing GREAT WORK and to CONTINUE this great work by placing your energy into matters of the WORLD. The world needs you to make the difference, each one of you . . . collectively, collaboratively, and UNIQUELY you. The difference that a FOOD REVOLUTION in the universities, where feeding the mind, the body, and the souls of all students, will be life changing and will make a tremendous impact for all.

Isn’t, after all, the true message behind not discriminating, is to not discriminate against anyone? And isn’t the best way to show that you are PRO-EQUALITY is to be ONE WITH ALL? Healthy food for all.

Are you a student or a parent of a university student?  If so, what are the food choices you (or they) have at  school?


Happy Earth Day!

Celebrating Earth Day gives us time to think about making changes in life to help the greater good of our planet. Little ways every day can make a BIG difference. What are some of your favorite Earth Day and recycling ideas?

Heart ribbon on lavender bouquet

Heart ribbon on lavender bouquet

  • Ribbons – Recognize this ribbon? You guessed it! It’s a scrap leftover from my countdown ribbons. I save the scraps and use them for multiple reasons around the house. This one was used to make a lavender bouquet for the guest room. Rustic and sweet smelling all in one.
  • Twist ties from the grocery store – I have a compartment in the kitchen drawer just for these. Great for goody bag treats! Also, my daughter made me a cup of tea one day and it had what I thought was a very clever use of the twist tie. She used it to hold a tea bag on the side of my cup!

    Twist tie for tea

    Twist tie for tea

  • Yogurt cups – Yuumm! When the yogurt is gone, they really are the cutest little cups, aren’t they? We wash them out and save to plant herbs and flowers for the summer. Kids can also cover the cups on the outside with construction paper for a catch-all.
  • Water bottles – My kids have a reusable sports bottle, but there are times when a plastic water bottle is grabbed to go to after school activities. Just one use seems like a waste. So they bring the water bottle home, wash, and use it again by refilling each morning for lunches and after school.


  • Books – Using very old books for creative art projects is a great way to recycle. It transforms the art of the writing into an art to behold. I love this piece my daughter made for an art class in high school.

    Recycling old books

    Recycling old books