Archive for August, 2010

For those of us that like to decorate our homes for Halloween … now is the time to be browsing the stores for Halloween decorations.  Fall and Halloween decor has been displayed in stores now for weeks.  And the catalogs and magazines arriving by mail all show fall clothes, fall decor and Halloween costumes.  Kind of crazy — especially for those of us in California that feel like our summer just started with the recent hot weather!

Each year I browse around to see if there are few things to add to my Halloween collection.  Here are the things I recently picked up:

1)  I found these great straw nature balls at Homegoods called Home Decor Botanicals, made in Canada.  I found orange, bright green and brown.  I will spray paint the brown balls black. And I might even spray paint some a bright purple.

I plan to use them to fill my apothecary jars during the Halloween season.  If I have extras, I may tuck them in my fall swags on my fireplace mantels.

2)  I also found these cute Halloween dinner plates.  I plan to display them with my fun orange plates (a Christmas gift from several years ago) in my built-in glass cabinet.

I usually don’t change out my raspberry-colored Pierre Frey china that is displayed in my glass cabinet. It will be fun to change out the china for Halloween. Maybe it will even inspire me to change the display for Thanksgiving. I do have some brown and white transferware pieces I picked up a few years ago. We’ll see …

3)  I also found this fun, scary ghoul at TJMaxx.  He’s been hanging in our garage since the end of July.  (Jeff greets him every time he gets in and out of his car.)  I can’t wait to hang him from one of our birch trees in October!  Jeff will be happy, too.

4)  Each year, I hang a big black spider web above our front door.  I found another hairy spider to add to the web.

While browsing Homegoods, TJMaxx and Marshalls over the past couple of weeks – I did see some of the same decorations for sale that I have purchased in years past. Here are my favorites that I’m so glad I bought a couple of years ago.

I bought one black and two silver chandelier candle holders a couple of years ago (at either Marshalls or HomeGoods). I still see variations of these in the stores from time to time. I use the silver ones all year round. I use the black one for tablescapes at Halloween, along with a sheer black table runner. It also looks cute in Natalie’s newly decorated bedroom!

I just saw the Boo blocks at HomeGoods last week. I bought mine two years ago. HomeGoods also had black building blocks that spelled out “Happy Halloween”. I was tempted, but bought the straw nature balls instead.

Happy Halloween shopping!


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I just received my September issue of bon appetit this week.  In the magazine, they have a Watermelon Granita with Gingered Strawberries recipe that looked really good.

Granitas are ice desserts.  I think of them as a cross between a slushy and sorbet.

It’s been so hot in Southern California that I decided to make a double batch of the watermelon granitas yesterday.  Wow!  What a delicious, refreshing, easy to make dessert.  And, it’s fairly low calorie (and no fat)!  Got to love that!

Watermelon Granitas with Gingered Strawberries


  • 4 cups cubed seedless Watermelon
  • 3/4 cup Sugar, divided
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Lemon Juice, divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh Ginger 
  • 4 cups quartered hulled Strawberries


  • Puree melon, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and pinch of salt in a blender.  Pour into an 8-inch square pan.  Freeze 1 hour.  Whisk mixture and return to the freezer.  Freeze until solid, 2  1/2 to 3 hours.
  • Remove from the freezer and use a fork to scrape into icy flakes. Cover and keep frozen until you serve.
  • Stir 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and ginger in pan over low heat until sugar melts.  Cool the liquid.  Mix in berries.
  • Layer berries with syrup and granita in glasses.

I will definitely make this again.  It’s a great summer dessert.   I may substitute with lime juice and I will definitely use less sugar in the syrup, especially if the watermelon is sweet.

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This is the last of my blog posts on our European trip.  While it doesn’t touch on my favorite things, I do think there are some general tips that can help make traveling in Europe much more enjoyable.

So … this is for those of you that may be planning a trip to Europe in the near future.  You will more than likely use the public transportation, so hopefully some of these tips can help you save some time and money (and avoid some frustrating situations).

Traveling by Train:

  • In my experience, you generally don’t need to book train reservations in advance.  We’ve had great luck just showing up at the station and purchasing tickets for that day.  Exceptions are holidays and popular routes during tourist season (e.g., Florence to Venice).  If you are traveling with a larger group and want to get seats together, you may want to book in advance.
  • When traveling by train, it’s best to check train schedules before arriving at the train station.  It can save a lot of “waiting around” time at the stations.  Train schedules are available at the train stations and online (http://www.raileurope.com).  Many hotels and apartments have Internet access, so if you have your laptop with you – it’s easy to check.
  • You can purchase train tickets via self-serve kiosks in many train stations.  This can often save you time … no need to wait in the long lines.
  • If you are traveling as a family of four or more, you can often get a family discount.  If you are using the self-serve kiosks, select the Promo option.
  • When traveling by train, check to see if there are fast train options (e.g., EuroStar).  It costs a bit more, but the time savings is usually worth it.
  • When trying to find the Bin (or Platform) for your train, you will usually need to identify your train number (on your train ticket).  The Arrival and Departure screens show the final destination of the train — not necessarily your final destination. That’s where your train number comes in handy when looking at the departure screens.
  • Some trains require that you time stamp your ticket before boarding the train.  These are generally the trains where you don’t have assigned seats (or you are sitting in second class).  Look for bright yellow or orange time stamp boxes on the bins (platforms).  Look around to see if other passengers are stamping their tickets.  I’ve gotten two citations in my past travels.
  • Be aware of pick pockets at the train stations.  I’ve been with family and friends that have had close calls with their wallets and purses.

Traveling by Taxi:

  • When taking taxis, make sure you use the city taxis.  They generally have a city logo on the car door or something uniform that identifies them.  This is especially important at train stations and airports.  Wait in the designated taxi lines.  There are many “scam artists” looking to take advantage of tourists.   They will try to convince tourists to get out of the taxi lines and walk over to their taxi.  Then they charge an exhorbitant fare.
  • In the cities, if you are having difficulty finding a taxi, ask for directions to the closest taxi stand.  In some cities, taxis can only pickup passengers in designated areas.
  • If you are traveling with a lot of luggage, you may want to have your hotel call for a larger taxi that can handle more luggage when going to the airport or train station.  We had the rental apartment agencies call for us.

Traveling by Bus:

  • When traveling within the city by bus (or electric train in Rome), you can purchase bus tickets at the newspaper stands.  These are the green huts that are located throughout the city.  In Rome, you pay 1 Euro to ride for 75 minutes.  You can also get multi-day passes.
  • You are supposed to time stamp your ticket when you initially board.  I haven’t seen many people do this — especially the locals.  But, the alternative could be a citation.
  • Check the bus schedules when traveling on holidays or Sundays.  There are a lot fewer buses that run on Sundays and holidays.

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On our trip, we spent two weeks in Italy and three days in Paris.  And, our kids loved Paris the best of the entire trip.  What our kids loved most about Paris was the Eiffel Tower.  And who can blame them?

Here are some of my favorite snapshots … that aren’t necessarily the traditional photos, but are from some of the tourist spots.

The gargoyles

Gargoyles decorate many of the cathedrals in Europe.  The facial expressions of the gargoyles are fantastic!  These are from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral on Ille de la Cite.

The Street Performers

Some of the street performers are quite entertaining.  This Parisian was balancing on glass bottles (from a shotglass to a wine bottle)! Pretty amazing.

The architecture of the Louvre Palace

When most people think of the Louvre Museum, they think of the glass pyramid. Most of the museum is housed in the Louvre Palace which began as a fortress in the late 12th century.

Park Benches

Paris has so many beautiful parks.  It’s fun to find a bench, sit for a while and “people watch”.

Curie Institute

Being married to a “Curie” who is related to Pierre Curie (Marie’s husband), it was interesting to see the Curie Institute.  Marie and Pierre invented radium and developed the first X-Ray machine. They both won Nobel Prizes in Physics for their achievements.

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I recently posted that I was looking for a great recipe for Tiramisu.  Well, I think I found it!

Over the weekend, I tried a recipe that I saw on David Rocco’s Dolce Vita cooking show.  My girlfriend Stacey told me about the show right before we left on our trip to Italy.  (She’s a big fan of Italy, too.)  Now I’m hooked on this show (Cooking Channel).

David Rocco’s show is a bit quirky, but he does make you want to move to Florence and start cooking.  At least, Jeff and I are ready to move!

David uses fresh ingredients and makes simple, authentic recipes.  Here’s his recipe for Tiramisu.  My family thought it tasted just like we had in Italy.


Servings:  8

2 cups Espresso, cooled

1/3 cup Sweet Italian Vermouth (I substituted Kahlua)

40 Italian Ladyfinger cookies

1 lb. Mascarpone Cream Cheese

5 Eggs

5 Tbs. Sugar

Bittersweet chocolate for shavings


1.  Separate the egg yolks from the whites into different mixing bowls.  In the bowl with the yolks, add sugar.  Beat mixture with an electric mixer until the consistency is creamy.  Add the mascarpone cheese and mix it thoroughly.

2.  In the other mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they have fluffy white peaks.  Carefully fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.

3.  In another bowl, mix the espresso and vermouth (or Kahlua).  Dip cookies in the coffee mixture for a few seconds, making sure the cookies are wet outside but still somewhat dry in the middle.  Arrange dipped cookies tightly on the bottom of an 8 x 10 pan.

4.  Pour half of the cream mixture on top of the cookies and spread evenly.  Add a second layer of soaked lady fingers.  Spread the remaining mixture on the top.

5.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  (You can make this dessert and refrigerate overnight).  Before serving, garnish with chocolate shavings.


  • This is an easy recipe to modify for servings.  The ratio of eggs to sugar is 1 egg to 1 Tbs. of Sugar.  I made the recipe the other night using 8 eggs, 8 Tbs sugar and 1  1/2 lbs of mascarpone.  It turned out great!
  • I use a grater or microplane to grate the chocolate.  I use a 3.5 oz Valrhona Dark Chocolate Bar (71% Cacao) that I pick up at Trader Joe’s.  (See next note).
  • I like to use chocolate shavings on both layers of the creamy mixture.  So in step 4, I sprinkle the first layer of cream with chocolate shavings before adding the second layer of cookies.  I usually add the chocolate shavings on top before I refrigerate, too.
  • This tiramisu is very creamy and soft.  You spoon it out to serve it (vs. cutting it like a cake).
  • Reminder:  you need to use real Italian ladyfinger cookies (not the sponge cake cookies).  You can find these at Italian delis or even World Imports Cost Plus.

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We spent the last three days of our European trip in Paris.  We happened to be in Paris on  Bastille Day (July 14).  Bastille Day is a French national holiday celebrating the storming of the Bastille.  It was a pivotal event to the start of the French Revolution.

If you happen to plan a summer trip to Paris, it’s worth it to be in the city on July 14th!

While we were eating breakfast on a sidewalk cafe, we got the unexpected treat of seeing the military airshow.  We knew there were parades on Champs Elysees, but we decided to not mess with the crowds.  So sitting there eating our croissants and drinking cafe ole by our apartment, we saw this amazing air show.

Since many of the museums and stores are closed on Bastille Day, we decided to take the train out to Versailles.  We toured the palace and had lunch.

We wanted to be back in the city in the evening, as there is a spectacular fireworks display by the Eiffel Tower.  We had walked over to the Eiffel Tower the day before, to “scope out” a great place to watch the fireworks.  The fireworks are launched from the Trocadero (over the river and next to the Eiffel Tower).

What we didn’t realize, is that all of Paris comes out for the fireworks.  We got to our spot two hours before the fireworks were to begin and the crowds had already started.  It doesn’t get dark until 10:30 pm in the summer, but the lights in the city — especially the Eiffel Tower — are incredible. 

The wait was worth it for the fireworks!!!  We saw the best fireworks display ever.  It lasted 30 minutes.  And, it was like watching grand finale after grand finale.

If you ever get the chance to be in Paris on Bastille Day, take it!  It will be a day (and night) to remember.

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I am on the quest to find the best Tiramisu recipe.  On our trip to Italy, we had tiramisu several times.  The kids fell in love with the dessert!  (And they don’t like coffee).

Tiramisu is a dessert made with eggs, mascarpone cheese, sugar, espresso, ladyfinger cookies and chocolate shavings or cocoa powder.  A flavored liquor is optional.   It’s a simple dessert to make.

I have tried two recipes since we returned from our trip.  Gale Gand’s Tiramisu (Food Network) is the best so far.  I’ve included the recipe below.  But, I am still searching.  If you have a great tiramisu recipe, please share it!

Please note, I found a simple, classic Italian tiramisu recipe that my family & friends love.  It’s much easier than this recipe and is more authentic.  Please see August 18, 2010 post … Found:  The Best Tiramisu.

Here are some key tips I’ve learned so far:

  • Buy traditional Ladyfinger Cookies (not the sponge cake cookies you find in most grocery stores).  The sponge cake cookies soak up too much espresso resulting in a soggy dessert.  This may require a trip to your closest Italian Deli.  I did find them at our Cost Plus.  Some Trader Joe’s have them during the holiday season.
  • It’s best to make the dessert the day before.  The flavors are much better!
  • In Italy, most tiramisu is made with cocoa powder.  I prefer dark chocolate shavings.



7 Egg Yolks
1 cup Sugar
3 cups Mascarpone Cheese (or 1  750-gram container mascarpone)
4 1/2 tablespoons Water
1 1/2 tablespoons Powdered Gelatin
3 Egg Whites
1/4 cup Sugar (for egg whites)
1 cup Heavy Cream, whipped
2 1/2 cups cooled Espresso
1/2 cup Kalhua
20 to 24 Ladyfingers
1 cup Chocolate shavings


In a mixer with the whip attachment, whip egg yolks and 1 cup sugar until thick and pale in color (ribbon stage). Add mascarpone and whip until well incorporated.

Pour water into a small bowl then pour powdered gelatin over it. Do not stir. Allow gelatin to absorb all of the water (about 15 minutes) then place the bowl on top of a small saucepan containing simmering water (creating a double boiler). Immediately turn off the heat and allow the gelatin to dissolve completely.

In a separate bowl, whip egg whites to a soft peak, gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly pour in dissolved gelatin. Whip to a stiff, glossy peak. Fold whites into mascarpone and yolk mixture then fold in whipped cream.

In a separate bowl, combine espresso and kalhua. Soak 1 ladyfinger at a time in the espresso mixture. In an 8 by 10-inch pan, arrange soaked ladyfingers close together in neat rows until the bottom of the pan is completely covered. Pour 1/2 of the mousse over the ladyfingers and smooth with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle 1/2 of the chocolate shavings over mousse. Create another layer and chill until set.

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