Sunday, August 2, 2020

When Life Gives You Lemons... make lemony goodness! 

Nothing says summer more than lemon. That deliriously citrus flavor is both mouthwatering and satisfying- especially during the warmer months. Lemons are clean, crisp and smell like sunshine. Why else would household cleaners be lemon scented? Though there's nothing like the large lemons in Amalfi, anything with lemon will surely lighten up my day. 

I love lemons so much that I even baked one inside a pie crust once and it was unbelievably good. Pucker up folks, here are some of my lemony favorites that will brighten anyone's day.

Big nod to Nonna Romana for the Lemon Ricotta Cake- it's so light and lemony. I like to make two smaller cakes or mini bundt cakes with this recipe. And who makes cookies better than Martha Stewart? Maybe me. These lemon glazed cookies are like a breath of fresh air. I've kicked it up by topping them with a drizzle of dark chocolate. The Absolutely Lemonade is from the old Bennigan's restaurant, years ago, when they were actually good. Ok, I had to literally bribe the bartender for the recipe, but it was worth it! And who doesn't like homemade Limoncello? Keep it in the freezer and you'll have an ice cold lemony treat this summer.

Lemon Ricotta Cake
Lemon Ricotta Cake
3 large eggs 
1 c. sugar
3 lemons, zest only
1 lemon, juice only
1 c. whole milk ricotta
2 T. full fat yogurt
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. baking powder
1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 inch springform pan with baking spray. In large mixing bowl, combine oil, sugar and lemon zest. Using an electric mixer, beat ingredients on medium speed until combined. Add in the eggs one at a time and beat until fluffy and pale yellow. Add in the ricotta and yogurt and beat until combined. Then add in the flour and salt and finally the baking powder. Beat until dry ingredients are just fully incorporated Do not over mix! Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 35 - 45 minutes or until the cake is set in the middle and golden brown. Cool for an hour and decorate with lemon slices and dust with confectioners' sugar.

Lemon Glazed Cookies
Lemon Glazed Cookies
2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 T. finely gated lemon zest + 2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. In large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and lemon juice and beat until combined. With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture.  

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons, 1 inch apart onto two baking sheets. Bake until edges are golden, 15 - 20 minutes. Let cool 2 minutes on sheets then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely  Spread cookies with Lemon Glaze and let set for 1 hour.  Lemon Glaze:2 c. confectioners' sugar, 2 T. lemon zest and 1/3 c. fresh lemon juice.

Absolutely Lemonade
10 Lemons, squeezed
1 qt. Sprite
1 qt. Seltzer
1 qt, warm water
1 lb. superfine sugar
1 qt. sour mix
1/5 Absolute Citron Vodka

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Navigating Social Distancing Gatherings During COVID-19

Social Distance Gatherings Can Work During COVID19
The call for social distancing means a lot of canceled plans -- from big events like parties, weddings or vacations, to smaller gatherings like religious services, brunch with friends or workout classes. But as quickly as social distancing has become the norm, Americans are adapting and not letting it prevent them from having fun and enjoying everyday life. Just take a clue from Italy, who has been in lock down the longest, yet found unique ways to socialize in order to stay sane!

Who we gather with and how we gather depends on what we think of as normal or abnormal; recognizing that this is different for all of us. It affects and shapes our sense of identity and our sense of who we are. It’s pretty fundamental when you think about it. Increased social fragmentation and loneliness have created what has been coined as "Quarantine Fatigue" and has affected our sense of well-being. 
Individual Mini Bundt Cakes
I’ve been wondering about how we’ll think about parties after this passes. We may be like, “We missed social interaction so much, let’s have a party for literally everything!”  We’ll re-imagine what we can do to make warmth and meaning even when we’re not physically together. I think one of the biggest opportunities is to find other ways to create warmth across distances. I think when all this is over, we’ll be running toward each other and being very deeply grateful for and not taking for granted the way we gather. One of the things that ends up happening when you can’t actually get together is you don’t take it for granted.
Individual Apps in Coffee Cups
Meantime, I've been thinking of ways to hold gatherings now that the warmer weather is here, where we can socially distance outdoors and maintain the connections that are so meaningful to us. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Set chairs apart 6 ft. in groups of 2 (per couple)
  • Have individual bottles of water and adult beverages with plastic glasses set up on a bar for easy access
  • Food should be individually wrapped in plastic bags, coffee cups or plastic plates for each couple or group so there is no cross contamination and include wrapped plasticware
  • Relax and enjoy the fact that you can reconnect by socially distancing
Interested in knowing more about how to stay sane during these uncertain times of COVID-19? I'll be a guest of Omena's At a Night At the Round Table to discuss Staying Sane During COVID-19 Quarantine to discuss this very topic, among others.  Please tune in at 10 PM on Thursday, May 21st and join me in the discussion:

or 515-605-5809
only during live shows
Skype: BBSRadioPR
Direct 323-744-4841

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Romance of Italy and its Delectable Cuisine

Cacio de Peppe in Rome
Italians are incredibly proud of their heritage and their food traditions.This was ever so apparent to me as last fall when I was on a tour of northern Italy with the First Congregational Church of Stratford, Connecticut. I had been to Italy three times prior, but was even more mesmerized by it's grandeur this time. Most likely due to the incredible tour guides who delighted us with relevant anecdotes about Italy's rich history and architecture,.

Luckily for us, the tour was only a few weeks prior to the catastrophic flood in Venice, and the subsequent outbreak of the Corona virus. My heart broke for the wonderful people of Italy, and now what we are all facing in the world as of today.

Twenty-one of us toured the very best of Venice, Florence,
Pantheon, Roman Temple in the Piazza della Rotonda
Tuscany and Rome. From its rich history to its awe inspiring, ancient architecture to its simple, yet elegant cuisine, it was definitely one of my most incredible trips.  I could go on and on all day about the fascinating history and jaw dropping architecture, but I'm here to tell you about the food. It's all about seasonal ingredients prepared in a simple way. There's nothing fussy or fancy about Italian food, it is very fresh, yet elegant. Coupled with that amazing Tuscan wine... need I say more? Bounissimo!!

Michaelangelo's David
You can't go wrong with fresh pasta and any one of the amazing sauces.  The homemade
Ponte Vecchio, Florence
pastas were fabulous and truly works of art. Native Italians are not real meat eaters- rather, they prefer more fresh fish and pasta. However, they touted Florentine Steak which we highly anticipated after admiring the sunset from one of the bridges overlooking Ponte Vecchio. It wasn't as spectacular as the sunset I captured when I was there in 1985, but still very memorable. The steak dinner didn't live up to the hype, but Michaelangelo's David did! Standing two stories tall, he is truly magnificent! We also made a trip on our free day to Osteria All'antico Vinaio, the infamous sandwich shop in Florence. The long line was well worth the wait. We enjoyed them with some Chianti at the Piazza de Michaelangelo which overlooks the city of Florence. It was breathtaking.

View from our hotel in Venice

The stop at Harry's Bar in Venice for a Prosecco before our gondola ride was worth every Euro- small and quaint with impeccable service. The gondaleers are highly adept at navigating the narrow canals and we were very lucky to be serenaded with the song Volare by Gondaleer. The pasta in Rome was absolutely to die for and just as memorable as seeing the Pope give his message during our Papal visit to St. Peter's Square.

Italians are proud of their land, and they all share their joy and delight in a place that speaks of what they are and of their flavors in the simplest of ways. Here are two of my favorites:

Cacio de Peppe

6 oz. spaghetti
3 T. butter, cubed
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1/3 c. freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Season generously with salt and cook pasta until it is al dente.
Cacio de Peppe
 Reserve 3/4 c pasta water and drain pasta. Melt 2 T butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan until toasted, about 1 minute.  Add 1/2 c pasta water and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining water. Reduce heat to low and add cheeses, stirring and tossing with tongs until cheese melts and coats pasta. Add more pasta water if pasta seems too dry. Garnish with grated cheese and fresh basil leaves.

Ragu alla Bolognese

1 lb. meatloaf mix
Ragu alla Bolognese 
1 lb. tomato puree (could be either fresh or canned)
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 c dry wine (either red or white will do)
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a large saucepan, add about 2 T olive oil and gently fry celery, carrot, onion and garlic until aromatic- about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add ground meat and season with salt and pepper. Stir well and when cooked, pour in the wine, taking a sip for yourself. Cook until wine evaporates and then add in puree. You can also add just a pinch of thyme and/or red chili pepper flakes at this point if you desire. Reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours. If sauce is too thick, you can thin it with chicken or vegetable broth. Toss with fresh pasta and top with freshly grated cheese. 

This recipe is from Fattoria il Poggio, a vineyard in Tuscany, where we enjoyed a tour, lunch and wine tasting.

Boun Appetito!!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Brunch on the Bayou

I was in New Orleans in the mid 1980’s and had the privilege of staying in the French Quarter.  I fell immediately in love with the quaintness, the architecture, the jazz and the food. Cajun cuisine is a style of cooking named for the French speaking people who came from Canada to settle in the Acadiana region of Louisiana. Its style is rustic, as it incorporates locally available ingredients and a simple preparation, much like Italian Peasant cooking.  I enjoyed the food of New Orleans and sampled staples of the City- everything from creole to benigets and chicory coffee at the famous Cafe du Monde.  I was recently inspired to recreate one of the meals I enjoyed there and so my Bayou Brunch was created. Truth be told, it really does take a lot for me to be impressed by myself, but this meal did it for me today, and I want to share it with you. Brunch included poached farm fresh eggs on a bed of sautéed cabbage and home fries, drizzled with a Cajun hollandaise sauce and a side of carmelized bacon. The meal was finished with hot, homemade benigets and chicory coffee from the famed Cafe du Monde. So in honor of Mardi Gras season, I bring you my Brunch on the Bayou...

Home Fries
Cube golden potatoes and spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until mostly cooked.  Meanwhile, dice one large onion and sauté in cast iron skillet with butter until half cooked.  Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper and smoked paprika. Cook over medium heat until potatoes are crispy.

Sautéed Cabbage
Slice half head of Savoy cabbage and sauté in large frying pan with butter and a dash of water.  Season with salt and pepper and paprika. Line serving plates with cooked cabbage and put home fries in the middle.  Top with poached eggs and drizzle with hollandaise. 

Cajun Hollandaise
2 egg yolks
2 t lemon juice
1/4 t salt
1/4 t smoked paprika
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted

In a tall and narrow cup or vessel that would fit the head of an immersion blender, add egg, lemon juice, salt, paprika and cayenne. Blend egg mixture with immersion blender. Stream in hot butter a little at a time, letting the butter cook the eggs slightly. Blend until sauce is light and fluffy and butter is incorporated. If sauce is too thick, add a few teaspoons of water to loosen it before serving.

Carmelized Bacon
Line rack on baking sheet with 1 lb. applewood smoked bacon in single layer. Sprinkle lightly with brown sugar, pinch of cayenne pepper and drizzle with maple syrup.  Chopped pecans optional.  Bake at 350 degrees until crispy, about 45 minutes.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Give Us This Day, Our Daily Bread

Is there anything more comforting than freshly baked bread right out of the oven? This time of year it’s especially comforting.  My grandmother taught me how to make bread when I was a young girl. That’s when I discovered that kneading dough can be very therapeutic. You need a bit more patient when using yeast in bread because it takes a few hours to rise and then you have to let it rest before baking it. Well worth the wait if you have the time! Quick breads are also great to make, especially if you are pressed on time and I have a few of my go-to’s to share with you. One of them is my great-aunt Fern’s banana bread. I put bananas that have turned a little brown into the freezer and they are ready to use when ready. (When my daughter was a baby, I thawed out the bananas and mixed it with her cereal- the consistency is perfect for that and the bread). Here are some of my favorites- some sweet, some savory, but all quick and easy!

Vintage Banana Bread

3 bananas, mashed
1/4 c butter, melted
1 c sugar
1 1/2 c flour
2 eggs
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c chopped nuts
1/2 c chopped dates

Cut up dates (if not already purchased chopped in a package) and roll in flour to prevent from sticking.  Mix all ingredients together and our into prepared loaf pan.  Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Johnny Cake (light corn bread)

1 c flour
3/4 c corn meal
3/4 t salt
1 beaten egg
5 t baking powder
1/3 c sugar
2 T vegetable oil
1 c milk

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add egg, milk and oil- blend well. Pour into prepared 8 x 8 square pan. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes at 300 degrees until golden brown.

Biscuit Mix

8 c flour
1/3 c baking powder
2 t salt
8 t sugar

Mix together and cut in 1 c Crisco.  This mixture will keep for months in the refrigerator.  
To make biscuits: Use I c biscuit mix and mix in 1/3 c milk. Can be rolled out and cut with a cutter or juice glass dipped in flour or dropped by large spoonfuls.  Place in greased pan and bake at 425 degrees until lightly browned. 

Dill Bread
2 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
2 t sugar
2 c small curd cottage cheese
2 T minced onion
4 1/2 c flour
2 T dill weed
1 t baking powder
2 t salt
2 t sugar
2 eggs

Sprinkle yeast on warm water - stir until blended. Stir in 2 t sugar to proof and set aside. Combine cottage cheese, onion, dill, baking powder, salt, sugar and eggs. Mix thouroughly.  Add yeast mixture and mix well. Add flour to make a stiff dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic. Place dough in greased bowl and turn to bring greased side up. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Punch down and turn onto lightly floured surface. Knead a few times and divide into two equal parts. Place each portion into well greased loaf pans. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool slightly and remove from pans onto wire rack and brush tops with melted butter.

Chocolate Brownie Bread

1 1/4 c flour
1 1/4 c sugar
6 T cocoa powder
1 T instant coffee
1 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1 c walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 c sour cream
1 egg
1 1/2 t vanilla
4 T butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 350. Butter loaf pan and line with parchment or wax paper. Butter paper and dust with bottom and sides with flour. In medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, coffee, baking soda and salt until blended then stir in the nuts. In large bowl, whisk together sour cream, egg, vanilla and melted butter, Add dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just blended and pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and untold onto wire rack.Wrap in plastic wrap, then overlap with aluminum foil. Let stand in cool place for at least one day before serving.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

French Onion Soup Gratinee Anyone?

French Onion Soup Gratinee
I was never a big fan of French Onion Soup because I thought it was always too dark and salty. Then one day, I found myself watching Julia Child on TV make her version of French Onion Soup.  As I listened to her describe the soup, I became intrigued so I started taking notes on what I whatever I could find.
My original notes from Julia- can you
tell I worked for Aetna at the time?

She recommended making the beef stock from scratch and I wholeheartedly agree.  Yes, it takes more time and patience, but well worth the the effort in the end.  There will be more than required for the soup, but it can be frozen and used at a later date. Carmelizing the onions mellows and sweetens their flavor and turns them to a nice, deep golden brown.  And a combination of Gruyere, Swiss and a sprinkle of Parmesan (along with Julia's splash of cognac) finishes it perfectly!
Julia Child

I did make one minor change to Julia's recipe.  Instead of using toasted slices of baguette, I use homemade croutons (again, more work, but well worth it!) because they are more manageable to eat within the soup and gives a nice texture to the top.  I don't believe in having to fight with your food when you eat it, and this is the perfect solution. So, when you have time on a cold, rainy weekend, make some French Onion Soup Gratinee- and raise a glass to Julia... you'll be glad that you did!

Beef Stock
Beef bones and veggies in roasting pan
Arrange a collection of raw, meaty bones on a roasting pan along with two onions cut in half, three carrots, cut in half, parsnips, two heads garlic, cut in half, and 4 stalks celery cut in half. Baste lightly with vegetable oil and roast in oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.  

Stock simmering in pot
Scoop bones and vegetables into a stock pot.  Remove fat from roasting pan and deglaze with 2 cups of water, simmering and scraping up whatever is left in the pan.  Pour into stock pot, and add cold water to cover ingredients.  You can add additional onions, carrots and celery at this point if you'd like. Add a large can of diced tomatoes to the pot and a handful of fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper and simmer 2 - 3 hours.  Remove bones, vegetables, garlic and herbs and put through a strainer.  

French Onion Soup Gratinee
Carmelized onions
In a large pot, sauge 6 cups sliced onions in 3 T butter and 1 T vegetable oil until softened, then add 1/2 t. each of salt and sugar.  Stir frequently about 20 minutes until onions are golden brown. Sprinkle with 2 T flour and cook slowly for 2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in 4 cups stock and 2 cups white wine. Simmer slowly for 30 minutes. 

To assemble the soup:  line the bottom of individual crocks with a 1/4 pat butter, then a slice of Swiss Cheese.  Ladle in the hot soup. Float a generous amount of croutons on top. Top croutons with a slice of Swiss cheese, a handful of Gruyere and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Top with a dash of cognac or sherry and bake in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and browned.  

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Visit to the Land Down Unda

My recent trip to Australia with the Stratford Sister Cities of the World was definitely a trip of a lifetime.  From the architectural eye candy in Melborne and Sydney (Opera House!!) to the variety of wildlife on Moonlit Sanctuary, Phillips Island and the Great Barrier Reef...and the people I met, I feel grateful to have had the experience. So much so, that I plan to return soon, this time with my husband. Two years in the planning, the 16 of us from Connecticut stayed at four and five star hotels and busy every day with excursions that provided us with a true sense of the country. Our hosts in Stratford, Victoria, John and Julie Ward, were awesome and very gracious during my stay with them and I have heard from them every day since returning home.

The food (for the most part) was nothing short of
Vegemite... NOT a big fan!
spectacular.  Aside from tasting Vegemite, one of their staples and one meal prepared for the masses coming to see the Penguin Parade, the food just seemed to just get better and better.  

Koala Friends & Expensive Drinks
Melborne is a melting pot of culinary culture. There is not a nationality that is not represented in this most immaculately clean city that provides free trams within its limits. Interestingly enough, there is a heavy Italian population there which is not surprising. When my family immigrated from Italy, half of them went to Ellis Island and the other half went to Australia. The city is very progressive, and you can see by the architecture that there has been an ongoing boom within the past 30 years. It's almost like the designers keep trying to outdo each other from one building to the next. Although they are respectful of the historical buildings, the additions and new construction hardly have a right angle to be found and lots of curved curtain walls. Ok, enough archi-speak. The group met for a nice pre-fixe dinner at the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. Looked like the railroad car from the Wild, Wild West! It was there that I tried kangaroo carpaccio. Was not a big fan- not so much for the taste, but the texture. And after feeding them at the Moonlit Sanctuary, it was hard to eat it. 

Feeding Kangaroos
Our group was very lucky to go on excursions for two days to see Australian wildlife including the Parade of the Penguins on Phillips Island at night. It was amazing to see the little penguins swim onto shore, shake themselves off and waddle in single file on their paths to their individual burrows. We also saw the 12 Apostles along the Grand Pacific Highway, very similar to the Pacific Highway in California. This was the location of Florida Georgia Line's music video H.O.L.Y.
12 Apostles 
The ocean and the cliffs were beyond words. The video is beautiful but doesn't compare to seeing it in person. We had a fantastic tour guide for those two days and Fred Garcarczyk, who was highly entertaining, had a way of connecting with our group. The back stories of the city, the sports competition, the information on the landscape, stargazing.... it was all spectacular. And when his daughter had a close call accident on the evening of the second day, our group sang to him upon our departure- something I am sure he will never forget. Thanks Fred of Oceania Tours, good on 'ya!

Classic Fish and Chips
Fish and Chips are one of the staples there, except that they use flake or shark instead of cod or haddock. There was a lot of this to be had, for sure and some better than others. One thing that I found interesting was that the wine glasses had a small white line on them, indicating how far (or not so in this case) to fill the glass. Oh, and the martinis were $35 dollars each and only filled half way. Yeah, I guess you could say that it was the closest thing to highway robbery that I have seen in the recent past, but what the hey, I was in Australia!
Sea Spray Beach

Stratford is a small town in Victoria, Australia and I was blessed to stay with John and Julie
The Fabulous John and Julie Ward
Ward, our hosts who live on a 100 acre farm. They live in a cute, post-war house overlooking acres of land and dotted with beautiful paper trees including a family of deer, a sweet dog and cozy cat and a cockatoo. John was up each morning to make a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast while Julie shared creamed honey and her tomato jam which was fabulous. Ironically, I tried Vegemite on the product's 96th birthday. Not sure what it is really made of but all I can say is that it has the look and consistency of the beef flavored Better Than Bullion. I spread it on toast and had all I could do to keep it down! So, while we were on an excursion to Raymond Island to see the koala bears, John was my personal tour guide that day and we made a quick stop into a grocery store.  I wanted to find things that we don't have here in the US.  I was amazed at how BIG the kiwi fruit was! A good three times the size of the ones we have here. I opted to pick up Tim Tams, a favorite cookie that is best described as a Keebler Elf cookie dipped in chocolate. A lot of us brought them home with us and I was amazed to learn that you can buy them at Target. I was also taken by a sweet dessert called Hedgehog Cake.  It's a semi-dense chocolate cake that has coconut in it and it is not too sweet- cannot wait to make it.

The Ward's also have a beach cottage at Seaspray, about 35 miles from Stratford. Beautiful, sweet cottage/gallery a short walk from the beach. Julie is an incredibly talented artist and musician. She took me for a walk on the beach, a bit chilly, but very beautiful. Of course, I picked up pockets full of shells, which are very different from the ones here on the east coast of the US. They have a colorful, blue and pink plaid design on them. Yes, I hand carried them and smuggled them back home. Like my friend Shelia says: "Shells tell
Julie's Canvas on My Shelf at Home
stories all their own". I was very taken back the last day l was there when I saw Julie, sipping tea in her lavender bathrobe painting seascapes on small canvases as gifts. Mine is proudly displayed in my sea themed master bathroom.

Sydney is as spectacular as you would imagine. If you were following the Royals last week, you saw them in Sydney and Bondi Beach. So great to have been to those places and see the multi-million dollar views from a different perspective. Sydney is a very expensive city to live in and most who live there are business professionals that work and/or live in the city. They had an inter-city transportation system like Melborne, however at some point decided to do away with it. Regretting the decision, they are currently building a new inter-city tram system, very much the Big Dig in Boston and costs just as much as construction workers are on the job 24/7. Construction was in full swing in front of the Four Seasons Hotel where we stayed. The view of the harbor and the Opera House was spectacular! Architecturally speaking, the buildings
City Architecture
were nice, but not as interesting as the ones that adorned Melborne. Don't get me wrong, it is a fascinating city and I can see why there is this ongoing competition with Melborne on many levels. 

The first day there, we were taken on a private yacht on a 4 hour tour of the harbor which included a fantastic lunch prepared on board. I was somewhat amazed that the crew was able to pull it off but it was great and a good time was had by all. Even got to see Russell Crowe's townhouse that juts out into the harbor. The last day in Sydney, my travel companion Kathy and I decided to tour the Opera House. Nothing short of
The Iconic Sydney Opera House
breathtakingly spectacular! I didn't realize the magnitude of the venue until then and certainly had no idea that the Opera House is in fact, three separate buildings. The back story was as amazing as the architecture itself. Added bonus: we got to see the Symphony Orchestra practice during the tour and it was magnificent! In between all these activities, I had the opportunity to meet the Head Chef, Jasper Puzon, of the Four Seasons Hotel and got a behind the scenes tour of the kitchen and bakery areas. In fact, I was invited to cook with the pastry chef but the only day I had time was on a day when the hotel was preoccupied with a large, legal organization event. They were very gracious and generous and sent desserts over for two nights in a row to me and my four "Koala Friends". 

Sunrise View from Hotel in Caines
Caines is where it was the most warm as compared to the other cities that were somewhat chilly since they were entering into their springtime. The hotel actually had mini apartments overlooking the ocean and the sunrises were spectacular! It was absolute heaven! Another excursion took us on a Catamaran to Michelmas Cay, home of the Great Barrier Reef. It was a beautiful,
Great Barrier Reef 
sunny day and the color of the water was indescribable. Our group was in a special boat with a glass hull so we were essentially underwater, looking at beautiful fish, sea turtles and the reef. Amazing! 

The next day, we went on an Aboriginal tour and had the experience of learning from the Kuku Yulanji tribe and learned about its 160 million year history in this ancient part of the world.  We learned how to spear fish in the ocean, walk the rain forest, participated in a smoke ceremony and learned about Aboriginal body painting, a personal ornamentation that is an ancient tradition which carries deep spiritual significance for Australian Indigenous people and varies based on tribes and topographical location. 

Serenity Pool
Secret Garden Cocktail
Australian Lamb Chops
Ok, so vacation is coming to a close, and Kathy and I enjoyed time at two of the three pools on the grounds including a Serenity Pool and the Secret Garden cocktail that includes rose wine, prosecco, elderflower liquor on edible flower infused ice cubes and a strip of cucumber. All I can say is WOW!! Dinner the last night in Australia included (of course) lamb chops. Aussies like to cook them very well done, but I opted for medium.  

Australia was everything (and more!) than I expected it to be and its history, landscape and people are fascinating. I enjoyed meeting new friends, both near and far, and look forward to going back again soon!