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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Soup Time!

Soup.  I could live on the stuff.  Connie, not so much.  In his book it's right up there with fruit.  Or, down there, I should say.  My stack of soup recipes rarely gets used because I get tired of the griping.  But, this weekend is an exception to the rule.  I'm making three soups. 

You see, I'm getting to meet one of my food blogging friends in person.  How much fun is that?  I'll head over to another food blogging friend's house and we'll all have lunch.  Liz will make the dessert since she's the baking pro.  Her blog is That Skinny Chick Can Bake.  Not only does she have tons of wonderful baked goods there, she also has a boatload of wonderful entrees, side dishes etc.  The other blogger is our friend, Christiane.  She has a blog called Taking on Magazines.  You can find her as The Mom Chef.  Just like Liz's blog, Christiane's is loaded with fabulous recipes.  I've never made anything from either blog that I've not liked.  In fact as I type this I'm thinking about Liz's Mounds Bars and Christiane's cucumber salad...

After going through every sandwich on my blog and in my recipe box, I settled on crabmeat melts for our sandwiches.  They're a favorite from my childhood.  What better way to say hello to a friend than share a childhood memory? 

For those who'd prefer an entrée salad, I'm making Meridian Hills Special Salad.  Another childhood memory.  It's romaine lettuce, shredded Swiss cheese, turkey and ham topped with Caesar dressing and a bit of pickle relish. 

Last but not least, soups.  Pat King's chunky tomato soup sounded good.  But, Liz and I weren't sure if everyone in Christiane's family liked tomatoes.  So, a fallback was in order:  Cauliflower Cheese Soup.  It's from one of the first community cookbooks I ever got, Park Tudor Treasures.  My cookbook is marked "Excellent, 3/83" on that one.  It's proven to be the best cauliflower cheese soup ever.  In fact, I've given up making any other cauliflower cheese soups.  They just aren't as good so why mess with perfection?  Ok, that'd do it for this party.

And, what a party it was!  It was fabulous to meet Christiane and Doug and Sophie in person.

Ok, I have to put this in...  Liz has a great sun room that she uses for her photography studio.  Ergo, the wonderful photo of the tomato soup...  But, here's how Liz takes her overhead shots:

Looks fine, doesn't it?  Here's the rest of the story...  Now, I'm thinking Bill needs to get her a more stable set up for Christmas!

Then, there was Thanksgiving.  My brother John and sister-in-law, Pam host it every year.  John always does a turkey breast early so those who like cold turkey can have cold turkey.  He also does a turkey on the grill for those of us who want the regular Thanksgiving meal.  This year I took Mom's stuffing, Liz's spinach soufflé and persimmon pudding

Connie tells the story of his taking seconds of the cornbread stuffing his first mother-in-law prepared.  Later, his first wife asked him if he wished she could make it as well.  He confessed that he was just being polite but that, no, he really doesn't care for cornbread.  Needless to say, Mom's stuffing with cornbread and Pepperidge Farm white bread doesn't thrill him.  We're of the light and kind of moist but not soggy stuffing clan.  Pam's family is of the soggy white bread stuffing clan.  I do believe that's the Thanksgiving dish with the most variations nationwide.

Of course, Thanksgiving is always better with babies.  There's my Mom with her great-granddaughter, the paparazzi trying to get Charlotte to smile, Charlotte smiling with anticipation...  Yeah, I took mostly Charlotte pics.  I mean, who could resist?  She's SO cute!

Last but not least, our friend Kathy had back surgery.  I thought I'd take Kathy and her hubby Dan some soup.  So, I doubled the tomato soup recipe and made minestrone too.  There are funny stories about both.  The tomato soup recipe as written calls for "chicken broth."  Some have read it to mean a 46 oz can and some a 14 oz can.  As you might guess, it's a very different soup when prepared with that much broth.  I prefer the smaller can so it's more tomatoey.  Is that a word?  Well, it is for these purposes!  As for the minestrone, the recipe card says from MOM.  A few years ago I commented to her that her minestrone soup is my favorite of all time.   She didn't remember making it...  Isn't it funny how something that becomes a favorite in one household is a one and done in another?

Pat King's Tomato Soup


2 T extra virgin olive oil
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 T Italian seasoning
glob of garlic (that's what the recipe says, I think it's funny so left it in!)
chicken broth


You're probably wondering how much of the vegetables???  Me too.  I always start with a medium onion or two and toss them in the food processor.  Then, once they're finely chopped, I toss them in a large saucepan with the olive oil and let them cook down a bit to release some moisture.  Then, I finely chop a couple of handfuls of the baby carrots and a few ribs of celery, using the food processor.  All of those plus the garlic and Italian seasoning go in with the onions.  Once everything is softened, I pour the tomatoes and a 14 oz can of chicken broth in.  Actually, we've switched to using Better than Bouillon so I make a couple of cups of chicken broth and pour that in.  Simmer, uncovered, for a couple of hours.  This is best served the next day.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup


1 small head fresh cauliflower
2 c water
1/2 c onion, chopped (I just use a medium onion)
1/4 c butter
1/2 c flour
1- 2 T chicken flavored instant bouillon (we use Better than Bouillon)
2 - 3 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 c milk
1/4 t ground nutmeg


Core the cauliflower.  Tear it into florets.  Cook them in the water until they're softened.  Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.  Set the cauliflower and the cooking liquid aside.  In the same saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the onion and cook until it's translucent.  Stir in the flour.  Cook it for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste.  While that's cooking, reserve a cup of the cauliflower florets.  Take a cup of the cooking liquid plus the bouillon (we use better than bouillon and you may find you only need a tablespoon rather than the full two...) plus the rest of the cauliflower and process it in your food processor.  Slowly pour the rest of the reserved cooking liquid into the onion/flour mixture.  Stir constantly until it thickens.  Then, add the cauliflower puree followed by the milk.  Once it's a bit thickened, add the cheddar cheese and the nutmeg.  Heat through and serve.

Mom's Minnestrone


9 c beef stock
1 1/2 c dried white beans (Great Northern or baby limas are best)
1/2 c olive oil
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 c fresh green beans, cut into 1" lengths (a little north of a pound)
3 c diced zucchini (about 3 med)
3 c coarsely chopped cabbage (I use a bag of cole slaw mix)
1 1/2 c coarsely chopped carrots
1 1/2 c coarsely chopped celery
1 1/2 c coarsely chopped potato
28 oz can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, include juice
1 T crushed rosemary


Soak the beans overnight.  Drain.  Pour the olive oil into a very large stock pot.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 10 minutes.  Then, add the green beans, zucchini, cabbage, carrots and celery.  Saute for another 10 minutes stirring every couple of minutes.  Lastly, add the potato, tomato, rosemary, beans and beef stock.  Put a lid on and cook on medium heat for several hours.  Here's the deal...  I always refer to the ingredients as collapsing to describe when they're done.  The soup can technically be done but not be right.  You literally need for everything to totally cook.  Taste along the way and you'll see what I mean.  This may take eight hours of cooking to get it right.  As I type this, mine has been going for three hours and is nowhere near done...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Grandkid Weekend!!


I love cooking for our eldest son, David, his wife, Kara and our grandkids, Bradley and Rosie.  It is, however, a bit like camping because Kara really doesn’t like to cook and consequently is missing some critical tools.  Like a food processor.  And, more than a couple of bowls.  And, a good selection of pots and pans.  I have to plan carefully so that I don’t run out of bowls etc.  Like Saturday’s breakfast.  I had the big bowl and the little bowl to use.  The medium bowl was full of fresh fruit.  The menu was asparagus frittata, homemade sausage and pumpkin scones.  The eggs needed to be mixed with the sour cream, cheese and seasonings.  The scones required one bowl for the dry ingredients and one for the wet, then another for the glaze.  Mix the scones, put them in the oven.  Wash the bowls.  Mix the eggs, put them in the skillet with the chopped asparagus.  Wash the bowl.  Mix the glaze.  Wash the bowl.  Make the three bean salad for lunch.  Put the bowl in the fridge to chill until lunch.  The small bowl’s the only one available.  So, making cookies for that evening’s dinner would have to wait until after lunch…  I’m sure they think I’m a pain in the tookus because not only do I require that the cooking utensils be hand washed so I can reuse them (yes, they put EVERYTHING in the dishwaher) I also require that glasses not go in the sink while I’m cooking so I can toss things that direction and not worry about breakage.  LOL, at least they get to eat well while we’re here!

We got here on Friday evening after playing tourist in Indy.  Of course we had to start with breakfast.  At a new restaurant called The Grub House.  We both ordered breakfast sandwiches.  Look what was delivered to our table first...  

Yup, biscuits.  Perfect biscuits.  With just a bit of sugar.  And, apple butter.  My mouth is watering as I'm typing.  The sandwiches were equally good. 

At the Indiana State Museum there’s an exhibition on Prohibition.  It’s very well done.  I’d known a lot about how Prohibition really spawned a lot of the organized crime we have.  And, I’d known about the exceptions to the law.  But, I didn’t realize how truly ignored the law was until this show.  Across the hall was a gallery of Forsyth paintings.  My maternal grandmother studied under him.  That was fun to see.  Then, we went to the Indiana History Center.  They have a series of exhibits called You Were There.  They take a photo and make it come to life.  One was a relief station during the flood of 1913.  Five thousand families out of a population of about 233,000 were displaced.  We were able to trace the flooding on a map and see that our neighborhood wasn’t impacted but neighborhoods right down the street were.  Of course, back then what is now neighborhoods was farm fields and woods.   The second photo was a photography studio circa 1904.   From there we were going to go see the Georgia O’Keeffe show at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  But, we had a choice of getting to Columbus early enough for dinner with our grandkids or seeing an exhibition that just opened and is going to be there for several months… 

Dinner was apricot bourbon meatballs, buttered noodles and asparagus bundles.  I found the apricot bourbon meatball recipe on Authentic Suburban Gourmet when I was hunting for the recipe I’d chosen for the first Blogger C.L.U.E. Society reveal.  I had to make them.  They sounded divine.  They were.  Totally.  Great for party food.  Great for dinner.  Just fabulous.  The noodles were Mom’s recipe.  Thin noodles tossed with butter, parsley, garlic and finely shredded parmesan.  And, the asparagus bundles were a recipe from Ina Garten’s new cookbook.   Make it Ahead.  It looks to me like I’ll be making most of the recipes from that cookbook!  They’re typical Ina style.  Great flavor but easy.  And, now she’s thrown in the twist of a whole cookbook of recipes that can be made ahead. 

Saturday’s lunch was another new recipe.  Drip Beef Sandwiches from The Pioneer Woman.  The recipe called for a jar of pepperoncini.  Since I was cooking for kids too I decided to use a jar of pepper rings.  They're a bit milder.  About halfway through the process, Connie and I looked at this and asked why I'd  not used the pressure cooker.  Duh!  So, I cooled the beef and finished it in the pressure cooker at David and Kara's.  To serve the beef, I toasted Kaiser rolls and smeared them with a cheese mixture of shredded gruyere and cheddar, minced shallot and pepper rings and mayo.  That was broiled til it melted and the beef was piled on top.  Then, I used Kansas City style BBQ sauce on mine.  This was good but not worthy of posting the recipe.


Saturday’s dinner was a reprise of shrimp cakes with corn and avocado salsa along with roasted sweet potatoes.  I got the idea for the sweet potatoes from one of my fellow Blogger CLUE Society bloggers.  Then, I changed it up a bit to be more kid friendly…  Last but not least, we had pears to use up.  And, a jar of goat’s milk caramel that we got at a fabulous shop at Pike Place Market.  So, how about if I made a shortbread crust, topped it with pear liqueur sautéed pears and drizzled it with caramel?  Well, then in Make it Ahead I found a crystallized ginger shortbread cookie recipe.  Kids love to cut out cookies so we’d just make cookies and have them topped with the pears and caramel. 

The food was wonderful but I've got to say that the highlight of the weekend was watching Bradley score a goal during his hockey game!  I was amazed at how many layers it took to get Bradley ready to play! 

Grampy, Daddy and Mama were watching intently.  Rosie, not so much :-)

Happy boy for a job well done!


Apricot Bourbon Meatballs

For the meatballs:
½ lb ground beef
½ lb ground pork
4 small cloves garlic
1 small onion, finely minced
2 T olive oil
2/3 c Panko bread crumbs
2 T Milk
¼ c Parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1/3 c finely grated parmesan cheese 

For the sauce:

2 T butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 c apricot preserves
1 c chili sauce
1/2 c + 1 T bourbon
1/3 c cider vinegar
¼ c packed dark brown sugar
2 T spicy brown mustard
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 small jalapeno, halved, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced 


For the meatballs: 

Lisa’s recipe called for using two slices of white bread for the panade.  That’s the bread/milk mixture that you use to bind the meatball mixture together.  We don’t keep white bread in the house and I didn’t want to buy a whole loaf.  In fact, if I’m going to use white bread, I’ll usually make my step-uncle Bernard Clayton’s white bread recipe.  And, I didn’t want to do that…  So, I chose to use panko.   At any rate, if you’ve got white bread, you can use two slices with the crusts removed and tear them up.  Or, you can use the panko.  Soak it with the milk while you prep the rest of the meatball recipe.  Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until they’re translucent.  In a medium bowl, mix the ground beef and pork, parsley, salt and pepper, cheese, sautéed vegetables and panade.  Make meatballs with about one tablespoon of meat mixture each.  Once you’ve got the meatballs made, it’s time to cook them.  Lisa’s recipe called for browning them on the stove then finishing them in the oven.  Since I knew I was going to be reheating them, I chose to almost totally cook them on the stove then finish them in the sauce at David and Kara’s.  I think I’d recommend that method going forward.  I just sautéed them in a bit of olive oil, turning them a couple of times until they were nicely browned.  

For the sauce: 

While the meatballs are browning, you can make the sauce.  Start by sauteeing the onion, jalapeno and garlic in the butter.  Add in the rest of the ingredients and simmer.  You’re going to want the sauce to reduce to about three cups, so be sure to allow it to simmer for 20-30 minutes.   Stir in the last tablespoon of bourbon after reducing the sauce

Serve the meatballs in the sauce.   You can sprinkle them with fresh parsley if you’d like. 

Adapted from Authentic Suburban Gourmet



Truffled Asparagus Bundles 



2 lbs asparagus, ends trimmed
Prosciutto slices, cut in half
2 T truffle butter
1 ½ T olive oil
Grated gruyere cheese 

Blanch the asparagus spears.   You don’t want to fully cook them, just get them started.  I use a couple of tablespoons of water in a big skillet.  Get the water boiling, toss in the asparagus, allow it to cook for about a minute, remove it from the heat and put it in an ice bath.  Then, take 3-6 spears of asparagus per bundle.  Three if the spears are big, six if they’re small.  Wrap them tightly in a prosciutto slice and lay them in a baking dish seam-side down.  In a small skillet melt the truffle butter.  Mix in the olive oil.  Drizzle the butter/oil mixture over the asparagus bundles.   Top with the grated gruyere.  Bake at    for 12-15 minutes. 

Adapted from Make it Ahead by Ina Garten

Spicy Shrimp Cakes with Corn Avocado Salsa and Remoulade Sauce


For the shrimp cakes:
1 lb medium raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
4 t olive oil
1 small red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 c thinly sliced green onions (white and green parts)
3 T mayonnaise
1 T fresh lime juice
1 1/2 t hot pepper sauce (I used Chipotle Tabasco)
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
1 large egg
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro
1/4 c panko
1/2 - 1 c panko, mixed with Creole seasoning if you'd like

for the salsa:
1 c frozen white corn kernels, thawed
3/4 c diced, peeled avocado
1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
3 T finely chopped red onion
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 t salt

for the remoulade sauce:
ketchup or chili sauce
Dijon or yellow mustard
dill pickle relish
Chipotle Tabasco
garlic powder


Mix the salsa ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Set aside to allow the flavors to blend while you make the shrimp cakes.  Do the same with the remoulade sauce but pop that bowl into the fridge.  This is one of those recipes that I make by tossing things together so I'm not sure of the measurements.  I'd guess that I start with about a cup of mayo then add a couple of tablespoons of ketchup, a tablespoon of mustard, a couple of tablespoons of relish and a good dash of the Tabasco and the garlic powder.  Once the salsa and sauce are done, it's time to start the shrimp cakes.  Process the shrimp in a food processor.  You don't want it a complete paste but neither do you want it lumpy.  I quit processing when there are still a few quarter inch pieces left.  Mix the shrimp with all of the ingredients through the 1/4 c of panko.  Heat olive oil to shimmering in a large skillet.  Pick up a handful of the shrimp mixture (I'd call it goo, but that's probably not a great cooking term!) and pat both sides with panko.  Carefully put it in the skillet, making sure to not splatter the oil.  When the first side is brown and crispy. flip the shrimp cakes.  I usually use two spatulas to keep from breaking them up.  Serve hot with both the salsa and the sauce on the side.

adapted from Great Food Great Beer

Crystallized Ginger Shortbread Cookies with Sautéed Pears, Whipped Cream and Caramel


3/4 lb (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c sugar plus extra for sprinkling (I skipped the sprinkling)
1 t pure vanilla extract
3 1/2  c all-purpose flour
1 t kosher salt
3/4 c minced crystalized ginger (not in syrup - I get mine at Penzeys)


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix the butter and sugar just until combined.  Add the vanilla and two teaspoons of water and mix that in.  Slowly add the flour and salt.  Once those ingredients are combined, stir in the ginger.  Now, you have a choice.  Either wrap the dough and put in the fridge for 30 minutes or roll it into a log then refrigerate it.  I chose the easy way - rolling it into a log.  If you've done that, you'll not have pretty round cookies because you'll be able to cut the log.  If you've done the lump, then you'll need to roll the cookie dough out to 3/8" thickness and cut out circles of 2 3/4" .  Whatever you choose, you can next either sprinkle the cookies with sugar or not then bake them until the edges start to brown.  That takes about 20-25 minutes. 

We served ours topped with pears, whipped cream and caramel.  To make the pears, I peeled, seeded and diced them then sautéed them in butter, ginger and nutmeg.  When they were about done, I added in some Domain de Cantone ginger liqueur.  Once that evaporated, we were good to go. 

The whipped cream had a bit of sugar and vanilla added.  And, the caramel was goats milk from a wonderful little shop in Pike Place Market. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lisa's Brussels Sprouts

This post was supposed to be about a shredded Brussels Sprout salad.  Well, it is.  But, it's also about Maple Bacon Braised Brussels sprouts.  I'd gone through over a year's worth of recipes on Lisa's blog and finally ran out of time.  I had a list of dishes I'd like to make.  Ok, let's be honest here.  Just open up her blog and start cooking.  Really.  It's that good.  I've visited her blog for several years now and have made maybe half a dozen recipes.  All of them have been wonderful.  I'd decided that the salad would be perfect since we have three gorgeous Brussels sprouts plants in the garden.  And, we've had a first frost so they should be just at the peak of perfection.  We'd been at the office all day and I'd printed the recipe out there.  I forgot to take it home.  Darn the luck.  Back to her blog to hunt.  So, one of the Brussels sprouts recipe that comes up is Maple Braised Brussels sprouts.  I HAD to try that too.  You know.  Just for scientific purposes.  LOL.  You believe me, don't you?

So, what did we think?  The Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts were a five on a scale of one to five.  We don't give fives out very often.  This one deserved every bit of that score.  Even if you think you don't like Brussels Sprouts, you owe it to yourself to try these.  Fabulous!

The salad was VERY good.  Still, when compared to the glazed sprouts it was a four.  Of course, you need to realize that NOTHING could compare to the glazed sprouts...  The salad was a great combination of crunchy, soft, sweet, salty, tart.  I'm going to toss some deli ham or rotisserie chicken into the leftovers and call it lunch...

Both of these recipes will be made again soon.  Thank you so much, Lisa!

Now, you're probably wondering who Lisa is.  She's the lovely blogger behind Authentic Suburban Gourmet.  Typically, she posts a Friday Night Bite once a week.  Those tend to be yummy appetizers.  Like the bourbon apricot meatballs we have started for later this week.  They were her Halloween post.  Then, if you're lucky, she'll post something else during the week.  Like the Brussels sprouts.  Lisa is from the San Francisco area.  She's an executive with a Bay area human capital firm.  I've been reading her blog since she started it in 2009.  She loves to cook and loves to entertain and loves wine.  Personally, I'd love to live next door to her!

And, you may be wondering what Blogger C.L.U.E. Society is...  We're a brand new group of bloggers.  All of us have been cooking and blogging for quite a while now so we've got some great recipes on our blogs.  Every month we'll have a different theme.  This month it's Thanksgiving side dishes.  For December it's going to be recipes your grandmother would make.  And, for January we'll be sparkling  -champagne, glitter - anything that sparkles.  All of my fellow bloggers are listed below.  I do hope you'll stop by their blogs and see what yummy creations they've come up with!

Ok, on to the recipes!

Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts
serves 4


4  Brussels Sprouts, cut in half
6 strips Applewood smoked bacon, diced
3 T butter, cubed (I reduced this from six)
4 T real maple syrup (I used my beloved shagbark hickory syrup)
salt and pepper to taste (actually, we didn't think these needed any salt or pepper)


In a medium skillet, brown the bacon until crisp.  Remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon and drain the bacon on paper towels.  Pour out all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat.  Add the butter to the bacon fat and melt it.  Over medium heat, add the Brussels Sprouts.  Cook each side until they're browned.  Add in the maple syrup and cook until it's a glaze.  Serve topped with the bacon bits.  Lisa's recipe called for adding the bacon when you add the maple syrup.  I didn't want to cook the bacon any more so left it until I served the dish. 

Here's how the finished dish looked:

Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad


for the salad:
1 1/2 lbs shredded Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 c orange segments (I used tangerines)
1/2 red onion, sliced VERY thinly
3/4 c walnuts, roughly chopped and toasted
1 c Israeli couscous, cooked and rinsed
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 c port
1 c ricotta salada (or feta if you can't find the ricotta salada,) crumbled

for the dressing:
2 small shallots, finely minced
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, finely minced
1 T Dijon mustard
2 T honey
6 T champagne vinegar
1 C extra virgin olive oil


While you're prepping the rest of the salad ingredients, put the dried cranberries in a small saucepan with the port.  Simmer them until the port is absorbed and the cranberries are nice and plump.  Mix all the dressing ingredients with the exception of the olive oil.  Drizzle that in, whisking as you pour.  Set the dressing aside for an hour to allow the flavors to meld.  You can either serve the salad as a layered salad or tossed.  It looks beautiful either way.  Here's how mine went together:

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Women's Conference in Phoenix

Phoenix, AZ.  NPH Women's Conference.  That's National Planning Holdings.  My broker/dealer.  They actually have a conference JUST for the women.  A day and a half.  About a hundred women attend.  Except fourteen of us who went in a day early to do some business planning.  Most of us are solo practitioners or have at most a partner.  Getting together to talk about how we run our businesses is absolutely invaluable. 

Shortly before I left Indy, I got an email from Queen Creek Olives.  It referenced the Camelback store.  Hmmm.  Many years ago when our friends Mary and Fred were spending the winter in Queen Creek, AZ, we went to visit.  They took us to the original location and we fell in love.  Often, we send a package from Queen Creek as a hostess gift.  A couple of trips to Phoenix I've toyed with the idea of renting a car to be able to visit the original location again.  But, it's not practical.  All of the sudden I realized that there just might be a store across the street from the hotel where the conference was being held. 

Now, I've got to tell you a side story here...  When I called the concierge to find out about the best transportation options from the airport, I was told the ExecuCar was slightly more expensive but MUCH better.  Sold.  Then, I sent an email to the other women coming in a day early.  Did anyone want to share my car?  Connie laughed and said a guy would never do that.  He was so right.  Got an email back almost immediately from one of the other women saying that's what she loves about this conference.  And, she said, a guy would never do that.  LOL.  So, my friend Phyllis from Ocean City, MD e'd me back and said she'd be coming in about half an hour after me.  I was happy to wait. 

Once we got to the hotel I was going to run across to Queen Creek and then head to my room and work.  Phyllis really wanted to go along.  And, she was SO happy she did.  A boatload of Christmas presents were purchased.  And, I had a fun time stocking my Queen Creek pantry.  Normally, we order a case of a dozen different olives.  Maytag blue, marcona almond, feta/oregano, sundried tomato...  This time I bought vanilla bean olive oil.  Can you imagine that on some grilled fruit????  And, a couple of jars of tapenade.  One is opened.  The other is in Connie's Christmas stack.  The one that's opened is asiago, parmesan, basil and garlic in evoo.  It's pretty amazing.  Then, I got a couple of barbecue sauces. The whiskey garlic one has been opened.  And, yes, the other is for Connie.  There's a jar of fig balsamic glaze.  I'm thinking pork for that one.  And, a jar of parmesan crema.  It's pretty good on just about anything.  Last but not least, a set of rosemary olive oil with a cranberry balsamic vinegar.  Holiday in a spoon!  Thanks to Joan for taking such good care of us and putting up with a couple of ladies who wanted to try EVERYTHING!  Spoiler alert - Connie, don't look at the photos!

After our shopping excursion, Phyllis and I repaired to the bar at ZinBurger so I could watch football and we could talk.  From there we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and meet for dinner.  Joan had recommended a place called Pizzeria Bianco.  One word:  AMAZING!  Everything we had.  From the caprese  salad appetizer to the Brussels sprout salad to the  pizzas to the pastas.  It's on my list to go back to!!!  Here's Phyllis, Jennifer, Andrea, Nadine and Di.  What a wonderful group of women to spend an evening with. 

And, here's the food - well the part that the photos were OK - the chandeliers and the owner.   Our pizzas were the Sonny Boy with tomato sauce, salami, olives and fresh mozzarella. The Rosa with red onion, pistachios, rosemary and parmesan reggiano (my favorite.) And, the Wiseguy with house smoked mozzarella, fennel sausage and roasted onions.  Along with the pizzas we had a Brussels sprout salad with apples, pasta with Sunday gravy and pasta with garlic sauce.  The pizzas were amazing.  Crispy, thin crust from a wood-fired oven.  We were told Chris, the owner, even used to import his own water to get the right stuff... 

Monday we met for a fabulous breakfast in Bistro 24 at the hotel.  I had short rib hash with basted eggs and a lime crema.  YUM! 

Then, we hunkered down in a meeting room from about 8-3.   All too soon it was time to go hear the opening speaker.  Then, it was time to head to the reception.  The Ritz outdid themselves with the food this time.  Coconut shrimp that was amazing.  Salads, soups, vegetables, potatoes, fish, beef...  What a buffet.  Tuesday we were in session all day.  My friend Maura did one of the presentations.  She's the kind of person you hope your kids turn out to be like:  smart, interesting, humble, fun to be around.  Wendy wore her arms out recording the presentation on her phone. 

Tuesday night was dinner at Del Friscos.  Ahi tuna tacos and cheesesteak eggroll appetizers.  Salads.  Pittsburgh style filets with asparagus and mashed potatoes.  Dessert was coconut cream pie and lemon cake.  I'm not a fan of cake.  But, I'd give up chocolate for a year if I could replace it with that cake!  We were in the coolest room. 

Finally, Wednesday came and it was time to head home after our morning meetings.  Packed and ready to go.  One last look out the window at the mountains... 

My flight was delayed in Minneapolis so home was finally in sight about midnight.  Thursday, I was off to a full day in my Columbus office.  Friday, it was time to dig in in the Indy office.  And, wait for the package from Queen Creek to be delivered.  Yes, indeed, it was.  I opened most of the goodies and let Connie taste them.  We'd headed to the grocery on the way home from the office so I once again had a rotisserie chicken and fresh greens and fresh mushrooms and fresh asparagus.  A holiday salad sounded great.  All of the above plus a handful of dried cranberries, some truffle croutons and a handful of bacon bits.  With a generous dose of rosemary olive oil and an equally generous dose of cranberry balsamic.  Along with a lovely glass of Pinot Noir, we were happy campers.