How to Hold a Mystery Wine & Cheese (or, How Not to Be a Hermit)

November 28th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Saint Andre Brie

This brie was a hit for its buttery texture and flavorful yet not to earthy taste.

Why hold a mystery wine and cheese?

Anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy my quiet time.

In all honesty, I didn’t really accept this in myself until my 30’s hit full throttle. I knew “something” was missing in my life in my 20’s. But like any vibrant youth, I was caught up in being accepted, loved by the world and thus always felt I needed to be at the heart of the action. This was exhausting but invigorating at the same time. The negative aspect was that I was constantly depleted of energy, pulled in so many opposing directions and had not the energy or time to think about what I was doing. The good that came out of this was a love of many different types of people, an awareness of our diverse world and an enjoyment of getting people together to smile and laugh.

Now I find myself learning to balance the introvert in my with my love of people. Recently, the social butterfly inside my soul decided to hold a mystery wine and cheese. If you are looking for a nice way to get people together over the holidays, perhaps my tips will give you the boost you need.

Wine and Cheese Spread

A nice soppressata and a peppered salami from Penn Mac. The smoked salmon can be made, but this was a Trader Joes find.

French Baguette

Fresh French baguette from La Gourmandine. Pairs perfectly with all the food and provides some carbs to balance it out.


Marinated Artichokes, Pickled Mushroom, Homemade Garlic Dill Pickles, Lupini Beans and some crackers. The Italian in me requires pickled antipasto for any event.


No wine and cheese would be complete without a mild cheese like swiss (this was Emmenthaler) and a nice parmesan. This was red cow parmesan. The flavor is killer.


This munster from Alsace was perhaps a bit earthy for most people’s taste and a bit strong for the wine. No doubt, it was delicious on crackers afterward. The aged vintage cheddar, an Aldi find (gasp!), was most loves.

Choose a Theme

Reds. Whites. Rose. These are all good places to start. If your company is wine literate go for a regional theme like Riojas of Spain, French Bordeaux, South American Reds. Keep it simple.

Choose Wines That Represent a Spectrum of That Theme.

This is not as hard as it sounds. Choose at least two that are quite different in taste and body. I chose a vibrant Beaujolais from France at one end; bright, fruity and acidic, this bottle made a nice representation of what can be enjoyed in a young wine. At the other end I chose an aged Amarone di Valpolicella from Italy; smooth, a bit spicy yet somewhat lean; it showed the potential of an aged wine. You can be sure people will fill in that spectrum with a variety of delicious wines. Not surprisingly, the blend were the most loved and the most expensive wine (perhaps not the best Amarone), did not even register on anyone’s list. This was proof enough that you do not have to go extravagant. Ask your wine purveyor if you are not familiar with wine enough to choose. Don’t worry. Then you can learn!

Choose Foods to Fit the Theme.

This is really why I host any event. Food. A variety of cheeses, meats, breads and crackers, jams, pickled vegetables and a few desserts makes a nice compliment to any kind of wine that may come. Have some mild cheese like a swiss, some creamy cheese like a brie, a cheese or two everyone loves like a few cheddars and then some sharp cheese like aged romano, parmesan or an aged provolone. Vary your meats as well. Perhaps a regular salami, a spicy or peppered one, some prosciutto or a smoked salmon.

Pickled mushroom, artichokes or lupini beans help cut through the richness of the meat and cheese. though they might not be best to eat with the wine, afterward they act as a nice digestivo. A light orange blossom honey pairs nicely with the brie, or as I did, an orange flower jam because I had it around from Try the World.

It is nice to have a rich sweet and this sweet can come in many forms. Dried fruits such as figs and luscious apricots are perfect to pair. I went with brownie bites with a bourbon vanilla buttercream frosting because I love Alice Medrich and richer red wines pair well with chocolate.

I would try to stay away from overly pungent cheeses and meats so they do not compete with the wines. I did break this rule, just because I love them, so take it with a grain of salt. This is the best part of a wine tasting. Making it yours and breaking the rules. Don’t be so rigid you can’t have fun.

Alice Medrich Fudgy Browine Bites.

Alice Medrich knows her chocolate. The recipe for these brownie bites will likely appear on this site. To. Die. For.

Keep the Event Manageable.

I decided to have two wine and cheese tastings, spaced a few months apart for the mere fact that I only have so many seats in my apartment. Also, keeping them smaller allows you all to sit around and talk about the wine which gives way to more conversation and is more intimate. This is a mystery wine tasting and not a raging party. The idea is to learn and enjoy the wines, food and each other.

Making a Few Nice Decorations Adds a Homey Touch.

Get crafty. Or turn to Etsy or Pinterest for crafty people. If you follow me on Pinterest you can check out my board: A Midsummer Night’s Party. I still need to have that midsummer night’s party. But the great part about this is the decor can be as simple as a few bundles of flowers. I made tags made from champagne corks from the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, some pearls on wire and mini roses and chalkboard tags. I found inexpensive burlap wine bags to keep the wine and mystery and used the larger chalkboard labels for the wine numbers. Easy.

Make Wine Rating Cards to Spur Dialogue.

To organize the wine and cheese, we all sat in a circle, tasted the wines and then after rating them, revealed each wine to see how close our judgements were to what the bottle claimed. Would you expect any less from a teacher?

You can use your printer or hand write them. I used some beautiful parchment paper I found on sale and a few metallic sharpies. On the front, I wrote the name of the guest and “Mystery Wine Tasting” and drew a few doilies. On the inside it looked like this:

Category                       Wine #1                      Wine #2                         Wine #3                       Wine #4





Would you drink again?

Favorites and why:

If you have a crew that is more wine savvy, you could use more formal words such as nose, bouquet or finish in addition to guessing the region. I did not to keep the tasting approachable.

This Party is Time Flexible

Not a night owl? This wine and cheese was held in the afternoon and ended early evening. Have friends that cannot be gone from their kids all night? Perfect! Hold it from 2-5 or 2-6 and they can be back to put the kids to bed. For real.

So if you want to have people over and just do not know where to start, might I suggest a mystery wine and cheese tasting with some easy food. Anyone can pull this together with minimal time. It is a nice, classy way to get friends and family together to learn something new and enjoy time together; the important part!



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On Loneliness + Bright & Velvety Salmorejo

September 3rd, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

Camino Shadows

The camino is often on my mind. The road to Santiago is one that that lingers in your mind long after you return home. My last post focused on “being” and enjoying/accepting the present while walking the camino. Hopefully you considered using the bounty of late summer zucchini to make the perfect cold and creamy zucchini soup. It makes a nice light lunch in late summer or even early fall. Paired with some thick and chewy bread to dip into the bowl, you can’t go wrong.

This month teaching has begun and my head and my energy has turned toward school. Yet, as Labor Day Weekend rises, my heart gazes back to the camino. It would be a tragic lie to look back and think that all was perfect each day on the camino, a betrayal to one’s heart to think that the past was better than the future. In fact, the story of coming to know this soup was one that was peppered with joy but also sadness and unrest.


A beautiful bright orange soup, much like the one above, was soon to lay before my eyes. I had trudged in what felt like interminable heat, alone for many miles. I left at the break of dawn, a cool mist still in the air. I was determined to get to Pamplona with enough time to beat the heat, enjoy some tapas and get to mass. Pilgrim’s masses were still sporadic at this point, but being on a religious pilgrimage, it seemed that this should be a daily goal. Off I sped towards Pamplona.

tomatoes, bloomfield farmer's market, freedom farms

Just because you are not in Pamplona, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this at home! Go get the last of those summer tomatoes! (Bloomfield Farmer’s Market, Pittsburgh, PA. Freedom Farms Roma tomatoes)

So I hustled. Barely did I look back or at anyone. At this point in my camino, solitude was what I thought I was seeking and it was sought out with fervor. Only problem is when you look to be alone, you really are…alone.

Loneliness and being alone had not always come in hand for me. Being alone is a strange thing. You need it. Being alone is the only way that one can effectively pray and really, truly talk to God. It is also a necessary component to refresh, process and create space for creativity to occur. But when you are alone and you allow loneliness to seep in, you will do anything you can to not be with yourself. Look back to the past! Look forward to the future! When loneliness begins to disease your heart it causes such cruel unrest.

Loneliness is uncomfortable. No one likes to be uncomfortable.

While I did get what I really needed that day, when I sat down at a lovely tapas bar to eat a nice lunch after mass, my heart ached. The aloneness I sought had been ruined with loneliness.

I had arrived in Pamplona in record time. I had a list to accomplish. Get a bed at the albergue I wanted to try. Check. Go to mass. Check. Explore the little charms of the city quietly. Check. The list was complete with the exception of tapas. I meandered the medieval streets but somehow exploring the food was just not as fulfilling as I thought. I stopped to check my phone, rest and grab some lunch. A glass of Rioja and a light lunch sat in front of me. I sipped on my solitary Salmorejo slowly and the ache of loneliness spread through my bones.

This Salmorejo may have been born in solitude; but there is a silver lining. Over time the aloneness became more and more needed as the trail nights became more and more intense. Communal dinners, full bunk rooms with masses of smelly pilgrims, waiting in frustrating lines to wash laundry, pilgrims were everywhere! I began to sink into that solitude and drink it up as I walked. It helped to prepare this introvert for a pilgrim filled night.

Furthermore, I learned to reach out when I needed others and became vulnerable enough to ask to walk with others without the fear I was bothering them. In that quiet prayer, my heart became more receptive to what others needed and not just what I needed at that time. Many people would reiterate to me the camino mantra, “Remember, this is YOUR camino.” I came to the realization that though you do need to refresh your body and soul with what you want, it was refreshing and liberating to open up to the needs of others. Sometimes, they want to walk with you because they feel lonely too. Maybe you need to give up the bottom bunk even if your feet are bruised and battered and climbing seems impossible. You may need to hang with someone with bedbugs and sterilize your gear to support them in their frustration.

Then, if you are lucky, after thinking you are left alone to be fed to the wolves…err…roam the streets in search of delicious tapas in loneliness; your camino family all shows up in Pamplona one by one and you have the BEST time together enjoying wine and tapas.

Then strangely, somehow when you get home, the one dish you really want to recreate is that Salmorejo eaten in solitude. It is that good.

A Spanish TableSalmorejoI thank Try the World for the beautiful olive oil that was used in this traditional Spanish recipe. Coincidently, upon returning, they had reintroduced their Spain box and offered to send it to me again. So, try the soup or you can try the tuna empanada I created with their last box. If you didn’t get out of the country this summer, you can still enjoy these dishes at home. Try the World sells ingredients from all around the world in addition to their monthly subscription boxes. Either way, I hope you enjoy a little bit of Spain from your home.

Spanish Salmorejo

Prep Time: 10 minutes

20 minutes

Serves: 2 servings

Apx. 2 cups


  • 4 medium ripe tomatoes, blanched with skins removed
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 cups baguette insides
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1 soft boiled egg
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2/3 tsp vinegar (the traditional sherry or white balsamic works well for this soup)


  1. If you have not yet, blanch your tomatoes. To do this, bring a large pot with 6-8 quarts of water to boil. Cut an x in the bottom of each tomato. Immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 1-2 minutes or until skins begin to loosen. Peel skins off and put your tomatoes aside.
  2. In a blender, begin by filling with the bread and place tomatoes on top. Let sit for a few minutes so that the bread can begin to absorb the tomato juice.
  3. Begin by chopping the tomatoes and bread for one minute.
  4. Add the garlic, salt and vinegar and begin to mix for one more minute.
  5. Slowly begin to add in the olive oil in a stream and blend until the mixture is pureed and the texture is almost smooth, another minute depending on blender power.
  6. Add in egg and blend until smooth and creamy.
  7. Serve garnished with crispy serrano ham and/or drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Eat with crusty bread.



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Camino Lessons + Creamy Cold Zucchini Soup

August 16th, 2016 § 1 comment § permalink

Pilgrim Shoes - Camino LessonsBeing present.

If a pilgrim was lucky, it was one of the camino lessons they came to know well. At the very least, it was practiced for a time.

Of all the lessons in life, this is perhaps one of the hardest for many of us. Blame the distractions of technology, consumer society that is always beckoning us to want more, or even just human nature itself; our ability to be present is constantly under attack.

Being present on the Camino de Santiago was not a camino lesson us pilgrims needed to force, it became a necessity. Start to think of any of the 39 days ahead and a sense of overwhelming dread could crush your spirit, threatening to halt the next step. Begin to look too far ahead or start daydreaming and one if the inevitable rocks might sneak up on you. Panic would also set in. Will I find a bed? Should I call ahead? What if the place has bedbugs? What if I am lonely this whole way?

So the pilgrim had to choose; be panicked or be present.

Though fear is where it began, at least for me, being present was how we were able to soak in joyful moments and be open to serendipitous meetings and adventures.

Pyrenees, France

Being present bore fruit greater than just fleeting whimsy. It became a great remedy for anxiety. Over time, a deep sense of peace begins to settle in the soul. Pain, though constant, becomes somehow bearable and somehow beautiful.

Sunset on Camino

This was one of the camino lessons that stayed with me upon my return. It was, and is being tested constantly, but a few things help.
Camino Flower

One practice that became part of my daily life was the use of an Eastern Orthodox prayer called “The Jesus Prayer.” I initially learned this meditations from reading “The Way of the Pilgrim.” Later, the meditation was reinforced with continued study of the Desert Fathers. The prayer is a simple one that rolls off your tongue. The meditation is simply, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is also a prayer that is part of my day to day back home. It was crucial to survival on the camino.

Camino Santiago

The Food That Came Out of the Lesson

I am trying to enjoy what is abundant now instead of wanting what is to come now that I am back home. I wanted to make a sensational Spanish Salmorejo from Pamplona even though tomatoes around here weren’t to come for another week. Instead I found a creative use for the zucchini a from a friend’s bountiful CSA.

Being present opens your eyes to the beauty that can be found this minute. Accepting the joys we have now open our eyes to finding the hidden gems in the here and now.

Creamy Zucchini Soup

I made this soup to enjoy first as a warm soup and then chilled the rest to enjoy Spanish style, as a cold summer soup. The Spanish enjoy Gazpacho, Salmorejo and to my delight, watermelon and honeydew cold soup in the summertime. On a hot summer day, cool soup is particularly enjoyable.

This recipe, though not expressly Spanish, makes great use of the mounding pile of zucchini that is common in late summer here in Pittsburgh. Served cold or lightly heated with a chunk of crusty bread and a scoop of greek yogurt, drizzled with olive oil, it is a light and satisfying summer soup. Each time I take a bite, the cool soup transports me back to the dusty camino on a hot, sweaty day.

I hope it inspires you as well.

Creamy Cold Zucchini Soup

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4

2 cups


  • 2 small to medium or 4 cups of roughly chopped zucchini
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper seeds (adjust to your taste or omit)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (adjust accordingly)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • For serving: greek yogurt, extra virgin olive oil, crusty bread


  1. In a dutch oven or saute pan over medium heat, add oil and butter until melted together.
  2. Add onions and cook until softened and fragrant. Do this slowly to avoid burning.
  3. Sprinkle in garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or until its fragrance releases.
  4. Place zucchini in pan and cook until just softened. When this is done, add in spices and mix a few seconds until combined.
  5. Pour in water and bring to a low boil. Continue cooking until zucchini is fully softened so that a fork can slide into the chunk easily.
  6. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  7. With a ladle, slowly fill blender with mixture until it is about halfway full. Watch closely because soup expands due to the heat. Slowly and carefully puree and then liquify until there are no more lumps and everything is well combined.
  8. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
  9. Ladle into bowels and serve immediately or cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour and then serve.

Love, Sheila

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One Foot in Front of the Other: The Camino de Santiago

July 23rd, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

It isn’t your feet that get you to Santiago, it is your faith.  

-pilgrim saying

Which way to Santiago?

St. James

It has been one solid week since I retured from my pilgrimage on the Frances route of the Camino de Santiago. The pain has never been so real and pervasive but the joy and beauty has never been so exquisite.

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The camino or “way” in Spanish, is a foot journey (sometimes bicycle) that has many beginning spots, the most common in San Jean Pied du Port, France (also known as the Camino Frances) and treks around 775 kilometers or around 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Pilgrims usually don a shell with the cross of St. James painted on it to mark that they are on pilgrimage. Each is given a credential, which is stamped along the way, marking the distance travelled and giving pilgrims permission to stay at albergues, or simple accomodations, distinguishing them from tourists. Pilgrims follow yellow arrows and shells across the land to the final destination, Santiago. Here are the legendarily interred bones of St. James. Pilgrims may claim a compostela at the end to mark the completion of the trek and distance travelled. An end worthy of the trip for many, but for many, it is not the destination, but the journey that matters for most.

Credencial: Camino de Santiago

My credencial with some of the stamps accumulated along the way.

Pilgrim's Blessing

A copy of the pilgrim’s blessing given at the final mass in Santiago.

Everyone comes to the Camino for some reason. In fact, the most common conversation starter is: Why are you doing this? It may have been a death, a heartache, an aching need to find purpouse, a book or movie that inspired the pilgrim, a want to make reparation for something in life, a draw to silence, adventure or perhaps companionship that drew people to the Camino de Santiago.

Maybe it was one of these reasons or maybe not, but we all seem to be in agreement that some form of crazy drove us to become peregrinos and peregrinas. Our reasoning differs but makes for an interesting segway into making new walking companions if for a minute, a few hours, a day or for the way.

Was it worth it? Many ask this. To this question I most certainly must say that moments of sheer agony or resplendent joy are intensely felt every step of the way. And yes, these are worth it!

In my next few posts, I hope to share some of the beauty and wisdom I learned along the way. Stay with me and we will continue to explore food, culture and philosophy, camino style.

Maybe you will choose to become a pilgrim next?

On the way to Orisson. My Deuter resting in the Pyrenees.

On the way to Orisson, my first stop on the Camino de Santiago. My trusty Deuter resting in the Pyrenees.



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On Hope + Gingerbread Spiced Pecan Oatmeal

February 16th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink


Thick, wet snow is falling in sheets outside the cafe window. Outside the glass people are cringing beneath their thin knit hats. The sleet is no match for their attire. Who knew this day would bring such an oppressive hand?

Inside I catch a wiff of brown sugared butter pastry and it mingles with a toasty Mexican Chiapas. My brew has grown lukewarm and acidic, lingering on my tongue, it sours the sides.

But the baker replenishing the spiced donuts and flaky croissants lends a glimmer of hope. A new, fresh cup is on the horizon. If only we just reach for it.

This weather makes me like a hibernating bear. Lazy. Time to get that warm cuppa and hold it to my cheek.

Gingerbread Oatmeal

In the meantime, there is oatmeal to be made at home. The other day this warm gingerbread spiced pecan oatmeal concoction kept the winter chill away and I hope it does for you too, barring braving the wintry winds to your local cafe. Spicy, nutty, chewy, crisp with a hint of maple, this oatmeal embodies a mother’s warmth. Topped off with some creamy milk and made with quick oats, it is instant gratification.

I was given the gingerbread spices by Raw Spice Bar, a subscription based spice company. If you are looking to “spice” up your life with a little surprise, this box is totally affordable ($6 a month) and includes 3 full spice packet blends and accompanying recipes for the culinary challenged. You know, those times you need a little push into the kitchen.

Yes, I know about that too.

Raw Spice Box December

Pecan Gingerbread Spiced Oatmeal

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 1 minute

6 minutes

Serves: 2 servings

1/2 cup


  • 1 cup rolled quick oats
  • 4 Tbsp chopped roasted pecans
  • 2 tsp gingerbread spice mix (or mix 2 Tbsp cinnamon, 2 Tbsp allspice, 2 Tbsp ginger, 1 tsp nutmeg, pinch of clove)
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup + more for drizzling on top
  • Milk of choice


  1. In a kettle heat up a few cups of hot water to boiling.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the oats, half of the pecans, salt and the spices.
  3. When the tea kettle whistles, take water off of the stove.
  4. Divide oats between two bowls or keep it in one if you wish.
  5. Add enough water to wet the oats and just cover.
  6. Let sit for a minute to absorb the water, stirring once.
  7. Stir in the 2 Tbsp of maple syrup.
  8. Top with the rest of the pecans and as much maple syrup as you wish.

Enjoy and stay warm. Love, S

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On Love + Cognac Soaked Cherries in Yogurt

February 12th, 2016 § 1 comment § permalink


This was one of my original posts in 2012 but is making a comeback with updates for your Valentine’s planning.

right from the start/you were a thief you stole my heart/and I/your willing victim -pink/nate ruess

It is fruitless for a Catholic to speak of love and the heart without ultimately needing to refer to the Sacred Heart. I mean, if you want to find a soul with perfect purity, it isn’t going to be your fellow human. No, I am not a pessimist, quite the contrary.

Catholics love our devotions to saints but even moreso to certain attributes of Jesus. The Holy Face, Sacred Blood, Jesus the Child are but a few of the many attributes one can relate to and take on as a specific devotion. For some reason, a blood red heart pierced to the core, burning with an inconsumable love and dripping with blood is one resonates within my soul more than any. Pessimist, no, but I might be weird.


No surprises here I am sure.

It wasn’t until I started photographing these cherries I picked up on a whim in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, that I realized they look strikingly like a heart when sliced in half.

I had never seen this simple yet profound beauty in a cherry until I was faced with pitting a pound of these totally out of season blood red bing cherries just because I need some red in my life. The orange and vanilla complement the cherry and give it a bit of depth that elevates simple yogurt to a sweet and creamy dessert.

This dessert, brimming with symbolism is perfect for the upcoming holiday of love. Cognac soaked cherries are a nice and light adult version of a parfait. Share it with the one who stole your heart.





Cognac Soaked Cherries with Yogurt

Prep Time: 20 minutes

20 minutes

Serves: 3-4 servings


  • 1 pound organic Bing cherries, reserving 4-6 for decoration
  • 5 Tbsp Gran Marnier, cognac or liquor of choice
  • 4 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 Tbsp organic cane sugar
  • whole milk yogurt
  • one vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out and reserved


  1. Mix yogurt and vanilla bean seeds. Set in refrigerator.
  2. Wash and rinse the cherries. Remove stems. Using a small paring knife, make a slice going all around each cherry. Twist and pull off one side, placing in bowl with cognac, vanilla and sugar. With a finger nail or small knife, pop out pit, twisting as you go.
  3. Toss gently until covered.
  4. Place in refrigerator for 2-3 hours until sugar has dissolved and cherries have given off a light syrup.
  5. Layer cherries, yogurt, cherries, yogurt and pop a cherry on top just for kicks. If you wish to make this a breakfast treat, omit the cognac and add more vanilla and some freshly squeezed OJ to macerate (soak).



P.S. For the over 21, kiddos.

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On Love & Chocolate + Dark Chocolate Beet Bon Bons

February 8th, 2016 § 7 comments § permalink

Originally published in 2012, the recipe is still wonderful and updated just for my readers. Enjoy! 

For a blog which espouses love, you would think I would be all over Valentine’s Day.

While I certainly do not shun the holiday, it has degenerated into a reason for singles and couples alike to forget the blessings they have been given and yearn for something they do not have.


Whereas the day can be a beautiful chance to TELL someone of your affection, it is often warped into a day where people come to EXPECT affection perfection.  As a society, we have the habit of turning the day into an expectation of what kind of love we will RECEIVE, rather than a chance to GIVE voluminously.

May we so love as never to have occasion to repent of our love!

-Henry David Thoreau

H.D. Thoreau is onto something when he hints at loving SO BIG that we should never have to worry about having held back love.  Now knowing we are humans, and imperfect at that, this may be only theoretically possible.  However, why not try…… challenge to you to recapture the meaning in this season of love!

How can we do this? Well, to practice this self-giving love:  do something covert and anonymous.  This is the best way to practice self-giving. Send a family who you know is struggling some groceries.  Shovel the sidewalk and driveway of a neighbor, or better yet, a random house you drive by.  Pay for the persons’ coffee behind you…and run!  Leave a coffee shop giftcard/note in one of the library cubbies at the local library.  You get the vibe.

Ok now, are you looking for a sweet treat?  Try this “covertly healthy” pink coconut/chocolate treat.  Give someone (as well as yourself) the gift of luxurious sweetness wrapped around a healthy core.  These dark chocolate beet bon bons are genius. I wish I had thought of them myself. They are like a healthy mounds bar you can pop in your mouth. I PROMISE noone will ever know your secret. Unless you tell. 😉

Start with some beautiful organic beets.


Shred them into a bowl.


Add some shredded coconut and some gorgeous local honey.


Roll into beautiful magenta balls.  Pause and admire them.


Cover them in dark, decadent chocolate.
Marvel at their uncanny ability to look like chocolate rocks. 


hidden heart of mine/enrobed in a crackling shell/yielding to soft



Dark Chocolate Beet Bon Bons (adapted from Fig and Fauna)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

35 minutes

Serves: Depending on size, around 12 bon bons


  • 1-2 raw beets, grated into about 1/2 a cup
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded
  • 2 Tbsp raw, local honey
  • 1 Tbsp unrefined coconut oil + 1 Tbsp to melt w/chocolate
  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli squares)


  1. Grate the beets until you have 1/2 cup. Depending on size, this may take 1 or 2 medium beets or 1 large. 
  2. In a bowl, mix together the beets, coconut, honey and melted coconut oil. Form balls and place on some parchment paper. Place in refrigerator until ready to cover in chocolate.
  3. In a double boiler or small pan over boiling water, slowly melt chocolate and coconut oil. 
  4. When melted and fluid, remove chocolate and slowly pour chocolate over the balls, swirling them around until covered. 
  5. Let them sit until hardened, placing in fridge to quicken (15-20 min)
  6. Share with someone you love.  Eat some as well. This healthy and delicious treats (which do not taste like beets!) will keep a few days in the refrigerator.

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On Love & Silence + Dark Chocolate Almond Buckwheat Cake

January 28th, 2016 § 1 comment § permalink


“The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.”

– St. John Climacus

We live in such a noisy world. Even if we retreat to the silence of the countryside our electronic devices follow us in all of their constant chatter of the world. If we are lucky enough to silence these devices, the mind is a rumbling with worries, concerns, to-do’s and desires.

Learning to love solitude of the world is not hard for me. Time alone has always been a great need of mine and one I deemed necessary for survival. Introvert, much? Solitude is easy, but silence is more of a challenge. After a few good years of studying the Desert Fathers I have come to some wonderful information, it is possible to silence the soul.

It isn’t easy and when I perfect it I will get back to you but I can say one thing, for the moments that I can taste that sweet, sweet contemplative silence where “I” become naught and my soul shuts up….well, it rocks.

What does silence mean? It means you are not as easily overstimulated. It means 30 teenagers can be running around and you are not ready to pull out your hair, in fact you see joy in the craziness. It means loud beeping toys, screaming babies and conversations that surround your work become mere background or when lucky, become unnoticed. It means you see joy in all and God in everything. It is a worthy life goal and one certainly worth fighting for day in and day out even when it seems impossible.

Days that require solitude still exist and when I am lucky to carve that out, they deserve this cake. Spending the day of love alone? Trust me, there can be found love in solitude but even more love in silence. This cake can help you on your way.

This cake is decadent in its rich chocolate interior and deep nutty flavor. Each bite makes me feel like I am happily contented with my cake sitting on the forest floor amidst soft moss & rustling leaves feeling small and quiet amidst towering trees lost in a great woods.



This dark chocolate almond buckwheat cake pairs well with a dark coffee or a nice cup of black tea with milk. It needs a drink that draws out its deep tobacco & wood undertones that come from the buckwheat & dark chocolate yet temper its rich sweetness.

I hope you find love this holiday, whether it comes in giving to others, sharing it with your love or in loving silence. Love comes in many forms. Sometimes, that is dark chocolate almond buckwheat cake.


Dark Chocolate Almond Buckwheat Cake

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Serves: around 8 decadent servings

Dark Chocolate Almond Buckwheat Cake


  • 7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 4.5 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate (I enjoy Valhrona for special occasions)
  • 4 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated or blond cane sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (1.5 ounces) buckwheat flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) fine almond meal, sifted
  • Confectioner's sugar to dust
  • Raspberry jam to serve


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 9 inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Butter the inside sides of the pan.
  3. Over a double boiler or very gently, melt the chocolate and the butter until silky. At end stir in salt and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. Beat egg yolks with sugar until creamed and fluffy.
  5. Stir in buckwheat and almond flour with a spatula until incorporated. Fold in chocolate mixture until well mixed.
  6. Beat egg whites until light, fluffy and forming soft peaks. Gently fold in egg whites being careful not to deflate the mixture. This will give the cake a nice bit of loft and lightness.
  7. Pour into lined pan and bake around 25 minutes or until a chopstick comes out clean and dry.
  8. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve with raspberry jam.

Adapted from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from La Tartine Gourmand: Recipes for an Inspired Life




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Seeking Blossoms of Joy in Winter + Tom Kha Soup

January 11th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Tom Kha Soup with Shrimpt

Real joy is a strange thing. It is one that whispers, it does not scream. It often exists in the most unlikely of circumstances where one would least expect it to pop up. Why? It does not depend on circumstance, or place, or things or people. Yet it exists. Not alone or in solitude, but one that intertwines its fingers with an otherwordly partner. It reaches beyond this earthly dimension in a way that truly is indescribable other than it is soft and quiet.

This new year needs a recipe that is delightful in a way that does not scream. One that cleanses and delights but is easily made. A milk soup. With just water and coconut milk as the base, this flavorful Thai soup, Tom Kha (loosely translates to: cooked galangal), dances in your mouth but is ridiculously simple. It includes the addition of coconut milk which differentiates it from Tom Yum soup. The soup can and often is made Tom Kha Gai by adding thinly sliced chicken but I went with shrimp because, well, I am increasingly eating less meat. Especially on Friday.

Tom Kha Soup

From top clockwise: Lime, Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves, Thai Chilis, Dried Galangal, Dried Lemongrass Stalks

In Thailand, most recipes for Tom Kha soup typically include coconut milk, galangal root, kaffir lime leaveslemongrass stalks, Thai chili peppers, fresh cilantro (sometimes dill), straw mushrooms (or sometimes other mushrooms), a meat such as chicken or shrimp, fish sauce, and lime juice. Sometimes a fried chili paste is added on top. Don’t let the newness of these ingredients put you off. They all add to the nuanced flavor of the soup. If you wish to learn more about them, I added links to check them out individually.

This was not my first rodeo with Tom Kha soup so I was thrilled this time around because my dried Thai ingredients were given to me in one little beautiful pouch by my friends at Try the World. Their newest box from Thailand creates refreshingly healthy and simple recipes. Not having to hunt them down at the local ethnic grocer and coming together with my pantry staples just adds to the joy of this recipe!

Clockwise from top: Green Curry Paste, Taro Chips, Tom Yum spices ( perfect for Tom Kha soup), jaspberry rice

Clockwise from top: Green Curry Paste, Taro Chips, Tom Yum spices ( perfect for Tom Kha soup), jaspberry rice

If you want to make this extra simple, you can purchase the dried spices for Tom Kha online here (sold as Tom Yum which is the soup without coconut milk) in a convenient packet and throw this soup together in a heartbeat. Conversely you can order the spices with a Try the World box or order them separately from the box in their world shop. If you are feeling kind of antsy, you can seek them out fresh at your local Asian store one blustery and oppressive cabin fever day. Having a spicy, comforting simple dish that is a basic in a hot sweaty country across the ocean is often just what you need to get past that seasonal affective disorder that weighs so heavily on people from these parts.

Either way, I wish for the spices of Thailand and the elegant simplicity of Tom Kha soup will bring a spark of sunshine and joy to your wintry day!

Tom Kha Soup


Thai Tom Kha Soup

Thai Tom Kha Coconut Soup

Tom Kha Soup (Thai boiled galangal with coconut milk)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

25 minutes

Serves: 4 servings as a soup or as a curry with rice


  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 13.5 oz can of coconut milk
  • 8 slices of galangal, dried or fresh
  • 10-15 birds eye chili
  • 1 long stalk of lemongrass, cut into 2 inch long pieces
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 1/2 cups of sliced button mushrooms (or for authenticity, straw mushrooms)
  • 16 medium to large raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 4 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 limes for juice
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro to garnish (optional)


  1. Begin by bringing the water, galangal, chili, lemongrass, and kaffir lime to boil.
  2. Reduce to a simmer and add coconut milk. Continue to cook for a few more minutes to infuse the coconut milk with the spices.
  3. Add in the mushrooms and shrimp and cook until shrimp is no longer translucent and is a milky white color.
  4. Stir in fish sauce.
  5. Ladle into bowls and add squeeze half a lime into each bowl and garnish with cilantro.
  6. Serve immediately. (Hint) Sometimes the soup is served over rice as more of a curry sauce. A cup of cooked rice per person make a full meal.

Love, Sheila

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Budget Friendly Mediterranean White Bean Salad + Bread and Salt

November 8th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Tuscan White Beans + Bread and Salt Bread

As I sit and write, my gaze wanders up and down the paperback fiction shelf of my local library; Les Miserables, To Kill a Mockingbird, Kiss and Tell, Burned. The story of humanity is often such a tragic one. What sadness that what we let rule our lives are often the little things that torture us until we yield; The Have’s and Have Nots, Watch Your Back, Killer Angels.

Sometimes I have to intentionally remind myself to stop, breathe and pay attention to the good that we have in our midst. It is too easy to perseverate on the evil, the uncomfortable, the hate that permeates our senses.

Etta James “At Last” being belted out with a bit of staccato, recognizing the egg-dart and burnished copper frieze that decorates the Carnegie’s roof, long cream wool socks that keep my legs warm in the autumn chill, lightly sweet coffee sipped out of a bottle “snuck” in, The Princess Bridethese are good.

Now that is a funny one, The Princess Bride. Iconic. And quite nice a change from the painful titles that line the chocolate colored, slowly peeling shelf. Sometimes, just sometimes, there is a bit of humor in this crazy world and that movie captures the inane comedy that love can often be. Sometimes too, there is magic…The Lord of the Rings.


Yesterday was good too. I was able to take a long walk down to Bread and Salt Bakery, where I was able to snag myself a loaf of their beautiful Pane Casareccio with its subtle tang and crisp exterior that gives way to its chewy insides. Now that Rick has been discovered by Mark Bittman in his last Eat column for the New York Times, I may have to fight the masses to get my daily bread, but it will make it all the more worth it when I have fought my way in! Congrats Rick.

Because a bread that is so good on its own deserves a pairing just as simple and delicious, I turned to my pantry to whip up this whip-quick white bean salad for lunch. Inspired by a white bean salad recipe from the American Cancer Society that I left the farmer’s market with, it is healthy, frugal and really, really good. It doesn’t photograph as well as the bread but hey, if it tastes good, who cares!

Find joy where you can today.  It really is everywhere you look if you just choose it.

Tuscan White Beans 2 + Bread and Salt Bread

Mediterranean White Bean Salad

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 minutes

17 minutes

about six 1 cup servings


  • 2 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped finely
  • 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar (red or white wine would work too)
  • 4 cups small white beans such as northern or cannellini, cooked
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled sheep milk feta
  • 1/2 cup of parsley, chopped roughly
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a small skillet saute chopped garlic with 2 Tbsp of olive oil until sizzling, about 1 minute.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar.
  3. Roughly mash about 1/4 of the beans just a bit until soft.
  4. In a large bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, feta, onion and parsley. Stir until combined.
  5. Add garlic, oil and vinegar mixture.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Refrigerate until cool or serve warm.

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