Sunday, September 27, 2020

Bioluminescence + Cafecitos y Mallorcas #FoodieReads


I was sitting at the tire place, waiting for my car to get new shoes and had brought along my Kindle to pass the time. I started to read my husband's book group pick, managed about ten pages before I closed it, and moved on to the next book in my list: Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán.* I knew nothing about this book and was unfamiliar with the author. So, I clicked on the title and started to read. When I realized, on the very first page, that it was about a woman with an incurable cancer, I almost closed it as well. 

Three friends are battling cancer right now; one lost his battle this month; and several others are currently in remission, but their lives still involve periodic tests and stressful times as they wait for the results. So, though I don't use this word often, I can honestly say that I hate cancer.

Still, I decided to stick with this book because Pagán has a way of addressing hard topics - cancer and divorce in this case - while still writing an entertaining book. And I had some time to kill. Besides, I don't often say 'no' to a travel book. In this case, Libby puts her house on the market, leaves Chicago, and flees to Isla de Vieques; Vieques is a Caribbean island off of Puerto Rico's eastern coast.

photo by Berniz House

Vieques is known for evening boat tours of Bioluminescent Bay where microorganisms give the water a blue-green glow.  Back in August, we had several days of bioluminescence here on California's central coast. Because of the pandemic, beaches were either closed or crowded. So, Jake, D, and I decided to skip it. But R went with some friends closer to midnight and one of them shared the photo above with me.

Shiloh takes Libby to the Bioluminescent Bay on a date where they swim in the stunningly illuminated water. "[He] laughed heartily. 'I was wondering when you’d notice. It’s bioluminescence. The bay is filled with tiny organisms called dinoflagellates, and they glow when they’re disturbed. It works best with your body, though.' At once, I remembered what my father had told me about the bay, and how I thought he’d sounded mildly demented at the time" (pg. 121).

On the Page
image from

I already mentioned that the novel deals with cancer and divorce. What I didn't tell you was that Libby gets dual bombshells dropped on her in the same afternoon. First, she is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and, then, her husband admits he is gay when he assumes that she already knows by the stricken look on her face. She never tells him about the cancer; she just reacts. This quickly spirals into her kicking Tom out, putting their apartment up for sale, and her booking a trip to Puerto Rico - no passport needed to an American territory - because her passport is expired and she isn't sure she'll live long enough to get it renewed.

The writing was engaging and the plot paced nicely. I was definitely fully invested in Libby's survival and appreciative of the friends and her twin brother, Paul, who insisted that she fight for her life.

The title comes from this passage when the pilot who flew her from San Juan to Vieques delivers her luggage: "He gave me a half smile. 'Life is a near-death experience. But suit yourself,' he added lightly, as though I’d just rejected the offer he didn’t actually make. 'Your suitcase is on the porch. See you around, Libby'" (pg. 86). Okay, so the arrival didn't go smoothly as they crash landed in the ocean just off shore. But [spoiler alert!] it is how she meets Shiloh who ends up being more than just her transportation.

Libby begins to drown her sorrows as soon as she gets to the airport. "I pulled a move that was decidedly un-Libby-like: I walked into an airport bar, sat down, and told the bartender to serve me what he would have if he were making a drink for himself. (In hindsight, perhaps this was not the best idea, as the bartender’s capillary-spidered cheeks said he’d spent the better part of his life downing highly flammable spirits.) 'Dirty martini,' he said, pouring the contents of a silver shaker into a deceptively small cocktail glass with a flourish" (pg. 65). And she explains why she doesn't typically imbibe. "Great mother of pearl! Liquor was powerful stuff. While I wasn’t sure I liked it, I had a feeling it might come in handy as I prepared to meet my maker. Historically, I had no strong feelings toward alcohol one way or the other, but aside from the occasional beer or celebratory glass of champagne, I’d largely avoided it because Tom’s father was an alcoholic, and not the jolly, highly functioning type. Even mild inebriation made Tom uncomfortable" (pg. 65).

In the end, the lesson she takes to heart is one we all could stand to embrace: live fully and completely. "Yet I’ve come to understand that the way I will truly honor my mother’s memory is not with a big act, but through my daily choices: to be compassionate with myself, even when my will is weak and my body fails me; to give myself freely to those I love, even when it means my heart may be broken; and to live fully and completely while I have the chance—just as my mother did" (pg. 244).

On the Plate: Mallorcas

As Libby lives on Vieques for a month, there are lots of local foods mentioned and consumed. Her landlady, Milagros, welcomes her with "...a frosty glass, which she pressed into my hand and instructed me to drink. Coconut water! Was anything ever so delicious? 'Now eat these,' she said when I finished, handing me a plate full of crackers spread with a thin reddish-orange paste. 'Is this guava?' I said, my mouth jammed full of food. She nodded. 'I put fresh fruit and milk in the fridge, and coffee and granola in the cupboard'" (pg. 83).

Out to dinner with Shiloh one night, when the waitress comes to take her order, Libby recounts, "I blurted out the first thing that registered—a pulled pork sandwich with yucca fries, whatever those were" (pg 89).

The she runs into Shiloh again on the beach and he asks, "'Have you had Isla’s conch fritters yet?' 'What’s a conch fritter?' I asked. 'Oh, my. You’ve never had a conch fritter? We’ll have to fix that. Do you have plans tonight?'" (pg. 104).

And so they do. "I glanced up at the waiter. 'An order of conch fritters and the tuna steak.' 'And to drink?' the waiter asked. 'Something strong.' 'I’ll have the same entrée and a Corona,' Shiloh said. The waiter brought me a tumbler filled with guava juice and rum, which was tastier than Milagros’s rocket fuel, and which relaxed me to the point that I was able to chat about trivial things with Shiloh until the fritters arrived" (pg. 107).

But I was inspired to make Mallorcas, or Pan De Mallora, after reading this part: "Even after a solid night’s sleep and a long shower, the previous day’s shock had not worn off, but I was confident that a good cup of coffee, a baked good or three, and a change of scenery would help soothe my nerves. After strolling up and down a few blocks, I came upon a blindingly pink café, from which the scent of heaven itself—baked dough and sugar—wafted out. I walked in and sat at one of the bar stools that lined the U-shaped counter. 'What smells so good?' I asked the woman behind the counter. 'Mallorcas,' said a voice" (pg. 102).

Having never had one, I did some reading and it's described as a fluffy, eggy, buttery, sweet bread that is coiled like a snail’s shell and generously dusted with powdered sugar. And it likely came to the island with the Spanish colonizers. In any case, it sounded delicious and perfect for a Sunday morning snack: cafecitos y mallorcas.


  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
  • 1 cup warmed milk
  • 1 cup warmed water
  • 5 cups flour plus more as needed (I used another 1/2 cup for dusting and rolling)
  • 7 medium egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted plus more for brushing (another 1/4 cup)
  • powdered sugar for serving
  • Also needed: baking sheet lined with parchment paper, sweetened coffee for serving and dipping


In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, granulated sugar, milk, and water. Stir to combine, then sprinkle in 1 cup flour. Whisk until smooth. Cover and set aside in a warm place until batter is risen and foamy, approximately 45 minutes.

Mix egg yolks into batter Then add remaining 4 cups flour. Pour in 1/2 cup melted butter and mix until completely moistened into a shaggy dough. Cover and set aside in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.

After the dough has risen. Dust your workspace with flour and turn the dough out of the bowl. Knead the dough together to form a ball. Then roll the dough out until it's about 18" wide and 12" tall.

Slice the dough into nine 2" wide strips. Roll the strips into snails or coils and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Melt the additional 1/4 cup butter and brush the snails. Let the rolls rise for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are doubled in size. While the rolls rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the buns in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The rolls should be firm to the touch and the tips slightly browned.Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Dust generously with powdered sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serve with sweetened coffee for dipping. Enjoy!

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in September 2020: here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Homemade Vanilla Bean Extract

Near the beginning of our shelter-in-place orders, a friend posed the question on social media: "So, vanilla is the new toilet paper?!? Why is this flying off the shelves AND ridiculously overpriced?"

I decided to make my own since I had a bunch of vanilla beans from a previous project or event. And when it was finished, I delivered a bottle to my friend.

Homemade vanilla extract only requires two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. Oh, and a lot of patience. This batch infused for four months, but the longer you let it steep, the better. I did a batch previously that sat for eight months. I have read that you can begin to use it after as little as 8 weeks, but it didn't have that deep mahogany color that I like nor the heady scent of vanilla.

Ingredients makes approximately 750 ml,
but the rule of thumb is 5 to 6 vanilla beans per 250 ml vodka. So adjust as needed.

  • 15 to 18 vanilla beans
  • 750 ml vodka
  • jar with a tight seal


Using a sharp paring knife, slit the vanilla beans so the 'caviar' are exposed. You don't need to slice through the bean, just make a slit down the middle.

Place beans into the jar.

Pour vodka over the bean until the beans are fully submerged. You can press the beans down into the liquid as needed.

Then keep the vanilla at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Shake the contents about once a week, pressing the beans down into the liquid if they pop up. If they are exposed to the air, they will get slimy.

That's it! You can keep your vanilla in the large jar or bottle them into smaller jars for gifting to friends. Also, you can keep refilling your bean jar until the liquid begins to lose its aroma. I, myself, have only used beans for two full batches...but give it a shot and let me know.

Roasted Watermelon Radish with Maple-Kissed Tahini Sauce

I love this unassuming root. It looks like a turnip, but then you slice into it...

And it looks just like a watermelon!

I picked up a few watermelon radishes at the recently opened Elroy's Fine Foods market here in town and wanted to do something other than slice them thin or pickle them. And I got to thinking about turnips. One of my favorites ways to prepare those is to roast them. So, I decided to try that preparation with these watermelon radishes.

Ingredients serves 4

  • 4 cups watermelon radishes, scrubbed clean and thickly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used the local-to-me Morada salt blend from Big Sur Salts)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Also needed: baking sheet lined with parchment paper, freshly squeezed lemon juice for serving

Tahini Sauce
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used the local-to-me Morada salt blend from Big Sur Salts)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • water, as needed


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Scrub and dry the watermelon radishes. Slice them with a sharp knife or a mandolin slicer to between 1/8 or 1/4" thick. Cut the rounds in half to make moons.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the radish slices with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the slices on the prepared baking sheet and place them in the preheated oven. Roast for 10 minutes. Then flip them over and roast for another 10 minutes. By the end of the roasting time, they should be fork-tender with some nicely charred spots. If not, return them to the oven and check every couple of minutes.

Tahini Sauce
You can place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until very smooth. I just did it in a small mixing bowl with a whisk. Add more water if needed to reach your desired consistency.

To serve, spread a layer of sauce on a serving platter. Top the tahini sauce with the roasted radishes.

Give the dish a drizzle of freshly squeezed lemon juice and serve immediately.

I rounded out this plant-based dinner with fresh tomatoes, pickled beets, and grilled onions and summer squash. I paired this dinner with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile.

Chicha Morada (Peruvian Purple Corn Drink) #FoodieReads


Earlier this year I discovered the writing of George Mahood when I came across Not Tonight, Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small-Town America. You can read my thoughts about that book in my post - Road Trip Food + Jake's Scrambled Eggs. In any case, that cemented my admiration of Mahood's writing. 

Then, earlier this month, I read Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain by George Mahood and made a California Chip Butty. So, when Travels with Rachel: In Search of South America by George Mahood* popped up in my Kindle suggestions, I ordered it immediately.

On the Page

photo from

As usual Mahood seamlessly fuses the informative and the hilarious when he recounts his and Rachel's belated honeymoon through South America. In typical Mahood-fashion, much of the hilarity ensues through the couple being frugal in their spending. One example was then they wanted to save three dollars on a tour which had them hunting for anacondas wearing flip flops and shoddy sneakers instead of waterproof boots. And, on their anniversary, they decided to splurge from their usual hostel accommodations and discovered that their two single beds were located in a room with a flimsy curtain that looked directly into the dining room of the hotel.

Through their adventures and misadventures, Mahood describes their time in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and more. In his usual self-deprecating manner he both acknowledges and respects the cultural differences between the South Americans and the tourists. If you like travelogues and love a good laugh, any of Mahood's books will do the trick. This one had the added humor of including miscommunications and clashes that can only occur between spouses! Though I will say Rachel seems remarkably chill through everything.

Just a few passages I really enjoyed that clearly illustrate Mahood's writing style and travel mindset...

"As we sat chatting with full stomachs, we felt acutely aware of the strange and slightly uncomfortable dichotomy of being first world travellers in a less developed country. In the morning, we had been helping locals swap chickens for milk from the back of a rusty pickup truck, in the evening we were sipping mojitos on a roof terrace" (pg. 41)

"Before coming to South America, many people had suggested that we shouldn’t eat street food because of the risk to our delicate Western stomachs. Rachel had been more cautious than me. I had ignored this advice and only showed restraint when offered hallucinogenic cactus juice with life–altering side–effects. I don’t think you can fully embrace a country unless you eat its street food" (pg. 66).

"I stumbled upon the notorious Mercado de las Brujas – Witches’ Market – where the definition of weird purchases is rewritten. Here you can buy an array of bizarre things, such as potions, voodoo dolls, statues, dried frogs, herbal ‘stimulants’ and dried llama foetuses. The llama foetuses are said to ward off evil spirits, and are often built into the foundations of new houses in Bolivia to ensure a happy household" (pg. 113).

In the Glass

Chica Morada at a localish-to-me Peruvian restaurant

As with his other books, he describes a lot of food on the pages, included boiled sweets that I just can't picture. "A woman resplendent in a series of brightly coloured shawls and a black panama hat popular in the area, boarded the bus in one of the many villages we stopped in. She walked down the aisle selling small plastic bags of boiled sweets. We bought a bag and she continued down the bus. Ten minutes later, another similarly–dressed woman boarded at a different stop and offered identical bags of sweets" (pg. 26).

More food from vendors..."We had a three hour wait in Sigchos for our connecting bus, so we had a look around the town – it didn’t take very long – and then sat in the main square and ate a bowl of fried potatoes and onions bought from a street vendor" (pg. 39).

Some language challenges..."My poor Spanish was evident when I ordered us each a toasted ham and cheese sandwich at a neighbouring cafe by pointing to the pictures of the toasted ham and cheese sandwiches on the wall, and asking for, in Spanish, what I thought was two toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. What arrived were two normal ham and cheese sandwiches, which were perfectly decent but not toasted" (pg. 120).

Then, more about the local fare..."Huanchaco is credited as being where the Peruvian dish ceviche originated. Ceviche is a dish consisting of raw fish with lemon juice and often chili" (pg. 71).

And something slightly illicit..."Juan Pablo made us all a cup of mate de coca – a tea made from coca leaves and sweetened with shit-loads of sugar. Locals use coca tea to help cope with altitude sickness, although no scientific studies have ever proved its effectiveness. It is more likely that it acts as a stimulant because of its mind–altering qualities. The leaves of the coca plant are the base ingredient for cocaine, and although considered mild in its dosage, one cup of mate de coca is enough to test positive for a cocaine drug test" (pg. 87)

I made these for Peruvian Independence Day and neglected to share it then. This was the perfect opportunity. While not specifically mentioned, I could imagine George and Rachel drinking refreshing glasses of Chicha Morada, a Peruvian purple corn drink.

  • 6 to 8 cups water
  • 1/2 cup purple corn powder*
  • one organic pineapple
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 Tablespoon whole cloves
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 organic lime, juiced
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup

Gently scrub your pineapple and slice off the skin in thick strips. Cut the pineapple meat into cubes and set aside. 

Add the water and purple corn powder to a pot and bring to a simmer. Whisk until the purple corn powder is completely combined. Stir in the pineapple skins, pineapple cubes, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise. Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Let cook for 35 to 40 minutes.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Strain out the fruit and spices. Stir in the maple syrup and juice from the lime. 


Let the drink cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge to cool completely. Give it a stir before pouring. Serve over ice and enjoy. In the photo above, there are two glasses of Chica Morada, two glasses of Inca Kola, and one Chilcano de Pisco. Salud!

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in September 2020: here.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Feijoada To Delight a Carnivore #SoupSwappers

Here we are at the September Soup Saturday Swappers event. Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm started this event and, every month, I get a new array of soup recipes to put in my to-try pile.

This month, Rebekah Making Miracles is hosting as we explore beef soups and stews. She urged us to "Use any cut of beef to create a soup or stew to share! The options are endless."

Here's the line-up of beef soup and stew recipes from the #SoupSwappers...

Feijoada To Delight a Carnivore

This Brazilian stew is fairly simple since the ingredients just cook together for an entire day. The result: tender chunks of meat in a filling, satisfying dish. Feijoada traditionally includes dry chorizo which I didn't have. Next time I'll try it, but with bacon, pork Andouille, and beef, there was plenty to delight my carnivorous boys.


  • 1 pound dried red beans (I used Domingo Rojo from Rancho Gordo), soaked overnight
  • 4 to 6 slices bacon, diced (if you're local to me, I prefer PigWizard)
  • 3 pounds beef, cut into ½" cubes (I used beef cheek meat)
  • 1 pound pork Andouille sausage, cut into thick coins
  • 2 cups organic white onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups organic celery, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups fresh tomato sauce
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly thyme
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper


Cover dried beans with cold water, the night before you plan to cook, and soak overnight. If you forgot to do that, cover the dried beans with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour. Drain and proceed with the steps below.

In a large souppot or Dutch oven, cook bacon until the fat is rendered. Add in the onions, celery, and garlic. Cook until the onions are softened and translucent. Stir in the beef and cook until nicely browned. Stir in the sausages and soaked beans. Pour in the stock and red wine. Whisk in smoked paprika, paprika, and ground cumin.

Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook on low heat for 6 to 7 hours. The meat and beans should be tender. Uncover, raise the heat, and cook until the sauce is thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper, as needed. Fold in the fresh thyme just before serving.

This is stew is typically served with rice, but we served it with mashed root vegetables. Yum!

That's a wrap for the #SoupSwappers beef event. We'll be back next month when the group's founder hosts a Halloween appropriate event of Spooky Soups and Stews.

Sourdough Gouda Toasts #FoodieReads

No matter what your political lean, Becoming by Michelle Obama* is a candid memoir that will leave you in awe of this articulate, elegant, and accomplished former First Lady.

On the Page

This has been on my bookshelf for several weeks - maybe months. And on the Labor Day holiday, I picked it up and retreated to a chair on the patio. Between cooking meals for the day, I read and read and read some more. When the sun went down, it was still sweltering inside my house. I retrieved my booklight and continued to read on the patio until it was time for bed.

She's articulate. We know that. She's Ivy League-educated - Princeton undergrad, Harvard law - but her parents insisted on proper language. On one family vacation, she recounts: "At one point, one of the girls, a second, third, or fourth cousin of mine, gave me a sideways look and said, just a touch hotly, 'How come you talk like a white girl?' The question was pointed, meant as an insult or at least a challenge, but it also came from an earnest place. It held a kernel of something that was confusing for both of us. We seemed to be related but of two different worlds. ...I knew what she was getting at. There was no denying it, even if I just had. I did speak differently than some of my relatives, and so did Craig. Our parents drilled into us the important of using proper diction, of saying 'going' instead of 'goin' and 'isn't' instead of 'ain't.' We were taught to finish off our words. They bought us a dictionary and a full Encyclopaedia Britannica set.... Dandy, too, was an influence, meticulously correcting our grammar or admonishing us to enunciate our words when we went over for dinner" (pg. 40).

She's accomplished. When she took her position as Executive Director of Community Affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center, she explains, "I was well supported by my new boss, given the freedom to build my own program, creating a stronger relationship between the hospital and the neighboring community. I started with one person working for me but eventually led a team of twenty-two. I instituted programs to take hospital staff and trustees out into the neighborhood around the South Side, having them visit community centers and schools, signing them up to be tutors, mentors, and science-fair judges, getting them to try the local barbecue joints. We brought local kids in to job shadow hospital employees..., encouraging students in the community to consider medicine as a career. After realizing that the hospital system could be better about hiring minority and women-owned businesses for its contracted work, I helped set up the Office of Business Diversity as well" (pp. 209-210).

But, perhaps, her most endearing quality, at least for me, is her love of family. She is a fierce and loyal wife and mother. That is not to say that her role is solely supporting her husband and her children; she clearly has her own passions. But this is a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Obamas - how they met, their dating years, his unique proposal, and their marriage. It clearly expresses the philosophy behind their commitment to public service.

The word that comes to mind as I read this: gravitas. Gravitas was one of the ancient Roman virtues that connotes dignity, seriousness, and responsibility. At least that's how I remember it being described in Latin class; yes, I took Latin in high school...five years of it, in fact! 

In Becoming, Obama reveals the human behind the title. She shows us how deeply she committed to being the First Lady of the United States and how seriously she took her responsibility to the people of this country. She has always had my respect. Now she also has my fervent admiration as well.

On the Plate

There was a surprising number of passages about food. Food as connection and routine between her and Barack as they met weekly for the same dinner at their favorite restaurant: pot roast, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes. Food as a comfort when she was in college and went to a relative's house for family dinners. Food as survival on the campaign trail that involved too many fast food meals and packages. Food as sustenance and nutrition when she worked with Chef Sam Kass to grow a garden at the White House and educate children about fresh fruits and vegetables.

But the dish that I decided to make embodied food as a pause, food that she made for herself when she wasn't responsible for anyone else for the evening or no one else was fussing about her.

"...I was hungry. I walked down the stairs from our bedroom with the dogs following on my heels. In the kitchen, I opened the fridge. I found a loaf of bread, took out two pieces, and laid them in the toaster oven. I opened a cabinet and got out a plate. I know it's a weird thing to say, but to take a plate from a shelf in the kitchen without anyone first insisting that they get it for me, to stand by myself watching bread turn brown in the toaster, feels as close to a return to my old life as I've come. ...In the end, I didn't just make toast; I made cheese toast, moving my slices of bread to the microwave and melting a fat mess of gooey cheddar between them. I then carried my plate outside to the backyard. I have to tell anyone I was going. I just went" (preface xii).

As a busy wife and mother myself, I know that doesn't happen often. When it does, I don't always make a healthy choice. Cheese toast probably isn't the healthiest choice either, but it is comforting. Also, I don't have a microwave, so I just let the cheese get melted and gooey on a skillet...and I used a sourdough baguette from our favorite local breadmaker and two raw milk gouda - one with black truffles and the other with lavender and thyme. Because, for me, cheese toast is all about the quality of the bread and the cheeses.

Ingredients serves 4 as an appetizer

  • 8 to 12 slices of sourdough baguette
  • slices of cheese cut to fit the top of your baguette slices
  • butter for the griddle


Run butter over the griddle and let it get nice and hot. Place baguette slices on the pan and heat until it's toasted, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the slices over and top them with cheese. Heat until the cheese is melted and gooey. Serve immediately.

It was a toss-up as to which gouda toast was our favorite. But I think it was the truffle cheese toast!

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in September 2020: here.

A Trio of Côtes du Rhône Pairings #Winophiles

This month, I am leading the French Winophiles discussion on Côtes du Rhône wines. You can see my preview post here. If you are reading this early enough, join in our live Twitter chat on Saturday, September 19th at 8am Pacific time. Follow the hashtag #Winophiles and be sure to add them to any tweets you post so we can see them.

Here are the #Winophiles' Côtes du Rhône explorations, tastings, and pairings. These articles will be live between Friday, September 17th and early morning Saturday, September 19th...

A Trio of Côtes du Rhône Pairings

When I decided to jump in to host, I figured I needed to try several wines. And, as I have for the past six months of this shelter-in-place order, I was able to find several bottles online at Then I set about to pair the wines with a variety of cuisines. I used to stick with the what-grow-together-goes-together 'rule', but I've found that very limiting. Now I just do a little reading and pour wines with what I want to eat. Nevermind any wine pairing rules!

M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche Blanc 2018 +
Gougères Stuffed with Smoked Salmon Mousse
The first pairing went with my September offering for my Fish Friday Foodies group, #FishFridayFoodies; the assignment was to use smoked fish and posted today. Here's my recipe post for Gougères Stuffed with Smoked Salmon Mousse.

You can read more about M. Chapoutier wines in my post - from January 2019 when this same group focused on biodynamic wines - Learning about Biodynamic Wines + M.Chapoutier Wines withSome Cross-Cultural Pairings. Back then I poured the 2017 Belleruche Blanc and paired it with ginger-poached fish.

As for this vintage, the 2018 Belleruche Blanc, is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette, and Bourboulenc; it retails for around $14 on

In the glass, it poured a bright straw color and had an intensely complex nose of summer stone fruits with a hint of fennel and flowers. Those aromas were matched on the palate with the sweetness of ripe peaches and the subtle savory of anise. This was an elegant yet easy-going wine and the round freshness was a good flavor foil to my mascarpone-filled puffs.

M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche Rouge 2018 
+ Lapsang Souchong-Crusted Fish

For that same #Winophiles event in January 2019, I poured the 2017 version of this wine as well. Back then I paired the wine with shredded beef enchiladas. As for this vintage, the 2018 Belleruche Rouge, is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah; it retails for around $14 on

In the glass, it poured a deep garnet hue and had intense aromas of black fruit and pepper. Juicy and robust, I wanted to pair this wine with an equally powerful dish.

So, I opted to make a local lingcod that was crusted with a lapsang souchong tea spice blend and quickly pan-fried in a splash of butter. This dish was actually made for an October post, so is not yet available on my blog. I'll link to the recipe here once it's live.

Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2016 +  
Beef Burrito Bowls with Avocado Crema 
and Peach Pico de Gallo

The third bottle I'm sharing is the Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2016 which retailed at around $15. This is a GSM blend with a composition of  50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 10% Mourvèdre.

In the glass, it poured an almost inky red with glints of blue. The nose was deceptively spicy. On the palate the wine was full-bodied with round tannins and a delightful earthiness. I poured the wine with Mexican inspired flavors that enhanced the experience of this wine. I created this recipe after taking part in a virtual cooking party. Here's my version: Beef Burrito Bowls with Avocado Crema and Peach Pico de Gallo.

That's a wrap on the September edition of the French Winophiles. Join us next month when we head (virtually) to the Jura with David of Cooking Chat leading the discussion. Stay tuned for more information.