K is for Kahlua

kahlua bottle as you probably know, is a coffee-flavored, rum-based liqueur from Mexico.

It is also the essential ingredient in a Dirty Birddirty bird

I was introduced to Dirty Birds in college. It would be several years before I learned that it is basically a White Russian.

Whatever. A rose by any other name, etc. etc. 😉

I rarely drink cocktails nowadays, but once in a while, at the end of a long week, I enjoy a Dirty Bird for dessert. 😉  It’s quick and easy.

Pour in glass over ice: 

1 oz Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur)

1 oz vodka


 Stir vigorously, sip slowly, enjoy!

If you have a cocktail shaker, use that and give it some good shakes before pouring into the drinking glass. If you order this at a bar or restaurant, it usually comes in an old-fashioned glass. I don’t think it matters.

Nowadays I use skim milk instead of regular milk (or cream) because the cocktail is enough of a splurge without all the added fat ;-D


J is for Julia Child

This post is a little late on the A to Z schedule, because I got all caught up in reading about her…

What a firecracker! what a fabulous woman!

bon apetit

Julia Child changed the course of cooking in the United States, demystifying French cuisine and encouraging home cooks to GO for it – relax, have fun, and enjoy the process – and the results.  Her popularity and wide audience on TV as The French Chef and many other cooking shows, paved the way for The Galloping Gourmet, Jacques Pepin, Gordon Ramsay, and countless other celebrity chefs.

Born in Pasadena in 1912,  Julia McWilliams attended Smith College and got her BA in English. She was 6’ 2” and enjoyed playing tennis, golf, and basketball.
             julia 23 [189x211]

After a couple of years in NYC as a copywriter, she returned to California and worked in advertising and wrote for the local Pasadena paper. When World War II broke out, she tried to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps, but was turned down because she was –get this —  “too tall” (?! No, it doesn’t make any sense to me, either).

So instead, Julia became a spy! Not skulking around like Mata Hari, but working for the OSS handling top secret files and documents. She was also involved in a project to develop shark repellant, to protect submarine torpedoes from being exploded by curious sharks.

Julia's OSS bunk in China 1944

Julia’s OSS bunk in China 1944

She was posted to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then to China, and received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat. The award cited her many virtues, including her “drive and inherent cheerfulness.”

[You can read her entire file if you’re curious – it was declassified a few years ago   ]

Julia met Paul Child while they were both posted abroad in Ceylon, and they were married in 1946.  When he joined the Foreign Service, they moved to Paris. Julia credited Paul with introducing her to fine cuisine.  She said her first meal in Rouen – oysters, sole meuniere, and fine wine — was a “culinary revelation.”

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate”

1956 Valentine's Day card

1956 Valentine’s Day card

By all accounts they were a devoted couple. Paul was something of a poet, and in an ode to his wife on one of her birthdays, he concluded with:

O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!
You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure

Gotta love it 😀

In Julia’s words,  “We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”

JuliaPaulChild vin

While living in Paris, Julia attended Le Cordon Bleu, studied with famous chefs, and met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle at the the women’s cooking club Cercle des Gourmettes.


The trio worked on a cookbook to explain French recipes to an American audience, and The French Chef: Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961.

mastering art french cooking [188x210]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 50th Anniversary Edition

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep

tremendously interested in it.”

The book was a hit, and led to the launch, in 1963,  of the award-winning TV show The French Chef.  Audiences loved Julia Child’s relaxed and enthusiastic style of cooking.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

After the couple returned to the US and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Paul designed a kitchen to Julia’s specifications (including higher than average counters). The kitchen became the set for Julia’s later TV series.

      french chef show tv french chef show


Julia Child was famously impatient of diet obsessions, arguing that food should be savored and enjoyed, not turned into an enemy.

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”

“Fat gives things flavor.”

“Everything in moderation… including moderation.”

And, ultimately, very sensible advice that does not involve counting calories. Rather, take

            “…small helpings, no seconds, no snacking, and a little bit of everything.”

Over the decades, Julia Child wrote more cookbooks and starred in numerous TV series. She collaborated with other chefs, notably Jacques Pepin.   Julia & Jacques Cooking At Home

juliajaques [219x172]

She founded The American Institute of Wine & Food, along with wine-makers Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff, to promote “the understanding, appreciation, and quality of wine and food.”

Julia was not an haute cuisine snob. She once said her favorite comfort food was “red meat and gin.”

But when an interviewer asked Julia to describe her ideal last meal, she created a more elaborate menu.
As reported in Noel Riley Fitch’s 1997 biography, Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child, the courses would include:

caviar, Russian vodka sauce, and oysters with Pouilly-Fuisse wine

                                  caviar oysters [192x144]                         pouilly fuisse

foie gras

foie gras [185x86]

pan-roasted duck, with onions and chanterelle mushrooms

pan roasted duck chanterelles [197x136]

asparagus [183x93] potatoes anna [226x190]romanee conti [94x194]

Pommes Anna (thinly-sliced potatoes baked in oodles of butter; see recipe here) and fresh asparagus  accompanied by a 1962 Romanee-Conti (a red Burgundy)

French bread with Roquefort and Brie, washed down with a Grands-Echezeauxs Burgundy

baguette [184x138] brie [186x140] grands eche

  • For dessert? perhaps sorbet with walnut cake; ripe pears and green tea, or  crème brulee from Le Cirque in New York, served with a 1975 or 1976 Chateau ‘Yquem Sauternes dessert wine.

walnut cake

Julia Child lived life with gusto and passion. She died in 2004, ten years after Paul’s death, and just a couple of days before her 92nd birthday.

Her last meal was reportedly French onion soup.

“Life itself is the proper binge.”

Julia laugh

As Julia Child so famously and so often said:                  Bon appetit!

I is for Ice Cream

I scream, you scream, we ALL scream for ICE CREAM!

                    ice cream cone multi

Iced desserts have been around for thousands of years –  around 400 BCE in the Persian empire, the people mixed mountain snow with saffron, grapes, and rosewater, for a royal treat. Later the Roman Emperor Nero had ice brought down from the mountains and mixed with fruit.

By the 10th century, the Arabs had created a version using dairy products (milk, cream, and yogurt) sweetened with sugar and blended with fruits, nuts, and rosewater.

arabic ice cream [173x131]     sicily [339x161]

The Chinese also had frozen dessert, but the claim that Marco Polo imported the concept from China upon his return to Italy  is apocryphal (just like the story of pasta). Long before Marco Polo set out for China, the Arabs had invaded Sicily and introduced ice cream (as well as sugar, dried pasta, rice, saffron, and raisins) to the region.

Ice cream similar to what we enjoy today was popular since the 18th century in Europe and America. Thomas Jefferson brought back recipes from France, and Dolley Madison served ice cream at her husband’s inaugural ball.

Jefferson [111x173]   Jefferson ice cream

ice cream maker [201x202]

Transporting and storing sufficient quantities of ice to make ice cream and keep it cold made it an expensive treat, but by the early 19th century it was readily available — to those who could afford it.

regency tea shop [236x169]

  ice cream server [220x169]

And not just the basics, either. While researching my novel, I discovered that the famous Gunter’s Tea Shop not only served ice cream to high society patrons of the Regency era, but the flavors were creative and diverse:

regency ices [321x201]

 Front: bergamot and punch ices. Back: Royal Cream, Chocolate, Burnt Filbert, and Parmesan ice cream.

(Check out Historical Foods for more of the delectable concoctions as well as the actual old recipes.)

Ice cream sundaes were invented in the late 19th century, in Buffalo…or maybe Two Rivers, Ithaca, or Evanston…

ice cream sundae1

Already popular in Europe, ice cream cones made their American debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, when a creative vendor formed a waffle into a cone and adding the scoop of ice cream. Around the same time, the banana split was invented.

waffle conebanana split

After World War II, as cheap refrigeration became more common, ice cream got even more popular, widespread, and inexpensive.

There were new flavors, shapes, forms, regional favorites — cones, sandwiches, soft-serve, Popsicles, Dixie cups, Dove Bars, Dilly Bars, Creamsicles (aka 50-50s in California)…

choc fudge cone [184x232]soft swirl [175x233]creamsicle 2 [184x232]


dixie cups [189x115]dilly bar [186x111]sandwich [188x128]

On family road trips, my brothers and I would pester our parents to stop at Howard Johnson’s, fascinated by the 28 flavors. I always got chocolate, though.  Once in a while, I’d go wild and get vanilla fudge ;-p

hojo flavors

Even today, although I enjoy sampling the Bi-Rite’s famous salted caramel, or Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast (cornflakes and bourbon)…or Green Tea-Black Sesame….or Elvis the Fat Years (banana, bacon, peanut butter)….

humphrey flavors   humphrey slocomb

…my ice cream of choice is either a really good dark chocolate, or  genuine vanilla-bean vanilla.

But my real favorite is true Italian gelato – when I lived in Firenze, I couldn’t help but stop on every other corner to admire all the colorful window displays in each gelateria. Each gelateria seemed to try and outdo the others with a fantasy land of ice cream…

gelato waves [228x152] gelato gaudi [228x152]

Voluptuous ripples, delicate scallops, cascades and mounds and swirls, like frozen Gaudi cathedrals!

Gaudi chimney Gaudi bldgs

Chocolate, Kahlua, and lemon (or sometimes orange)  is my favorite 3-way gelato combo.

What are your faves? do you prefer cones or scoops, bars or sandwiches?

Is there a local ice cream shop that serves your favorite?

Or are you happiest with a pint of  Ben & Jerry’s from the corner store?


H is for Hummus

Hummus is a traditional Middle Eastern dip or spread,  ade from chickpeas and tahini. It’s creamy and delicious, and also very healthy, for something so tasty – high in fiber and protein, iron, folate, and vitamins C and B6.

hummus1    hummus3

As an appetizer it’s traditionally scooped up with pita bread, and it’s great with sliced raw veggies like cucumber, carrots, celery, green pepper. Hummus is also served with falafel, grilled chicken, fish, or eggplant, and kebabs.

hummus pita hummus falafel

Although I like hummus, I’m not a connoisseur. A friend of mine is, and this is her favorite recipe. Enjoy!


  • 1 15 oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained (save liquid)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini, or low fat peanut butter if you prefer (optional, but if you do not use, increase yogurt by 1 TBSP)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt  (Greek or regular low-fat)
  • 1 teaspoon salt


In a food processor combine beans, tahini (if desired), yogurt, garlic, and lemon juice. Blend well. Add salt and cumin and blend to a smooth and creamy dip.

If your hummus is too thick, add a little bit of the liquid from the chickpeas – about a teaspoon at a time. You can also use a little warm water or olive oil.

If you want more zing, finish it with more lemon juice, cayenne, and ground cumin.

Tahini, peanut butter, Better ‘n Peanut butter (from Trader Joe’s), and “No-Nut” butter, all make a good hummus, although the No Nut butter version tastes less traditional.

To really put it over the top, sprinkle a little EVOO on top before eating – a great way to get EVOO flavor and richness without as much fat/calories.


G is for Garlic

Ah, garlic!  The “stinking rose,” that humble bulb, so powerful in flavor, so prevalent in legend and lore!


Revered for thousands of years – the pharaohs included garlic in the meager diet of the slaves, to give them endurance in building the pyramids….garlic was an aphrodisiac in ancient Greece and in Palestine….

pyramid         greece

Greek athletes ate garlic before competition to increase their strength….Roman soldiers consumed garlic to give them courage on the battlefield.  greece war

Garlic has long been reputed to ward off devils, werewolves, and vampires.

werewolf [221x177]vampire [246x164]

Also tigers – Korean folklore recommends eating garlic before setting off on a mountain pass, because tigers dislike it and will avoid the traveler.

tiger korea

There is a factual basis to much of this lore.

Garlic does enter the blood stream — which is why brushing your teeth after eating a lot of garlic is only a temporary breath enhancer, and perspiration will exude the aroma of garlic for up to 24 hours.

Garlic has been reported to be helpful in reducing cholesterol levels. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, and Romans all used garlic for healing purposes, and Louis Pasteur in 1858 confirmed that garlic has antibacterial properties. During World War I, garlic was used to treat wounds because penicillin, although invented, was in short supply.

garlic [214x192]

Garlic is used to repel slugs and other vermin, and is supposed to be helpful in preventing ticks on dogs.  Allegedly it has a deterrent effect on mosquitoes (although I eat a lot of garlic and mosquitoes track me down in the *winter* to feast on my blood, so I’m not sure about this claim)

For me, garlic the single spice I could not do without. I could even, in a pinch (haha) go without salt. But garlic is a necessity. I draw the line at garlic wine or garlic ice cream, but I love to add it to almost everything savory – sauces, sautés, meats, fish, veggies….

Which is why I’m positive that garlic really does repel vampires and werewolves:

All that garlic I consume, and Eric Northman has never dropped by for a bite 😦

Eric vampire [300x225]

Neither has Alcide, the leader of the pack…

Alcide [300x224]

[Kids, take note! this is a perfect example of a correlation, not causation]

For a tasty, vampire-werewolf-avoiding dish, try this recipe for Garlic Roasted Cauliflower

garlic roasted cauli [302x202] The cauliflower gets all golden brown on the edges, the garlic roasts to melt-in-your mouth squishiness, and the flavor permeates it all without being too overwhelming.

You can just use cauliflower, or add broccoli or baby carrots or chunks of zucchini.

Or toss in pieces of bacon, which crisp up as the veggies roast. Sprinkle some grated Parmesan over the top, maybe mixed in with toasted breadcrumbs, for a crunchy topping.

garlic cauli bacon      garlic cauli crumbs

I’m a gadget junkie. Next to browsing bookstores, I can spend almost as much time roaming the aisles of places like Williams-Sonoma and culinary stores, examining all the different gizmos. So I’ve got a a collection of handy dandy garlic peelers, crushers, slicers, etc.

garlic press 1 [165x218]  garlic press 3 [223x143]garlic press 2 [166x213]  garlic press 4 [162x218]garlic press 7 [176x188] garlic press 5

But I’ve found the easiest way to peel garlic is to place the clove on the cutting board, put the broad side of a knife over it, and then press. (Some people like to whack it, which is fun and noisy, but not necessary)

garlic knife [235x166] garlic crush [224x245]

The clove squishes (there’s probably a proper culinary term for ‘squish’ but I don’t know what it is) — and it’s easy to pick off the papery skin.

Even easier — if you use garlic a lot, like I do – that big bag of peeled cloves from CostCo is an incredible convenience.

garlic ready

I’m not feeding a family every night, so even I won’t get through such a big bag before it spoils, so I keep it in the freezer. When I’m cooking and want garlic, I just reach for a couple or half dozen cloves, and just toss them in the skillet or pot.

garlic wreath [201x236

“The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is don’t do it unless you’re willing to give your whole life to it.

Red wine and garlic also helps.” – Jim Harrison