James’ Secret Spot: Big Sur

Don’t you love an adventure?  It is so much fun to go someplace new!  We have a collection of what we like to call “Secret Spots”.  In each newsletter we will let you in on one of our secrets, and we hope you will be inspired to explore them too!
Big Sur is a beautiful coastal area on Highway One, about 30 minutes south of Carmel.  If you haven’t experienced this beautiful region, please put it on your list.   Our favorite place to stay with the family is Big Sur Campground and Cabins.  It is underneath some of the most impressive giant redwoods I have seen, right on the Big Sur River.
There are camp sites available to camp or RV in, as well as cabins that are fully equipped with kitchens and fireplaces.  They have a great playground that is always popular with the under 10 crowd, and they rent inner tubes that the kids love to float down the ice cold river. (Somehow, the kids never seem to mind the cold!) Note:  We recommend bringing wetsuits for the comfort of your kids!
Truly the highlight of the trip, however, is the soft serve ice cream, where you can get real soft serve ice cream cones all day long.
Go to the beach and listen to the Ocean, it  will tell you great things

Our New Name!

We are changing our name to Denica’s Real Food Kitchen to better define our café…no more confusion as to what the heck is a taco lounge and can I order breakfast at this register??


What’s New for Breakfast!

Eggs Benedict- homemade Hollandaise makes it better!

California Benedict with avocado- yumm!

Almond Joy Pancakes – need I say more?

French Toast Josephine – named after my Tia Josephina,

sweet just like she was.

Topped with sautéed bananas and our real whipped cream.

Cornmeal Pancakes – Lightly sweet with a little texture!

Owner Biographies

Owner Biography:  Denica Freitas

From the time she was a little girl, she dreamed of having a pastry shop.  She became the official baker of the family, and passionately read every cookbook and food magazine she could find.   She is a first generation daughter of immigrants from Spain, and credits her Mother for her cooking and baking talents and both of her parents for her business acumen and work ethic.

Her parents were self made entrepreneurs.  Her Mother owned and operated a bridal shop in the Bay Area, Brides ‘n Belles, for 30 years.  Denica worked with her Mother in that business for 10 years, learning the nuances of customer service, employee management, and running a successful business. Her Father owned and operates a successful communication company.   She was involved in her Father’s company, where she rounded out her business skills by learning about accounting and business management.  At the age of 25, Denica started taking weekend pastry classes at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.  She was offered an opportunity to apprentice with one of the chefs, an alumni of the Ritz Carlton.  Those courses added to her foundation of baking skills, and gave her the confidence to move forward with her dream.  In 1994, she launched an exclusive special order cake business, specializing in elaborate, gourmet wedding and special occasion cakes that were in high demand from San Francisco to San Jose, Livermore to Napa.

In 1999, she joined forces with James Freitas, the visionary, the drive and the love of her life.   They merged their two businesses, Cakes by Denica and Cookie Express.  They moved the creation to Dublin, and in July, 2000, opened Denica’s Pastry Café.

Find out more at DenicaFreitas.com

Owner Biography:  James Freitas

James owned and operated a very successful cookie and coffee store, Cookie Express, in Castro Valley for 12 years.  He featured the same famous cookies that have made Denica’s famous, but shipped them nationwide as well as selling them in his storefront bakery.  He is a self taught chef, and dreamed of owning his own restaurant.  He started in the business at the young age of 15 as a busboy.  James had gained invaluable experience along the way, working at many fine restaurants from Lake Tahoe to Maui.   He brought with him the experience necessary to build a restaurant from the ground up (no easy feat).

In 2000, they decided to join our efforts, and realize their dreams together.  With the support of their families, they opened the original Denica’s Pastry Café.  The business grew, and opportunity knocked in 2005 when the space next door became available.  They took over the building and added Denica’s Taco Lounge.

In keeping with their need to grow, in November of 2006 they added breakfast.  The menu is in keeping with our philosophy-great food, great quality.

Together, they have 5 wonderful children, ages 15-30, and between them and the business, lead a very busy life.  Their personal motto is to dream it, think it, do it.  Repeat.


The real story of James and Denica….

From our first newsletter back in 2007

Well here we are, our first issue!  We are devoting this issue to telling you about us, who we are, where we have been, where we are going…
I am Denica, most of you know me, and if you don’t, you certainly know my husband, James.  We are partners in life, love, and in this creation of ours, an ever evolving and deliciously developing restaurant and bakery….

The Cookie Man and The Cake Lady
a sweet tale with a happy ending…

My love of baking began as a youngster when I graduated from the easy-bake oven to making up my own recipes for oatmeal raisin cookies. Being shy, with a love of reading and baking, I began collecting cookbooks and cooking magazines. I would read them cover to cover and dream of the yummy, pretty things I would have in my bakery.

As I reached adulthood, I realized the power of my talent, and decided to pursue my dream. I attended the Pastry Program at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and went on to open a successful specialty cake business,” Cakes by Denica”. Though I was doing what I loved, I was lonely in my little kitchen, making beautiful elaborate cakes for couples in love.

Along came James. He owned and operated the unique “Cookie Express” in Castro Valley, and was known for his Aloha attire, positive attitude, and quest for adventure. His friends and clientele referred to him as the Cookie Man. He was at the cutting edge of the coffee boom, before Starbucks, and shipped the very same delicious cookies we have now nationwide.

We met and fell in love…we were full of ideas and optimism. In 2000, the “Cookie Man” and the “Cake Lady” decided to put our dreams on the same path. We opened the Pastry Café, serving pastries, coffee, and a small menu of 5 sandwiches and 3 salads. In 2005, we expanded to take over the adjacent spot and created the Taco Lounge. And again in 2006, we expanded again to offer a full breakfast menu. Together with our five children, we have put our hearts, brains, and love into this business we call ours. We are both realizing our dreams of owning a restaurant and bakery, with love as the glue that helps us succeed.
That is the story so far…
James and Denica

Keeping Love Alive: Secrets of a Happy Marriage

I think one of the biggest challenges for couples with children is putting themselves first.  It is a natural sacrifice to put your children first, and it is expected and approved of.  We martyr our weekends away in the pursuit of providing our kids with the best possible upbringing.  We want to create well rounded little individuals that lack for nothing.  We are creating the most perfect possible children so that they will reflect on us in the most positive way.  When I look at my kids, I fall in love with them.  They make me proud and I don’t mind sacrificing for them, when the ultimate outcome will ideally be well adjusted, independent, happy, healthy adults.

The topic here was not meant to be the above, but rather, keeping your relationship alive, keeping the connection with your spouse, staying IN LOVE.  I am sometimes surprised that among most of our peers, we are one of the few couples that sets regular time away from the kids to reconnect as a couple.  Granted, we are blessed with a supportive family that lives near by and is always willing to baby-sit our crew.  But the point is that we make it happen.  Sometimes once a month, sometimes every other month, but we get away.  Sometimes getting away is as simple as staying home, the kids at grandma’s. Read More

Recipe of the Month: Parmesan Asparagus

One of the things I love most about this time of year, besides the flowers and the birds and not having to wear a jacket all the time, is that fresh asparagus is actually affordable. When the price drops below $2.00, I start buying two or three bunches at a time and eating it almost every day. It’s one of those vegetables I consider luxury foods, and it fits easily into just about any type of meal. Making a stir-fry? Throw it in. Need a side dish? Roast some up. Quickie pasta? Roast it, stir-fry it, or steam it and toss with noodles for an elegant meal that doesn’t require you to spend all night in the kitchen.
This is my absolute favorite way to eat asparagus, I can comsume a dozen spears before we even sit  down for dinner.
1 bunch asparagus (I like the fatter ones)
…did you know that the fattest asparagus come from the youngest plants?
2 tsp. Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. Freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. Finely shredded parmesan cheese (see note)
Snap the bottoms off of the asparagus, not too much, just the woody tips.  Preheat your broiler to hi broil, and line a flat sheet pan with aluminum foil.  Lay out the asparagus in a single layer, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Broil close to heat for 4-5 minutes, watch them, they cook fast!  They will start to turn brown and bubble a little, flip them over if you like, but I usually just yank them, I like them al dente.  Sprinke the spears with the cheese and consume!
They can also be made the same way on a gas or charcoal grill, just be careful because they will burn if yo turn your back!
These are also great with a squeeze of lemon juice or lime juce over the tops.
Note:  My favorite kitchen tool is the Microplane grater.  Originally a woodworking tool, this handy tool grates even the hardest Parmesan Reggiano as well as other hard cheeses into fine lacy wisps.

Buddy, Buddy and Buddy (Or the story of Three Golden Retrievers)

When I met James, he was the owner of a Golden Retriever named Buddy.  This was a wise old dog, with dark eyes that when he looked at you, it seemed like he had once been a human.  This dog was huge as far as retrievers go, with a wide, flat back perfect for resting your feet on, and a reddish gold coat. Read More