James’ Secret Spot: Biltmore Four Seasons Hotel, Santa Barbara

Four SeasonsIt was stressful and frustrating.  I was delegated the navigator since he was driving. There were detours and switchbacks. Between the on board navigation software, my smart phone, and an old fashioned trusty map book, we were finally on track heading home.  I was sleeping in the car, exhausted as James drove us back home from a franchise show and seminar in downtown Los Angeles.  The plan was to push all the way home all night. Imagine my surprise when I felt the car slow and I opened my eyes to a Mediterranean compound of lushness!  The grounds were overgrown in a planned way, verdant with greenery and flowers.Four Seasons from our window

James surprised me with a night at this luxurious and classic hotel in Santa Barbara.  Even though we got there late and left by 10 am to make it home in time to pick up our kids from school, it was so worth it.  A great getaway, next time we will have to plan a weekend!deluxe!

Chocolate Indulgence-Denica’s Cookies and Milk

Milk and CookiesWe were so excited to be invited to participate in the Junior League of the East Bay’s annual fundraiser at
Round Hill Country Club.  Chocolate Indulgence

There were many fine restaurants and wineries, along with the delicious spread of appetizers put on by Round Hill.  Jimmy was suited up in a tuxedo, looking quite dashing, and Isabella was charming and a great help as we served up milk and cookies for over 300 guests. Chocolate

We got a lot of love from everyone who knew the restaurant, and met some new people along the way…great night, good food, sweet chocolate, and family!Man of Mystery

Who knew a Havanese would steal our hearts!

We are truly guilty of being those people.  You know the ones, they are crazy about their dog, and treat it like a human.  I used to do the same but inside feel kindof ridiculous.  When I would go to my mom’s and she said “Say Hi to my baby Luna” (her dog!) I would humor her and greet the dog as if she were a person, while inside chuckling at the absurdity of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE dogs, and have had 1 to 2 dogs my entire life.

Until we met Lucky.  We were a content household of 2 adults, 3 young men, one mellow golden retriever named Buddy,
and one cranky yorkshire terrier named Chiquita.


We had considered adding another dog to our pack for a while, and when we saw the Havanese on Tosh.O of all places (guilty pleasure TV), we were hooked.  Researching extensively online as I tend to do, everything I read about this breed  made me want one more!  James saw a picture of this little guy on the breeders website and said “That’s my dog!”

They are called VELCRO DOGS!  I yearned for a lap dog – my golden retriever would have been happy to oblige, but his hairy shedding 150 lb body was just not conducive to sitting on me on the couch.  Now what about the Yorkie you say?  Well Chiquita has a mind of her own.  She is independent and likes it that way.  She will let you pet her, but on her terms.  She will make you come to her,  and when you bend down to pet her, she will roll onto her back, staying just out of your reach most of the time.  I will not even venture to figure her out.  Maybe in another life she was a human, and resents being a dog.

Lucky is the sweetest little dog I have ever owned, and I have had a few.  He perches on the back of the couch right on James’s neck for his naps, and follows us all around the house.   His routine in the morning is that he loves mama, he jumps up with all four feet off the ground and nibbles at my sleeve, wanting me to pick him up, just like our kids used to do when they were little.  We have even trained him to jump up into our arms!   We love that little guy!

Recipe of the Month: Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding Heaven

Think day old bread is the culinary equivalent of twice worn socks?  Think again.  Instead of tossing day old bread, whip up some delicious bread pudding.  You might never bother with fresh bread again (but please DO continue to bother with fresh socks!)
Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding Heaven
1 loaf (16 oz) firm white bread or French loaf
3 ripe but firm large bananas
4 large eggs
2 cups half and half
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard)
1. Cut bread into 1 ½ inch chunks.  Slice bananas into ½ inch slices.
2. In a large bowl, with a wire whisk, beat eggs, half and half, and sugars until blended.  Gently stir in bread, bananas, and chocolate chips to combine.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight, pressing down bread occasionally to absorb cream mixture.
3. Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9 inch round springform or cake pan that is at least 2 inches deep (pan will be very full)
4. Bake bread pudding, covered loosely with foil, 35 minutes.  Uncover and bake 45 minutes or so longer, or until knife inserted in center of pudding comes out clean.  Cool pudding slightly on wire rack before serving.

Impress a chef

Sure, you call it a skillet, but why?

Our version comes from the colum (Latin for strainer)  As early as the third century, Romans used the hole riddled bowl to filter liquids, including wine.
Dutch Oven
In the 1700’s, the Dutch made such fantastic cast iron mini cauldrons that they were exported across Europe and the Americas, where Dutch settlers sold the pots door to door.  The name stuck.
The name of this soup server likely comes from the Old English word, hladan, which means to load.  We prefer the Greek version, koutala, which shares the same root as the name of a provocative dance.  An ancient tale tells of a girl attracting a man’s attention by swaying her hips as she stirred a pot.
There’s some hairsplitting over the origin of this frying pan’s name.  It comes either from the Old French word escuelete, which means little plate, or from the Latin word sculleta, meaning platter.
This flat flapjack flipper gets its name from the Latin word spatha, which means broad, flat tool or weapon.  Before they made it to the kitchen, spatulas were used as surgical and pharmaceutical tools.

De-Stress in 3 Minutes or Less

There are many instances when you need something you can do right now, to keep yourself grounded, focused and able to make good decisions. After all, you don’t always have time to take a walk, relax in a hot bath or call a friend to talk things over. That’s what we’ll be talking about here—a 3-minute trick for handling stressful situations in the moment.
Minute 1: Stay Grounded
Here are some simple ideas to keep you grounded when something (or someone) pushes your buttons and your feelings start to spiral out of control:
• Take a few deep breaths. (You can also count to 10, if that helps.) If the stressful situation involves someone else, take a timeout and agree to continue the discussion in a few minutes.
• Remind yourself where you are. Take a look around, noticing and naming the colors and shapes in the space around you.
• Notice the physical sensations you are experiencing. Whether it’s a sinking feeling, turmoil in your stomach, tension in your hands or jaw, restricted breathing, or heat on the back of your neck, try to name the feelings that go with the sensation. Is that sinking feeling fear, or dread? Is the heat a symptom of anger?
The idea here is to stay in your body and in the moment—with what’s real—instead of going inside your mind where all those unreal scenarios are just waiting to get spun out-of-control.
Minute 2: Reality Check
Once you’re calm enough to start thinking productively, put all those thoughts that are clamoring for attention inside your head through a quick reality check. Here are several very common thought patterns that have no place in reality. Do any of these apply to you?
• All or nothing thinking
Example: You go over your calorie limit or eat something on your “forbidden” list, and then decide to keep eating because you’ve already “blown it” for today. Reality: Weight loss is not a one-day event. If you stop overeating now, you’ll gain less and have less to re-lose later. That’s something to feel good about!
• Reading your own thoughts into someone else’s words
Example: Someone made a mildly critical or unsupportive remark to you, and you feel completely devastated. Reality: The more bothered you are by such remarks, the more likely it is that you are being overly critical of yourself. When you treat yourself with respect, what others say won’t matter nearly so much.
• Either-Or thinking
Example: You make a mistake or have a bad day and feel like a complete and hopeless failure. Reality: No one does well all the time. Mistakes are a necessary and valuable opportunity to learn—if you don’t waste them by getting down on yourself.
• Taking care of other people’s business
Example: Something is going badly for someone you care about, and you feel responsible, or pressured to fix it. Reality: People need to learn from their own problems. You aren’t doing anyone a favor by trying to fix things just to make yourself feel better.
Minute 3: Putting Things in Perspective
Most common problems that you face in everyday life are much easier to handle when you keep them in perspective and avoid making mountains out of molehills. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to make sure you aren’t in the mountain-making business:
• How big a deal is this, anyway? If I knew I was going to die in a week, would this be something I would want to spend this minute of my remaining time on?
• Will any bad things happen if I postpone thinking about this until I have more time to figure things out?
• Do I have all the information I need to decide how to respond to this? Do I really know what’s going on here, or am I making assumptions? Am I worrying about things that might not even happen? What do I need to check out before taking action?
• Is there anything I can do right now that will change or help this situation?
• Am I trying to control something I can’t, like what other people think, say, or do?
• Have I really thought through this problem, and broken it down into manageable pieces I can handle one-at-a-time?
Use this approach whenever your thoughts or situations begin to feel overwhelming, and you’ll quickly find that the mountains that seem impossible at first can quickly morph into what they really are—manageable hills that you DO have the ability to climb. All it takes is three little minutes of your time.