Spoiled as it sounds, I would try to plan a trip to Paris every year on my birthday, so that I would look forward to aging. Now that I have ripened with multiple years of Paris pleasure I still crave the city. It just gets better and better.

The same could apply to Hotel Lutetia, an iconic Paris hotel built in 1910.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay at the Lutetia in its last incarnation, just before it closed for a four-year, 240-million-dollar renovation. I loved the hotel then and couldn’t imagine changing one inch of the Art Nouveau/Art Deco charisma. But the grande dame emerged from her revamp with much of her original glory intact plus a score of added enhancements to enchant.

Built in 1910 by the owners of Le Bon Marché department store to service shoppers, the Lutetia wraps around a corner in hyper-fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Always an icon of Parisian high-style, boho pizzazz, the hotel attracted the likes of Josephine Baker, Picasso, Matisse, James Joyce, Hemingway and countless other artists, writers, celebrities and statesmen (Charles de Gaulle honeymooned at the Lutetia).

The Lutetia also attracted the Germans, who in World War II requisitioned the hotel for their counter-espionage headquarters. Immediately after liberation, the Lutetia won a forever first-place in the hearts of Parisians by housing survivors of concentration camps and filling it’s lovely halls with posters of missing persons, thus becoming the city’s focal point for reunions and rejoicing.

Today’s Lutetia guests see the hotel in a new light—one that positively glimmers and glows. Skylights were installed, windows enlarged, a newly built interior courtyard captures and spreads sunshine. Great expanses of polished white marble add shimmering shine to public areas, enhancing the rich and plentiful cornucopia of natural light.

Whereas the lobby-floor corridor ceiling wears bright-white paint and twinkles with recessed spotlights reinforcing the daylight mode, upper-floor corridors are clad in dark eucalyptus wood and cocoon guests in a sedate evening glow as they walk to their rooms.

The “new” Lutetia sports 184 rooms, 47 of which are designated suites. My sweet suite on the fourth floor offered hotel heaven. Most startling, and what sets the Lutetia’s suites apart from other luxury hotels, is the view. Balcony windows overlook the flower-decked Square Boucicaut, the Bon Marche department store and the Eiffel Tower. I could watch the tower sparkle all through the night from my pillow on the super comfortable bed—or I could press a bed-side button and close the shades and sleep in the deep dark.

The room, decorated in shades of white, dark blue, and grey, held a large bed, a marble topped desk and chair, plus two chairs placed around a coffee table filled with welcome gifts (white hydrangeas, Champagne, chocolate pastries, a bowl of fruit).

Of course there was a coffee/tea/mini-bar station stocked to capacity, a separate closet/ luggage area and a large marble bathroom with separate toilet, shower and  a tub big enough for two. The bathroom held white roses  and an array of fragrant Hermès toiletries. Perfection!


Should one ever get the gumption to leave their room, the Lutetia offers choice places to enjoy.

The library stocked with coffee-table books.

A 7,500-square-food spa and wellness center.

A 55-foot-long indoor swimming pool.

A gym.



Although the Brasserie, for which the Lutetia has long been famed, has not yet reopened (think end of this year), people can enjoy an extravagant breakfast buffet in the peaceful, light-filled L’Orangerie.

The breakfast buffet in L’Orangerie


The Saint Germain

Breakfast, lunch and dinner is offered in the the Saint Germain, a living room-like dining room under a glass roof ceiling colorfully decorated by artist Fabrice Hyber.

Roasted cod, cranberry beans, zucchinis and yuzu lemon in a bed of foam served in the Saint Germain

Bar Joséphine (named for Josephine Baker) serves lunches, canapés, light dinners, coffee, tea pastries, and a choice of cocktails including the luscious house signature Rive Gauche (see recipe below).


Pleasure greets the eye wherever one looks at Hotel Lutetia. I loved the violin table made by sculptor Arman that sits in the reception area.

And all of the art and decorative details that fill both inside and outside of the hotel.


The Lutetia has it all—history, elegance and state-of-the-art comfort.

Yet despite the grand hotel designation, despite the importance to the city of Paris, despite the countless dignitaries and celebrities that have called it home and despite the upper-echelon pricing, Hotel Lutetia radiates non-pretentious, easy-going joie de vivre. I think it was Shakespeare who once wrote about the Lutetia: Age cannot wither her, Nor custom stale her infinite variety; Other hotels cloy the appetites they feed, but the Lutetia makes hungry where most she satisfies.

True for me. I stayed as an invited guest of the hotel, but if I only had money, I would let the Lutetia satisfy me the rest of my days.



Yield: 1 serving.

40 ml St-Germain liquor

30 ml Guillotine vodka

20 ml homemade shrub flavored with citrus and celery (see NOTE below)

50 ml Perrier

70 ml Champagne

Combine all ingredients and pour into a tall glass over ice. Decorate glass with banana leaves, add sprigs of lemon grass and serve with a straw.

NOTE: You can buy ready made shrubs or make your own by macerating fresh fruit with sugar, straining the resulting syrup to remove solids and mixing the juice with Champagne vinegar (find recipes online).

Hotel Lutetia is part of The Set, a hotel brand with three distinctive properties. For more information about Hotel Lutetia click HERE For information about The Set hotels, click HERE.

And for other Paris perks, see:

Les Cocottes de Christian Constant, HERE.

D’Chez Eux for perfect roast chicken, HERE.

Paris wine bars suggested by Noël Balen HERE.

Sightseeing suggestions by David Downie, HERE.

and all about a special little flea market at la Porte de Vanves, HERE.




Seemed like a great idea. Justify an overload of indulgent frozen custard gorging, by calling it a scientific experiment. We had four days, five researchers of varying ages and were in St. Louis—America’s ultimate frozen custard city, so we conducted a study following the classic six-step scientific method.


St. Louis has a lot of frozen custard outlets.



Which outlet serves the best frozen custard in St. Louis?


After taste testing all of the frozen custard outlets in St. Louis, we would discover the best and all gain weight.


We traveled  to as many outlets as possible in four days, bought vanilla ice cream cones (and other concoctions) and rated the custard on a scale of 1 to 5 in four different categories: texture, taste, density and meltability (could we consume the cone before losing the custard to drips on shirts).


We traveled, bought, devoured, discussed and drew conclusions.


First, some disclaimers:

We only visited five places before running out of time and energy.

To validate our comparisons we all agreed to test plain vanilla custard, which we did at the first stop. At  the second stop, a few researchers went off track: Someone ordered a butterfinger concrete with cookie dough (Maggie, how could you!) and another topped the plain vanilla with graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chunks and marshmallow sauce (I confess.).
The 10-year old decided to conduct a tangential experiment of his own, comparing not only vanilla custards, but also chocolate. Of course this necessitated ordering both chocolate and vanilla cones. (He’s a smart cookie headed for big things.)

By the third stop, we all tasted the vanilla custard plain—and then ordered toppings and mixtures we liked—call it double dipping—call it extravagant—call it divine.

So onto conclusions:

The kid said hands down that Ted Drewes had the best vanilla frozen custard in St. Louis. His mom (and probably 30,000 St. Louisans agreed). Ted Drewes produced a smooth, dense custard with a rich taste of egg and vanilla; the downside, said one researcher, was that  the flavor dissipated slightly as one ate.

Maggie, the recent college graduate, declared the butterfinger concrete with cookie dough at Silky’s was better than any of the plain vanilla cones, but we disqualified Maggie as her research lacked validity—she only had the one concrete and no cones.

The Weight Watcher liked Mr. Wizard because he could have super huge cone due to the low calorie option. 

My heart belonged to St. Louis Frozen Custard Factory’s dense, smooth, rich custard with a taste that remained to the last lick.  And I liked the plain vanilla even without the incredible turtle-sundae topping of caramel, hot fudge and pecans. 

Mojo, the poodle, liked everything.


Andy’s came in second or third choice for the majority of researchers, and all agreed that the custard melted too quickly and flavor was lighter than the other outlets, but still enjoyable.

In conclusion:

We could not agree on the very best—proving the proverbs: Different strokes for different folks. To each to his own. Everyone to their own tastes.

No one bothered testing the weight gain hypothesis.

All agreed that like any scientific study, the results must be repeatable, so we decided to repeat the research as often as possible.

Now for a recipe that can help you top any frozen-custard/ice cream tasting:


Yield: about 1-1/3 cups.

 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/4 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla 

Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan set over very low heat. When completely melted, stir in sugar, cream and salt. Raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until sauce is smooth and all of the sugar has dissolved, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool slightly before serving.



Andy’s Frozen Custard (1600 S Hanley Rd)

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (6726 Chippewa)

Mr. Wizard’s Frozen Custard and Yogurt (2101 S. Big Bend Blvd)

St. Louis Frozen Custard Factory  (9420 Manchester Road) 

Silky’s Frozen Custard (12810 Olive Blvd)




Mammoth Lakes offers vast opportunities for outdoor activities. The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide a winter wonderland for skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. The Lake Basin supplies majestic lakes for fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. And the entire region is a scenic playground for hiking, biking, camping, photography and exploring nature.

But as divine as all these outdoor activities are, I like Mammoth’s ever-indulgent indoor activities best. I’m talking about eating and drinking. For a town of only about 8,000 inhabitants, the locally run food and beverage outlets positively bulge with tasty pleasures.

If you only have one day to sample the glory, I suggest enjoying:

Breakfast at STELLAR BREW & NATURAL CAFE, a popular coffee shop selling coffee, tea, protein shakes, juices, breakfast and lunch—all  with a locally sourced, natural and organic focus. As it happens, I would trade all of the nutrition on the menu for a large cup of dark brewed coffee and a giant, crunchy, sugar- and butter-packed cookie that is rich enough to give a nutritionist apoplexy just reading the ingredient list.  Owner Andrea Walker gave Sweet Leisure the following recipe; it produces a somewhat similar, and equally delicious, version of her famous homestead cookies.


Lunch has to be at BLEU MARKET & KITCHEN, an upscale organic-focused grocery store/bakery/deli/restaurant/bar & lounge/take-out/catering facility.  I’d have Bleu pack a box lunch for a picnic and/or would eat in the cool dining room loading up on protein-packed sandwiches on just baked bread and kale quinoa salad. Even those who say they don’t like kale, love the salad—it’s that good. See for yourself as Bleu’s owners, Theresa and Brandon Brocia, generously shared their recipe below.

Theresa and Brandon Brocia

Afternoon snacks producing mammoth sugar highs can be had at MAMMOTH FUN SHOP, an ice cream parlor, candy counter and novelty shop specializing in toys, juggling paraphernalia and souvenirs. Although all is lusciously decadent, it’s the super-duper vertical banana split called The Baked Gorilla that grabbed my heart.

Don’t have a sweet tooth? Into breweries? Then head to BLACK DOUBT BREWING COMPANY, a nano-brewery with a cool assortment of ever-changing small batch brews.  An afternoon of flights will have you flying high. (Don’t drive!)

Cocktail Time belongs to SHELTER DISTILLING, a sleek and sophisticated facility that distills spirits, brews beer and serves a spirited sampling of both (food is on the menu as well). Favorite cocktail: The Eastside Retreat. Printed two recipes below. The first is for folks who believe one is never enough and the second for people who savor the solo.

Dinner restaurants abound. My personal favorite is  PETRA’S BISTRO & WINE BAR, a justly popular place serving a contemporary American menu with 30 wines by the glass and many more by the bottle. The duck confit rocks and the salmon comes grilled to perfection.


Yield: 10 large cookies. 

4 cups shredded coconut

2 cups flour

1 cup whole oats

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup butter, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

2-1/4 teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

Heat oven to 375°F.

Combine coconut, flour, oats, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a medium-size mixing bowl. Set bowl aside. 

Put butter in a large mixing bowl. Add sugars and vanilla and beat with an electric mix until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in coconut mixture. 

Cover baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Roll a tennis ball-size portion of dough into a ball and put on parchment paper covered baking sheet. Either flatten ball by hand or top with another sheet of parchment paper and, with a rolling pin, roll dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle. Repeat, placing dough circles well apart on baking sheets.

Put baking sheet in preheated 375°F oven and bake until cookies are light golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Cool on a rack before removing from parchment paper.



Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

1 cup quinoa


6 cups finely chopped kale, stems removed

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons honey 

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Put quinoa in a large strainer and rinse under cold running water until water is clear. Transfer rinsed quinoa to a 2-quart saucepan. Add 2 cups water bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn heat to low and put lid on pan. Simmer until water is absorbed and grains appear translucent and germ ring is visible along edge of grain, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. 

Put kale in a large salad bowl. With a fork, fluff quinoa and add to kale. Add sunflower seeds and raisins. Set bowl aside.

Make dressing: put oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and honey in a medium bowl and whisk until well blended. Pour dressing over kale mixture. Toss well with two large spoons. Sprinkle with cheese and serve. 



 Yield:  50 cocktails.


Yield: one cocktail.

1-1/2 ounces gin (Gin the Third from Shelter Distilling)

1 ounce cucumber juice (make in a juicer)

1/2 ounce simple syrup infuse with mint

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Slice of cucumber

Combine all ingredients and pour into a glass over ice. Garnish with cucumber. 


For more information about Mammoth Lakes, see:




For many years I’ve been trying to score the recipe for Zingerman’s best selling Sour Cream Coffee Cake. I’ve flashed my press credentials and requested the recipe at both Zingerman’s Deli  and Zingerman’s Bakeshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with no luck. (Well that’s not exactly true. I did feel extremely lucky that Zingerman’s shared a recipe for their second best seller—the absolutely divine Hot Cocoa Coffee Cake which I published on Sweet Leisure in 2011. (Recipe HERE.) 

But it makes hungry where most it satisfies, and I reasoned that if second best was so incredibly delicious, then I had to get Sweet Leisure cooks the first-best, most-favorite, top-seller Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe. But no matter how much I begged, cajoled and  pleaded, the recipe remained secret. 

Until now. 

In honor of the artisanal bakery’s 25 anniversary, Zingerman’s released it’s first ever cookbook and it’s a stunner. 

ZINGERMAN’S BAKEHOUSE cookbook, fills 255 pages with interesting food and business-related stories, seductive photos, and best of all, 65 well-tested recipes including one for the Sour Cream Coffee Cake and a variation, Lemon Poppy Seed Coffee Cake. HALLELUJAH! 

Trust me, no matter if you are a professional baker or first-time cook, you will want this cookbook.

ZINGERMAN’S BAKEHOUSE by Amy Emberling & Frank Carollo. Photographs by Antonis Achilleos. Chronicle Books/October 2017. Hardcover/$29.95. To order the book from Zingerman’s Mail Order, click HERE.

And just to tide you over until ZINGERMAN’S BAKEHOUSE recipes for cakes, breads, pizzas, doughnuts, stollens, crackers, biscuits, bagels, baguettes, brownies, cookies and the best of the best of the luscious life lands in your kitchen, here’s Zingerman’s treasured cake recipe:


(Recipe from Zingerman’s Bakehouse by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo)

Photo by Antonis Achilleos

Yield: 9-inch [23-cm] bundt cake.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (132 g) walnut halves 

3 tablespoons (41 g) packed brown sugar 

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 cups (395 g) granulated sugar 

1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, room temperature 

3 large eggs 

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (227 g) sour cream 

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

2-1/3 cups (336 g) all-purpose flour 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

1 teaspoon sea salt 

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F [165°C]. Spray a 9-in [23-cm] Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray, coat with flour, and set aside.

2. Toast the walnuts on a sheet tray for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they’re a deep golden brown. After they are done, turn the oven down to 300°F [150°C].

3. In a small bowl, mix together the toasted walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and butter. Cream by hand or with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer on medium speed. Mix until the color lightens. Add the eggs, one at a time, creaming thoroughly after each egg until the mixture is homogeneous. Add the sour cream and vanilla. Mix briefly until light and creamy. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

5. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate medium bowl. Mix to combine. Add the flour mixture gradually to the creamed mixture and mix by hand or with a mixer on low speed until smooth and homogeneous. 

6. Scoop one-third of the batter into your prepared pan. Smooth it evenly over the bottom of the pan with a spoon. Sprinkle one-half of the nut mixture evenly over the batter. Cover with another third of the batter. Smooth it evenly over the nut mixture and to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture evenly over the batter. Spread the remaining batter evenly over the nut mixture. 

7. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes. Do not leave the cake in the pan for much longer than this. The brown sugar in the nut filling might stick to the sides of the pan and make it difficult to release the cake.

8. Put a wire cooling rack on top of the Bundt pan and then invert the pan to release the cake. Cool to room temperature before eating. 

Storage: This cake is so rich that it keeps very well at room temperature for at least two weeks, if wrapped well. It also freezes nicely. Wrap it carefully in plastic wrap and then put it in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container. It will hold well for up to three months in your freezer




Bet you think mermaids are fantasy beings. Hello! The captivating sea creatures are a real deal that you can catch frolicking, flittering and flirting outside the porthole windows of The Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale. (Sometimes they even shed their shell bikini tops and fishy fins just to prove how real they are.)

The ship-shaped Wreck Bar, anchored in the newly restored B Ocean Resort (formally the Yankee Clipper), is a buried treasure of funky mermaid fun.

Built in 1956 and famous for reeling in old-time movie stars—Elvis, Marilyn, Joe DiMaggio, Jayne Mansfield among them—the bar stayed afloat through several changes in hotel ownership and assorted renovations. 

Today mermaids show up, with hair flowing like seaweed and tails seductively flapping, at two shows every Friday and Saturday. 


The weekend family-friendly show starts at 6:30 p.m. (with doors opening at 5:30). Entrance and seating is first-come, first-served basis so arrive early. The adults-only, reservations required (call 954-727-7090), 10 p.m. show features nice, but naughty burlesque with the sea sirens dipping into the risqué. 

But mermaids aren’t the only lure to this dive bar. The bar’s watermelon rum punch will have you drinking like a fish and the luscious shrimp-filled chop chop salad will shore up any gourmet’s appetite. As one can get hooked on both (they are THAT good), here’s how to enjoy them happily ever after:


Yield: 1 serving.

1-1/2 ounces Bacardi Superior white rum

1 ounce fresh watermelon juice (muddle the watermelon and strain)

3/4 ounce St-Germain (Elderflower liqueur)

1/2 ounce simple syrup

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

2 dashes Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters

Mint leaf for garnish

Shake rum, watermelon juice, St-Germain, syrup and lime juice together in a cocktail shaker and strain into a glass filled with ice.Top with bitters and garnish with mint leaf. 




Adapted from a recipe supplied by The Wreck Bar

Yield: 4 servings.

1/2 lemon


3  black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

20 jumbo shrimp

About 2 cups green beans

2 cups hearts of palm cut into bite-size pieces

2 cups halved cocktail tomatoes

1 large cucumber, ends trimmed, seeded and diced

Bacon vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Fill a 3 quart saucepan 3/4 full of water. Squeeze lemon into water and then add lemon shell. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, peppercorns and bay leaf. Set saucepan over high heat and bring liquid to a rapid boil. Remove saucepan from heat. When bubbles subside add shrimp. Stir. Cover pan as set aside until shrimp are curled, opaque and pink, about 5 minutes.  

Meanwhile fill a large mixing bowl with ice water. When shrimp are just cooked, drain and rinse with cold water. Put shrimp in ice bath until cold. Drain and peel shrimp. Reserving the four largest whole for garnish, cut shrimp into large bite-size pieces and set aside.

Rinse saucepan and fill with cold water. Set over high heat and bring water to a rapid boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the green beans. Boil beans until they become bright green, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile fill a large mixing bowl with ice water. Drain beans and rinse with cold water. Put beans in icy water until they are chilled. Drain well and dry with paper towels. Trim ends off beans.

Put cut shrimp, beans, hearts of palm, tomatoes and diced cucumber in a large mixing bowl. 

Drizzle to taste with bacon vinaigrette. Toss well. Distribute salad among four serving plates. Garnish top of each serving with a reserved shrimp and serve immediately.  


Yield: About 3/4 cup.

2 thick strips bacon

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard.

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely minced red onion

1/2 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil, optional

1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro, optional 



Preheat oven to 350°F. Fry or broil bacon until strips are well-browned. Drain bacon on paper towels and set aside to cool. Grind cooled bacon in a meat grinder or chop into very fine pieces. Put bacon pieces in a baking dish and set in preheated 350°F oven until warm.  Put vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in mustard, garlic and onion.  Slowly whisk in olive oil and continue whisking until dressing is emulsified. Whisk in herbs. Drain warm bacon and whisk into dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Click HERE for more information about B Ocean and The Wreck Bar.

Click HERE for more about Fort Lauderdale.

Click HERE for other places to eat in Fort Lauderdale.



Bruges could be Europe’s most perfect little medieval city.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic significance, Bruges overflows with charm. Old graceful canals, ancient cobbled streets, distinctive gothic architecture, archaic cafes and bars fill the city. In addition, Bruges sports a variety of contemporary pleasures, such as fine hotels, divine restaurants, nice shops, chocolate and beer. Nothing is needed to upgrade the appeal. All is delightful—which is both good news and bad news.

On the downside, Bruges packs in the tourists, especially on weekends and holidays where crowds…well…crowd. On the other hand most of the tourists are day-trippers who abandon the city as the shops close and Bruges is at it loveliest, quietest and most romantic in the still of the night. Perfect.

So what to see and do in Bruges?  In no particular order:

Stroll around town. Stop to smell the wisteria.

Climb the 366 steps of the 13th-century Belfry for beautiful panoramic views.

Take a canal-boat trip.

Ride in a carriage. 

Borrow a bike and ride along the canals and/or on paths looping almost around the city.

Stop at the Café Vlissinghe, Bruges’ oldest bar (established in 1515), for a brew and bite while you watch a  game of the rather obscure feather bowling.

Check out the glorious Flemish Primitives at the glorious Groeninge Museum.


Sit in a park and listen to the bells that spread over the city like sunshine regulating wake up and close down and all in-between.

Visit in the Church of Our Lady to see Michelangelo’s magnificent  Madonna and Child sculpture.

Dip into some of the funky museums, such as the: 
Frietmuseum (Fries museum).

Lamp museum (yes, really, there is such a thing).

Torture museum.



Choco-Story (museum of chocolate).


Check out lace for which the city is so famed.

Stay at Hotel Jan Brito,  a lovely 36-room property built into a renovated 16th century mansion. Good location in the city center. Free Wi-Fi. Buffet breakfast. Variety of rooms and suites at good prices. Bike rentals. Friendly, accommodating staff. Nice all around.

Have a luscious dinner at Restaurant De Visscherie.  Order: The Visscherie Cocktail (see recipe below) and then the 1st course: Smoked eel with foie gras, shaved beets, shaved cucumber, sprouts, diced apple and a dressing made with sour cream and buttermilk; 2nd course: Skrai cod with white asparagus, potato mash with garlic, dark toasted sunflower seeds, sauce of ground grey shrimp; and the 3rd course: “Springtime in a plate,” strawberries, white chocolate mousse, basil, flat pieces of lemon flavored bonbon mirror, chocolate and lemon flavored meringues.



Yield: 5 to 6 cocktails.

2 cup vodka

1 cup St-Germain (Elderflower liqueur)

2/3 cup Aperol (an Italian apéritif)

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice, strained

Cava (or other sparkling wine), chilled

Long slivers of orange zest, for garnish.

To make the Visscherie cocktail mix: Put vodka, St-Germain, Aperol and lemon juice in a large glass mixing bowl or jar; stir well to combine ingredients. Cover bowl or  jar and refrigerate until mixture is well-chilled. (Can store in a refrigerator for a month or two.)

When ready to serve, make each cocktail by pouring about 3/4 cup chilled mix into a cocktail glass. Top with 1/4 cup chilled cava. 

Add a strip of orange zest to each drink for garnish and serve immediately. 

For more information:

on Belgium food specialities and a great fries recipe, click HERE.

on Belgian chocolate, click HERE.

on Bruges art, click HERE.




Bruges Triennial 2018 contemporary art and architecture exhibition brings a new layer of excitement to Belgium and the already magical city. For the rest of summer—until mid-September—visitors to Bruges can enjoy not only the city’s constant pleasures (enchanting canals, medieval buildings, chocolate, beer and terrific restaurants), but also an exciting array of contemporary art and architectural installations. 

The city invited 15 artists from around the world to create and install works based around a theme titled “Liquid City.” Complex and multifaceted, the theme refers not only to the canals flowing through Bruges, but also to the resilience and flexibility of the city as it moved through time as well as to the changes, uncertainty and fluidity of the modern world at large.

Artists interpreted the theme in a broad variety of ways, placing works in surprising spots throughout the city, many actually in canals or waterside. Although all of the installations are worth close viewing and conceptual understanding, some particularly capture the heart.

Skyscraper (The Bruges Whale)

Lesley Chang and Jason Kimoski, the husband/wife principals of StudioKCA, an architecture and design firm based in Brooklyn, New York, installed Skyscraper (The Bruges Whale) to draw attention to the millions of tons of plastic waste and trash polluting the seas and oceans of the world. The Bruges Whale breaches out of the Bruges canal symbolizing whales that rise from the world’s first “liquid city,” the ocean. 

To construct the whale, the artists worked with volunteers to retrieve five tons of waste plastic from the Pacific Ocean. After cleaning the plastic, artists attached pieces, mosaic style, to wire mesh covering the whale’s steel and aluminum skeleton.

In addition to pleasing the imagination, the artists hope their whale increases public awareness of the 150,000,000 tons of plastic waste swimming in our ocean water today.


The Floating Island

It’s a walkway, swing set, hammock—a totally fun and visually intriguing sculpture in which to stroll, picnic, meet friends, hang out. The Floating Island installation from architects Sojung Lee and Sangjoon Kwak, of OBBA (Office for Beyond Boundaries Architecture) in Seoul, Korea, goes  “beyond the boundaries” of the expected. This graceful sculpture of elastic ropes and netting sits on a curvy platform directly in the water at the side of a canal, accessed by stairs attached to the sidewalk. 

The white structure serves multiple purposes. As tall as the canal is wide, the ropes form tilting walls guiding folks along the curvy pathway. At various spots the ropes coil into seats for swinging or just sitting and sunshine relaxing. Horizontal netting provides a comfortable pallet for lounging. Part sculpture, part playground, the elegant Floating Island enchants locals and visitors alike.


Selgascano Pavilion

Aglow with vivid color, the Selgascano Pavilion comes from José Selgas and Lucia Cano of SelgasCano, an architectural firm based in Madrid. 

Made from a translucent plastic skin stretched over a steel skeleton, the pavilion’s bubble like tunnel tops a sunshine yellow platform that floats in the canal. A ramp from the street and a gangplank gives the public access to the structure.

In stark contrast to a backdrop of Bruges’s Gothic brick buildings, the pavilion glows with color that changes from oranges to pinks in different natural light. 

In addition to being a visually stunning, navigable walkway,  the pavilion offers space where visitors can, on weekends, dip into the canal for a swim.


More information see: 



It’s brand new and utterly wonderful. The Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort opened in February, 2018, and is already Panama City’s first-choice stay for golfers, business persons and luxury travelers.
Located in the exclusive Santa Maria Panama community—eight miles from Panama City and seven miles from the Tocumen International Airport—the resort perfectly suits contemporary travelers seeking sleek and sophisticated accommodations with an overload of amenities.
In addition to 182 well-appointed guest rooms and suites, and over 18,000 square feet of meeting space, the resort includes a great spa, good restaurants, lush bars and—the showstopper—an 18 hole, 72 par Nicklaus design private golf course.
The Santa Maria infuses the resort experience with not only every up-to-the-minute convenience, but also the best of Panama’s rich cultural heritage.

Designers installed lobby pillars fashioned from the unusual cottonwood trees that grow with square trunks in El Valle de Anton, and accented public areas with wood rescued from from the depths of Gatun Lake.

Lobby of The Santa Maria.

Decorators dressed beds in Mola bed runners inspired by the Guna people of Guna Yala, and filled lobby shelves with baskets and masks woven by Embera Indigenous community.

Bed with Mola runner.


Lobby Shelves filled with Panamanian Artifacts.

Chefs add a variety of Panamanian food specialties to menu offerings. And the coffee shop/deli showcases the rare Panama-grown Geisha coffee, said to be the most expensive coffee in the world.


Gotta confess, I’ve never played golf. At one time I thought “above par” was something good. That’s why I might be forgiven for initially thinking the view from my third floor room overlooked the pool and golf course. Got the pool right, but what I thought was the course was only a practice area.

Practice Area.

The 100 acres of golf course winds around the property creating an “urban oasis” complete with rolling fairways, well-placed bunkers and man-made lakes (providing water hazards, irrigation for the course and hangouts for lazy crocodiles). What makes the course unusually attractive, in addition to the impeccable condition of the greens, is the backdrop of narrow skyscrapers that jut to the clouds like brilliant stalagmites.

Being a private country club, the golf course is available only to homeowners and golfing members in the luxurious Santa Maria golf community AND to hotel guests. (Word of advice: book tee times when you make reservations. The course is justly popular.)

The Santa Maria’s cosy spa offers a sweet choice of treatments. I found the Espiritu Santo Signature Massage, (described as massage hands moving like a flower unfolding erasing all stress) as soothing as a lullaby, but it was the Cacao & Coffee Santa Maria that completely captured my heart.
What a WOW! First the therapist slathered me with pure coconut oil. Then exfoliated my skin with a ground coffee rub. Next she wrapped me in a chocolate mask and let me bake in warm sheeting for a few heavenly minutes. After a warm shower to rinse away the chocolate (I would have licked it off if allowed), the therapist topped the massage with a confection of creamy moisturizer. I have never felt so succulent! YUM!



Menus at the resort’s various bars and restaurants weave Panamanian specialties with international favorite dishes.

Dining Areas and Lobby Bar.


The breakfast buffet offers all the usual breakfast fare, plus some special Panamanian dishes that no tourist should miss. Here’s where I became addicted to not only the Panamanian breakfast speciality Tasajo, a stew-like mixture of sausage with tomato, onion and peppers, but also the deeply delicious thick, crunchy corn tortillas.

In addition to serving familiar dishes, celebrated Panamanian chef, Carlos Chombolin Alba adds personal Panamanian-fusion fare to the resort’s gourmet Mestizo Restaurant.

Chef Carlos Chombolin Alba and some of his gourmet dishes.

And although mixologist, Anny Arroyave, can produce whatever is requested, she likes to create a spirited array of speciality drinks to charm guests at the Lobby Bar and AQVA Pool Bar (see recipe below).

Mixologist Anny Arroyave and a few of her speciality drinks.


Aqua Pool Bar.

Guests who want to explore Panama City and beyond can call on Santa Maria concierges to arrange for custom sightseeing.

Hotel excursions to nearby sites include a tour of REPROSA (a factory reproducing Panama’s golden antiquities) and Panama Viejo (an archaeological site holding the remains of the oldest European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas plus a museum with historical exhibits).



Panama Viejo

Despite being a big city hotel, packed with glossy marble, polished wood and super stylish furnishings, The Santa Maria feels casual and intimate. Although the setting surrounded by greenery contributes to the easy-going vibe, I think it’s the ever-smiling, always-accomodating staff that creates an atmosphere of genial hospitality and makes the resort stay so special.

Then, again, it could be Anny’s intoxicatingly pleasurable drinks.



Yield: 1 cocktail.
1-1/2 ounces raspadura syrup (see NOTE below)
1-1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
3 ounces Ron Abuelo Añejo (rum)
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Club soda (optional)
Put all ingredients except club soda in a shaker with ice. Shake well and pour into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with a splash of club soda.

NOTE: Raspadura is unrefined whole cane sugar generally sold in blocks in Mexican or specialty markets. To make raspadura syrup, mix equal amounts of raspadura with water and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Instead of a raspadura syrup you can substitute a simple syrup made from raw or brown sugar (See recipe for the Bentley at or click HERE.)


For more information about THE SANTA MARIA HOTEL AND GOLF RESORT click HERE.




The second I win the lottery, I’m calling Cal-a-Vie and booking an extended stay.
Why do I love the spa? Here are just a few of the many reasons:

Nestled in a valley surrounded by lavender scented hills, Cal-a-Vie sits 40 miles north of San Diego and seven miles inland from the Pacific coast in Vista, California. Cooling sea breezes and luscious Southern California sunshine combine to grace the spa with a marvelous Mediterranean climate that is warm enough for swimming during the day, cool enough for cashmere at night, and chilly enough for vigorous morning hikes.


With its collection of buff-colored buildings and sun-burnished roofs graced by shade trees, gardens and greenery Cal-a-Vie could double as a village in Tuscany or tiny town in the heart of Provence.

A French-style fountain sits in the courtyard surrounded by villas. Vineyards roll over the hills. A windmill overlooks the property.


Two extraordinary buildings, imported from Dijon and reconstructed on property, shine like jewels crowning the top of the hill. Guests head to the lovely 400-year old chapel for yoga and meditation and to the L’Orangerie for classes, wine tastings, receptions and dinners.

The Chapel at Cal-a-Vie.




How does one describe it? Casual elegance is wanting. Upscale chic doesn’t do it. Homey is more like it, that is if the home is an entire village owned by super wealthy Francophiles with great taste and a dramatically wonderful collection of 17th- and 18th-century French antiques.
Antiques and historical pieces fill most public rooms. Some are French Provincial treasures, others belong in palaces.
The lounge in Cal-a-Vie’s fitness center wears a rare tapestry that was woven for Louis XIV. French chandeliers from the 18th century glow overhead.

Portuguese tiles form murals. European antique mirrors, candlesticks and wall art add sumptuous decorative touches here, there and everywhere.

Despite museum-quality art and antiques, Cal-a-vie feels more comfortable than formal and forbidding. Floors and ceiling made from reclaimed barn wood and charming French Provencal antiques lend a casual element.

The spacious villas (26 guest rooms and six suites) contain hand-crafted and imported antique furniture, with King-size beds topped by memory foam mattresses that are dressed in Frette linens. Bathrooms come with Travertine tile, built-in dressing tables, huge tubs, and a generous supply of fragrant and appealing bath amenities.

Villa # 21.

Colors are soft and restful and fabrics luxurious. Each and every decor element contributes to making Cal-a-vie a heavenly haven.

A typical day begins with 6:30 a.m. guided hike on 10-miles of picturesque trails (or walk on the 18-hole golf course), followed by a full day of fitness classes and activities. All is available: Spin, Tread and Shed, Cardio Resistance, Rowbics, Aqua Zumba, Club Boxing, TRX Circuit plus many types of yoga, different forms of Pilates, lots of water activities, a variety of dance classes, and…well..the list goes on with more than 125 classes geared to tone, build, strengthen and otherwise satisfy guests’ workout wants.

Swimming in the heated pool.


Yoga in the Chapel.

Workout classes of the morning give way to afternoons that most guests devote to pampering treatments. Skilled and caring therapists offer outstanding massages, facials, reflexology, body wraps, Reiki and scrubs. Skilled beauticians provide a full menu of salon care in the beauty salon.
In addition, the spa offers a collection of body enhancing and/or medically restoring treatments and therapies, such as Alpha-hydroxy fruit peels, genetic testing, teeth whitening, acupuncture, “Wellness injections,” and medical testing.

When registering, guests say how many calories they wish to consume a day and staff designs individual food programs to meet their specific goals.
Breakfast offers a choice of dishes, including nutrition heavy and delicious Cal-a-Vie Benedict, granola and fresh berries and assorted omelets.

Cal-a-Vie Benedict.

Lunches and dinners are plated and served, with lunches featuring protein topped salads and dinners more course complete.

Lunch is served on the verandah at Cal-a-Vie.


The Dining Room at Cal-a-Vie

No need to worry about going hungry, even if you choose the 1200 per day calorie options. Bowls of apples sit within easy reach in most public rooms, mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks (nuts, veggies and smoothies) show up in various public rooms and the kitchen staff will bring a healthy snack to your room, if asked.

Mid-morning and Mid-afternoon snacks as served at Cal-a-Vie.

And yes the spa serves coffee—even expresso drinks if desired.
Any yes, you can drink in your room and sometimes wine is available for purchase at dinner.
And yes, room service is available.

The ratio of 5 staff for every one guest spoils one for ordinary life.
Starting with the three staff members that meet your car on arrival (one to show you to the front desk—the others to whisk away the car and carry the luggage to your room)

Arrival and reception desk.

to the waiter who brings you early morning coffee (within 10 minutes of your call) to the maids doing nightly turn down service, the care is complete, competent, cordial, and comforting.


Gardenias, lavender, jasmine and bee-loving flowers line garden paths scenting the air with natural poetry.
Graceful white orchids decorate every room. Boxwood hedges encase roses and orange trees at L’Orangerie.
The vineyards grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes.
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, African blue basil and a variety of beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage and micro greens flourish in the culinary gardens.
Lush greenery surrounds ponds and streams where frogs hide and sing evening lullabies in mating season.
Gardens gift wrap Cal-a-Vie, enabling guests to walk in lovely wonder wherever they wander.


Nothing is mandatory.
Schedules are adjustable.
Wake up early and hike—or sleep in and order breakfast in bed from room service. All is okay.
Not into vigorous exercise? Doesn’t matter. Do what you like.
Find that your yoga class and hot-stone massage are in the same time slot? Not to worry, staff is eager to work with you to arrange a schedule that fits your wants and wishes.
Don’t like group activities? No problem. With Cal-a-Vie’s personal trainers, in-room treatments and room service one can enjoy fitness programs, beauty services and meals in total privacy.
Want to go treatment to treatment, stroll about the meditation garden or head to dinner in your comfy Frette robe? Easy. You’ll fit right in.

A well stocked boutique selling fashion (good looking casual clothes for working out and lounging around), gifts (jewelry, beauty products) cook books, wine and Vinothérapie products made from grapes grown in Cal-a-Vie’s vineyard.

The Antique Boutique offering original artwork, glassware, furniture, decorative pieces many leftovers from the owner’s collection that was not used in the spa.

Golf on Ted Robinson-designed championship 18-hole golf course.

Tennis on a red clay court.

Heated pool near the villas.

Olympic-size pool on the hill.

And a variety of arts and crafts mind and body, and cooking and nutrition-classes that supplement spa activity.

Produced in Cal-a-Vie’s arts and craft classes.


Dietitian Gina Worful demonstrates Cal-a-Vie’s new Muse brain sensing technology that is useful for providing feedback on brain activity during meditation.


Chef Curtis Cooke leads a cooking class that shows guests how to make a Spanish Lentil Stew and a Garden Salad.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
8 cups mixed lettuces
1 cup thinly sliced radish
1 cup peeled and thinly sliced jicama
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup blanched green beans
1 cup roasted sweet potato cubes
About 3/4 cup lemon-mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Put greens in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle top of greens with enough of the lemon-mustard vinaigrette to very lightly coat leaves, but not drench them. Gently toss mixture until greens are coated with dressing.
Put a mound of greens in the center of 6 to 8 serving plates, dividing greens evenly among the plates. Put radish, jicama, tomatoes, green beans and potato cubes in mixing bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Toss mixture to coat vegetables with vinaigrette. Top lettuce with vegetables, dividing the vegetables evenly among the serving plates.
(Dressing and plating the greens and vegetables separately, allows more even distribution of both.)


Yield: About 1-3/4 cup.
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Put lemon juice, honey, mustards and salt in a mixing bowl. With a wire whip, whisk in oil. Continue whisking until ingredients are well blended. Set aside.
For more information click HERE.




Cross my heart, Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas is the tip-top, absolute best resort in the Caribbean for kids of all ages.
Many reasons. Here are ten:

1. Atlantis sports what is probably the greatest waterpark on earth. Covering 141 acres, the wet and wonderful playground includes 18 different thrilling, chilling water slides, two splashy “river” rides, 20 swimming areas, 11 distinctly different pools—several designed especially for kids. And then there is the beach.


2. Walk-through aquariums, swim-through lagoons and an astounding number of age-specific feeding and petting programs bring kids up close and personal with a variety of marine life including dolphins, sea lions, stingrays, sharks and turtles.


3. Atlantis provides a profuse number of organized, supervised activities and classes to educate and entertain kids. Toddlers love the mock grocery store, the giant doll house, the fish nursery. Preteens go for the cooking lessons, the game rooms and the performance studio. Teens like the scuba and snuba lessons and thrive at the underwater video arcade and teen-only nightclub.


4. Kids can be independent, as parents can drop the kids at a supervised program and comfortably do their own thing, which might include

5. the spa (kids also welcome);


6. the casino (kids have their own game rooms and do not play in the casino);

The Casino at Atlantis

7. two shopping areas loaded with boutiques and restaurants (fun for the whole family).


8. Travel is easy on families. Paradise Island sits about 180 miles off the southern coast of Florida (and a 600-foot bridge across from Nassau, capital of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas).

Bridge linking Nassau and Paradise Island

Many airlines offer quick, non-stop flights from major U.S. cities directly to The Lynden Pindling International Airport (formerly called the Nassau International Airport). The airport is a short ride from the resort.
Return to the States is also easy as U.S. citizens go though customs at the Nassau airport, not in Miami, making re-entry a breeze and catching connecting flights hassle free.

9. Paradise Island covers about 685 acres. Within the complex are a number of accommodation choices—all suitable for families and all within easy reach of activities.

The Royal, an iconic Atlantis Paradise Island hotel.

10. From poolside hot dog and pizza stands to pizzazzy upscale restaurants, Atlantis Paradise Island offers a broad menu of food options guaranteed to please picky eaters as well as junior gourmets.

Families particularly like the buffets where choices include not only a tempting array of favorite American foods, but also some local Bahamian dishes. The local fare at the self-serve buffets gives kids opportunity to expand their horizons and engage in the culture of another country—without making a full meal commitment.
A Bahamian staple, Chicken Souse, shows up from time to time on Atlantis’ buffet menus.

Locals make Chicken Souse (pronounced sow-se) with inexpensive ingredients and serve it for family and/or company meals, especially for breakfast on weekends as the dish is believed to cure hangovers. The dish is traditionally served with johnnycakes, sweet coconut bread rolls and/or grits used to sop up flavorful juice.

Divine Bahamian Coconut Bread Rolls served at Atlantis



Coconut bread rolls and Bahamian chicken souse

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

2 pounds chicken wings divided into drumettes and wingettes (save tips for another use)
1 large baking potato
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 carrot, peeled and sliced on the diagonal about 1/8-inch thick thick (optional)
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
Salt to taste
Red pepper flakes
1 celery stalk, diced
Two limes, one for broth and one for garnish

Put chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Set pot over medium heat and bring water to a boil. Boil gently for 10 minutes. Strain chicken and rinse under cold running water.
Return chicken to pot. Peel and cube potato and add to pot along with sliced onion, carrot and allspice. Add water to come 1-inch above ingredients. Sprinkle lightly with salt and red pepper flakes. Set pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in celery and continue cooking until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat. Squeeze juice of one lime into the pan and stir gently.
Garnish with lime wedges and serve warm with johnny cake, grits or sweet bread rolls. DO NOT EAT THE ALLSPICE BERRIES.

For more information about Atlantis Paradise Island, click HERE