Nancy Mehagian makes me feel staid and uninteresting. She filled her life with an abundance of delicious food, travel, sex and drugs. I’m mourning that I missed a lot.  (Well, I didn’t miss the food and travel.)  Nancy indulged in all with avid passion. She says one of her achievements was inaugurating a program of healthy eating by growing vegetables in an infamous London prison—not as a do-gooder, mind you, but as an inmate with a baby so that she could have vegetables in her diet while incarcerated.

We met in Los Angeles a year or so ago and Nancy outlined her life story for me. I was fasciated then, and even more so when I read Nancy’s culinary memoir, Siren’s Feast, An Edible Odyssey. The book provides not only details of her well-lived life, but also over 40 recipes that she encountered or created along the way.

 Nancy grew up in Phoenix the daughter of food-loving Armenian immigrants. Her parents were strict. Nancy was not and emerged from high school as a mini-beatnik and then bloomed into a full-blown flower child. She enrolled in college but didn’t stay tethered. Instead she traveled–London, Paris, Spain, India, Afghanistan, Nepal–making friends wherever she wandered, experimenting with hallucinogens, chasing spiritual enrichment, exploring on pennies and always cooking for the people surrounding her.

Nancy Mehagian by Artist Salvador Maron, 1991

 Somewhere along the way she turned vegetarian and planted her roots on the Spanish island of Ibiza where, in 1969, she opened a vegetarian restaurant named the Double Duck.  Taking a break from the restaurant, Nancy landed in Syria where she became pregnant by a Bedouin gypsy musician and, through a series of mishaps, ended up incarcerated in a London prison for 16 months, along with her newborn daughter, Vedra (read Siren’s Feast for the full scoop). 

Upon her release, Nancy returned to the United States, earned a degree in English and began her studies of the ancient healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, later incorporating massage therapy to become therapist to, as Nancy says, “Some of the most well-known people on the planet.”  

Throughout her life Nancy retained a passion for food. When I asked Nancy about her favorite recipe, she chose her version of the treasured Armenian treat Yalanchi Sarma.

Here’s what she wrote about the dish: 


(Nancy Mehagian’s Chilled Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Yield: About 50 sarma.

1/2 cup olive oil

3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon dried dill weed

1 teaspoon dried mint

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 cup long grain white rice

1/2 cup tomato sauce


1/2 cup pine nuts


1 jar (16 ounces) grape leaves packed in brine (Nancy suggests Orlando brand.)

2 lemons

Heat oil in a large heavy pot. Add onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft. Stir in the garlic, dill, mint, salt, pepper and paprika and saute 1 minute. Stir in rice, tomato sauce, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, pine nuts and 1 cup water. Lower heat, cover pan and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the rice is partially cooked (check on occasion to make sure rice doesn’t stick to bottom of pan). Remove from heat and set aside until cool. 

Remove grape leaves from jar (see NOTE).  Rinse leaves in cold water and set in a colander to drain. 

Lay one leaf on a plate, veins up and stem side towards you. (If the stems are thick or tough, cut them off near the leaf.)

Place about 2 teaspoons of rice mixture in the center of the leaf.

Fold sides of leaf over filling and roll leaf up into a small tight bundle. Put filled leaf in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, seam side down. Repeat with remaining leaves and filling, stacking filled leaves in a circular pattern around the perimeter of the pan, covering the bottom with the bundles and then stacking bundles on top of each other. 

Pour 1 cup water and juice from one lemon on top of bundles. Cover pan and cook over low heat until all liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then transfer bundles to a platter and refrigerate until cold. 

To serve, squeeze the juice from 1/2 lemon over bundles and top with the thinly sliced remaining half lemon. Garnish with sprigs of parsley.

NOTE: Retain liquid from jar so that you can can put any leftover leaves back in jar for another use.

Books by Nancy Mehagian




















Ben Poremba

Such a complex man. Such a complicated time. I am curious how Ben Poremba—chef, restauranteur, entrepreneur, world traveler, culinary award winner, family man and total whirlwind of creative energy—manages in the time of Covid.

All St. Louis foodies know his restaurants/food outlets operating under the Bengelina Hospitality Group: 

Elaia—the flagship, upscale restaurant producing mostly modern Mediterranean fare; 

Olio, adjacent to Elaia, a casual wine bar with small plates reflecting Mediterranean and North African influences; 

Nixta, a colorful restaurant/bar, showcasing dynamite cocktails and artistic, Latin-infused food;

La Patisserie Chouquette—a French bakery/cafe, that Poremba co-owns with Simone Faure


AO&Co., a specialty market, cigar and gift shop.

These special places sit steps from each other in St. Louis’ newly rehabilitated Botanical Heights neighborhood (otherwise known to fans as Poremba’s dining district). In addition Poremba opened The Benevolent King, a tiny, unusual Moroccan/Israeli—influenced bar/restaurant in Maplewood, MO.

Anyone visiting The Bengelina Hospitality Group’s website can read that Poremba was born in Israeli to a Moroccan mother (herself a chef) and jewish father, and that he studied philosophy at University of Missouri. But the website gives only glimpses of the man. Eager to know more about Poremba’s energy and enterprises, I sent some questions by email which he graciously found time to answer.

Q: Tell us a bit about your childhood. How did the food of your childhood influence your career as a restauranteur?

A: I grew up in Israel — just outside of Tel Aviv. My parents were (and continue to be) the ultimate hosts. Dinner parties, cocktail parties, fundraisers, exchange students, diplomats, politicians, artists, musicians, etc. Our house was always busy, and my parents welcomed guests from all over the world. My mother is an exceptional cook, and a collector of beautiful tabletop goods. I absorbed from early age the true meaning of hospitality: welcoming people in your home and making them feel special. My parents have always been lavish and generous with guests — even at times of financial lows. They set up a beautiful table and fill it with goodness. That’s what I’ve been trying to do at my restaurants.

Q: You traveled and worked around the world. What made you decide to settle in St. Louis?

A: I went to UMSL. And before that to Parkway North High School. St. Louis has a truly welcoming spirit — I’ve made lifelong friends here. And I think that in terms of cultural anchors, St. Louis can compete with best in the world: amazing universities, beautiful museums, a committed and extensive art scene, world class musical venues, rich architecture, and of course a thriving food scene.

Q: Walt Disney said, “There is no magic in magic, it’s all in the details.” Can you give examples of how attention to detail helped create the magical experience of dining in your restaurants?

A: I think of myself as a stage designer. Lighting, furniture, garden, tabletop appointments, graphics — all of it is considered.  Jean Paul Sartre (the French existentialist philosopher) said “Being determines Essence.” I take it to mean that you can transport experiences by the environment that you create.  I’ll give you an example from someone else’s restaurant. Bar Les Freres truly feels belle epoque. I adore it, and admire Zoe (Robinson) vision and mentorship.

Inside The Benevolent King


Inside Nixta

Q: Your website states that you majored in philosophy. Can you tell us your personal philosophy of (1) living the good life, (2) cooking and food and (3) surviving the unexpected?

A: I don’t do philosophy “on one leg” as it were. But there are tenets that I apply in my personal life as well as in my business: respect for people and places; integrity; dignity; accountability; and charity.

Q: Covid 19 must have had great impact on you. What are you doing both personally and professionally to adapt?

A: I’m staying focused on what matters most: the wellbeing and safety of my family and my team. Every decision that Patrick Hassett (my Director of Operations) and I have made during this period was through the lenses of “how does this impact our people?”

Q: What do you envision for the future post vaccine days?

A: I hope that we — the hospitality industry — learn to become more team-focused.  The cliche “happy workers make happy guests” is proven to be true. We also need to learn how to be more sustainable — there’s something incredibly wrong with our business model. Restaurants small and large demonstrated how our poorly we manage cash flow. No one will have survived this without government relief. And that’s a sad commentary.

Q:  Will you share a recipe for one of your favorite dishes—one that has remained a favorite through the years?

Poremba sent a link to Olio’s exceedingly popular egg salad recipe, saying that the egg salad “is still a favorite and probably the most popular and demanded dishes” at Olio. The link features a Post-Dispatch recipe adapted from the recipe making restaurant amounts (Olio goes through 75 pounds a week). I’ve adapted the Post-Dispatch recipe below—sticking pretty much as it was printed. 

A few notes from when I made the recipe: (1) My yield was about 3 cups. (2) I had many more onions than needed (next time I’ll cut the onion amount to 1-1/2 pounds). (3) I don’t have a meat grinder so I simply finely chopped the eggs and onions with a knife. (Poremba cautions not to use a food processor as it will produce the wrong texture.) And (4) This is about the best egg salad I’ve ever eaten. 



Yield: 2-1/4 cups.

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and slivered

7 large eggs


2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise plus more to taste 

White pepper

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Lemon zest, for garnish

Put oil in a Dutch oven or similar heavy pot set over low heat. Heat oil until it is warm and shimmery. Add onions and cook slowly until soft but not yet beginning to turn color, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover pan and set aside until cool. Refrigerate onions until they are firm.

Put eggs in a large pot and cover with cold salted water. Bring water to a rapid boil. Turn off heat and cover the pot. Wait 10 minutes, then drain. When cool enough to handle, peel the eggs. Cover and chill.

Weigh equal amounts of egg and onion (there will likely be extra onion for another purpose). Put eggs and onions through the small holes of a meat grinder into a bowl.

Stir in mayonnaise, just enough to bind the mixture. Season generously with salt and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Chill salad until ready to serve.

To serve Olio-style, mound about 3 tablespoons egg salad on three thick slices of good bread, garnish with chives and lemon zest.




Rosa Porto in the early days.

Just imagine. When you can’t travel the world—the world travels to you. I’m talking specifically about Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, a well-loved Los Angeles fixture. 
Porto’s  was founded by Rosa Porto who is a native of Cuba.
When communism took over Cuba, Rosa’s husband Raul Porto Sr. was arrested and taken to a labor camp. To help the family survive, Rosa started baking and selling cakes out of her home. In 1971 the family immigrated to L.A. where Rosa continued to bake cakes and pastries to sell from home.

Michelle Rodriguez, founder of 360viewPR, the public relations firm that now represents the bakery, tells a personal story that illustrates Rosa’s popularity:

Michelle Rodriguez

“Porto’s is a very special client for us,” says Michelle, “as my family are also Cuban political refugees who came to Los Angeles from Cuba. My grandparents learned of Rosa Porto through the Cuban community before she opened her bakeries. She made my Mom’s birthday cakes growing up, my parent’s wedding cake and all my birthday cakes as a kid. Our story is not unique as there are many Cuban and non-Cuban families in L.A. that have grown up generation after generation with Porto’s as a family tradition.”

In 1976 Rosa opened her first brick-and-mortar bakery/cafe in Echo Park, California. With the family’s help, the bakery flourished, offering breads, cakes, pastries and a variety of Cuban-accented baked specialities. Today, the bakery/cafe has five locations in southern California (Glendale, Burbank, Downey, Buena Park, and West Covina) with more on the way. 

Buena Park, CA. Photo by Brian Feinzimer/Fein Image.

Inside Porto’s in Burbank, CA. Photo by Brian Feinzimer/Fein Image.

And Ta-Da! Drum roll please! Perfect for those who can’t travel and visit in person, Porto’s has added a BAKE AT HOME category to its menu, making frozen signature items available nationwide. 

So what are those signature item? Two tops are the Refugiado (refugee), a guava & cheese strudel that and has been on Porto’s menu since first opening

and Papa Rellena, potato balls which are the bakery’s number one best seller.

The products come with baking instructions.

I’ve baked both at home. Divine!

I agree with Michelle Rodriguez, who said, “I often take out from the bakery, which is great, but I love the new Bake at Home, which one can eat fresh from the oven with all the flavor intact—just like eating hot from the oven in the bakery.”

Although some of Porto’s most popular items are available through Bake at Home, the popular Ropa Vieja is only served in Porto’s cafe. But not to worry. Porto’s shared its recipe. A national dish of Cuba, Ropa Vieja is made with shredded beef and vegetables that come out looking like a pile of old clothes (thus its name). Serve this dish with black beans and rice and sweet sautéed plantains. 

For super-happy eating throughout the day, breakfast on Refugiados, have Papa Rellena for lunch and make Ropa Vieja for dinner. Buen apetito!


Yield: About 6 large servings.


2-1/2 pounds flank steak

1 green bell pepper, stem removed, seeded and quartered

1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved

3 green onions, roots trimmed 

4 large garlic cloves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 bay leaves

Salt to taste 

2 gallons water

Put all ingredients into a large stock pot.

Set pot over medium heat and gently simmer until beef is fork tender and falls apart easily, 3 to 4 hours.

Remove beef from broth and set aside to cool slightly. Strain cooking liquid. Reserve liquid; discard solids. When beef is cool enough to handle, shred it into small pieces with your hands. 


About 1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large onions, peeled and julienned

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large green bell pepper, trimmed and julienned

1 large red pepper, trimmed and julienned

About 1/4 cup tomato puree

1/2 cup white wine

1 large tomato, trimmed and coarsely chopped

1 ounce beef base

1 to 2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

3 cups reserved cooking liquid (above)

Shredded beef (above)

About 1/4 cup sliced green olives

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or similar large pot. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes, stirring often. Add peppers and cook 10 minutes, stirring often. Add tomato puree; cook 2 minutes stirring often. Deglaze pan with wine and allow wine to evaporate. Add tomatoes, beef base, paprika, pepper, cumin, and reserved cooking liquid. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in shredded beef and green olives. Cover with a lid and simmer for 35 minutes. 

For more information about Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, click HERE.

To order Porto’s BAKE AT HOME click HERE.

For more wonderful immigrant chef recipes, click  HERE for Lona’s Lil Eats dumplings

and  HERE  for Kobee Factory’s kobee and HERE for Yuca’s Hut cochinita pibil.



Laura Sorkin

Laura Sorkin is a farmer, a writer, a recipe developer, a cookbook author, a wife, a mother of  two teenagers and the co-founder/owner (with husband Eric) of Runamok Maple, a company producing a variety of artisan syrups that are setting the standard not only for pure maple syrup, but also those creatively enlivened with flavor.

The charming do-it all woman was born NYC and raised in Connecticut. She studied Chinese language at McGill University, then earned a degree from French Culinary Institute in New York (now called the International Culinary Center). After working in a few famous upscale restaurants, Laura decided that she wanted to do something more solid, so she enrolled in the Environmental Management program at Duke University where she earned a master’s degree and met her soon to be husband, Eric, who was in the same program and also working towards his law degree.

Eric Sorkin

Although Eric and Laura moved to Washington, where degrees in environmental management brought jobs, they didn’t stay. Both had longed to own a farm and finally made dreams come true in 2000 when they bought a 1,000-acre property in Vermont.

Laura says that the “farm” had originally been used for sheep grazing and was overgrown to the point where the land had to be reclaimed before it could be cultivated. The farm was mostly my endeavor,” said Laura, “with Eric adding support. When we switched from farming to producing maple syrup in 2016, we also switched roles. The syrup is Eric’s baby, I add support.” 

Today, the Sorkins tap about 76,000 of their own trees with taps from other trees bringing the count to about 100,000 taps bottled with the Runamok label. 

Although the creative and talented Sorkins produce pure maple syrup, choosing the best of the best to bottle under the label “Sugarmaker’s Cut,”they also experiment, producing not only barrel-aged and smoked syrups but also those infused with flavors. Options of flavored syrup run the gamut with enhancers as familiar as cinnamon and vanilla, cocoa and coffee to the more exotic Makrut lime leaf and smoked chili pepper.



The couple also has a new line of intriguing cocktail syrups and bitters in a variety of flavors. And, Laura says that her “evil genius” husband, in order to brighten the grimness of these Covid and otherwise harsh times, has invented a way to infuse their syrups with glitter.


And if that wasn’t enough activity for this superwoman, Laura just published a wonderful cookbook, Vegetables The Ultimate Cookbook.

Of all of the recipes on the Runamok Maple website (and there are a cornucopia of fabulous ones) and in the cookbook (another collection of terrific), Laura says that her favorite recipe is MAPLE TIRAMISU.

She graciously gave me her recipe to share with you.


Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

3 egg yolks

1/3 cup Sugarmaker’s Cut Pure Maple Syrup

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon cornstarch

8 ounces Mascarpone, room temperature

1/2 cup strong coffee

1/4 cup rum

7 ounce package of Italian ladyfingers

Cocoa for dusting

Shaved chocolate 

Put egg yolks, maple syrup, heavy cream and cornstarch in a pot or over a double boiler.  If using a pot, turn the heat on low, if using a double boiler, bring the water to a simmer.  Whisk the mixture constantly for about 8 – 10 minutes or until it starts to thicken (temperature should be around 160).  Remove from the heat immediately and let cool.  Blend in the mascarpone and set aside.

Take a 9” bread pan and line it with plastic wrap, using two sheets if necessary to cover all surfaces and allowing about 4” to come over the sides.  Combine the coffee and rum in a shallow dish.  Take the lady fingers and dunk them, one at a time in the coffee-rum liquid.  Coat both sides but don’t let them sit in the liquid or they will become too saturated fall apart.  Line the bottom of the pan with the soaked biscuits, breaking them into smaller sizes to fill in empty spaces.  Pour a third of the maple cream over the lady fingers.  Repeat with another layer of rum-coffee soaked biscuits and then another layer of cream.  Make a third layer of each, ending with maple cream.

Cover the pastry with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours or overnight.  When ready to serve, take the pan out of the fridge.  Have a plate ready and gently lift the pastry out of the pan using the plastic lining.  Place the Tiramisu on the plate and peel the plastic back from the edges so the cake is standing on its own.  Dust with a little cocoa powder and garnish with some dark chocolate shavings.

The Sorkins sell Runamok Maple products on their website (https://runamokmaple.com)  and in speciality shops throughout the United States. I urge you to hurry with your order, because the brand tends to sell out quickly.

For more information or to buy Runamok Maple products, click HERE




To buy Laura’s book, VEGETABLES The Ultimate Cookbook on Amazon, click HERE

(I am not sure exactly how this works but am told that I receive a commission if you buy through the Amazon links above.)



Lona’s Lil Eats

St. Louis, Missouri


Lona Luo thought of herself as extremely poor, growing up in Manhen, an isolated village hidden in the mountainous area of China’s Yunnan province.

The family, like all of the villagers, depended on what they could grow or forage to eat. They raised chickens and pigs and grew vegetables in home plots. They supplemented their diets by catching shellfish, snails and fresh eel from rivers and streams and gathering herbs from the mountain side.

Photo montage of Lona’s village.

When Lona was 10-years old, her mother handed her a live chicken to kill, clean and cook. No one taught her to cook. She taught herself and didn’t alway succeed. Her dad, a member of the Luo Luo tribe, encouraged her saying, “try again,” but her mother, a high-mountain Thai, would get mad as the family didn’t have enough resources to cover failure. 

Eventually Lona was cooking for her family as well as making feast food such as dumplings for village celebrations.

Lona had five siblings, but grew up isolated from the world at large, without electricity or a telephone. Although she did go to the village school, finishing high school, she had never seen a foreigner nor dreamed of immigrating. Girls were expected to marry, but because the home situation was so poor, Lona moved to the nearest city, Kunming, to work—a move her family denounced.

She scored a job as a server, and eventually a front-of-house supervisor in a popular restaurant, where she learned Japanese and met her future husband, Pierce Powers, when he was hired to teach English to the restaurant staff.

Pierce and Lona married, had a daughter and in 2006 moved to St. Louis, Missouri, Pierce’s hometown. In 2008 the couple opened a food stand in the Soulard Farmers Market. Lona cooked. Pierce managed the business. The couple quickly gained a following for their simple yet flavorful, Asian-based dishes, with Lona’s hand-made dumplings a popular draw. In 2014, they opened the brick-and-mortar Lona’s Lil Eats to immediate success.

Today, Lona has a son, daughter and a casual restaurant that earned her a nomination for Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation. 

Her food pleases vegans, vegetarians, meat lovers and those on special diets as her menus list ingredients that guests order in combinations of their own choosing. 

Although Lona continues to create fresh, wholesome dishes that she describes as a “wild montage of influences from China, Thailand, Burma, Tibet and the Middle East” her hand-made, cooked to order, pillow-plump dumplings remain on all of her menus. 

She makes two versions of dumplings; one with mushrooms, the other with steak. Chinese tradition states that mushroom filled dumplings bring wealth and good fortune to those who eat them. This is certainly true at Lona’s Lil Eats as anyone eating Lona’s dumplings is fortunate indeed. 


Yield: About 30 dumplings.


Vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, very finely chopped

24 ounces cremini or other mushroom, very finely chopped in a food processor or by hand

3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped

About 2 teaspoons chopped green cabbage and/or cilantro

1 teaspoon soy sauce 

1/2 teaspoons sugar

Star anise, ground to a powder to taste, optional

Salt to taste

Coat a saucepan with a little oil, add garlic and set over medium-high heat. Stir and add mushrooms. Sauté mixture, stirring often, until mushrooms are cooked, but not brown, and have render their juice, about 4 minutes. Drain mushrooms and put in a bowl. Stir in onion, cabbage and/or cilantro, soy sauce and sugar. Sprinkle with star anise, if desired. Taste and add salt. Drizzle just enough vegetable oil over mushrooms so that mixture holds together. Cool to room temperature or chill before filling.


2 cups Chinese dumpling flour (See NOTE) for the basic dough plus additional flour for kneading, rolling and shaping dough

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 to 1 cup hot water

Put 2 cups flour and salt in a medium size mixing bowl. With your a spoon (Lona uses her hand) slowly stir in enough hot water to make a sticky dough.

Set bowl aside for 2 minutes, then empty dough onto a heavily floured flat surface. With your hands, knead the dough, incorporating flour as needed, until dough is smooth and pliable. Form dough into a ball. Break off a tennis-ball size piece of dough and roll into a cigar shape, about 1 inch in diameter.

Break off 1-inch pieces of the cigar dough and roll in flour to coat. With a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough paper thin to a circle about 4-inches in diameter.


Vegetable oil


To fill dumplings: hold one dough circle in the palm of one hand. Add 1 tablespoon mushroom filling to center. Bring up sides to form a crescent with a flat bottom. With your fingers, pleat one side of top dough, pressing both top edges together tightly.

Set filled dumpling pleated top up, flat bottom down, on a plate or tray. Repeat until all dumplings have been filled. Don’t let the dumplings touch.

To cook dumplings: Drizzle oil over bottom of large non-stick skillet. Add 1 cup water. Set skillet over moderate-high heat. Place dumplings in skillet so that they do not touch. Drizzle a little oil over top of dumplings. Cover skillet and boil dumplings until you hear a sizzle and dumplings are tender, about 4 minutes. Remove lid and cook until water evaporates and dumpling bottoms become brown and crispy, about 2 minutes.

Serve immediately with dipping sauce.


Chinkiang vinegar (See NOTE)

Soy sauce

Chili oil to taste

Combine equal amounts of vinegar and soy sauce. Add a dash of chili oil. Stir well.

NOTE: Chinese ingredients

Chinese dumpling flour is a high-gluten flour made from 100% wheat available in most Asian markets. Chinese dumpling flour is generally whiter and more elastic than all-purpose flour. One can substitute all-purpose flour, but resulting dumplings will be darker color and harder to manage. 

Chinkiang vinegar is a Chinese black vinegar usually made from rice and/or sorghum and long aged. It comes from the the city of Chinkiang (or Zheniang) and is popular in southern China.

For more information  on Lona’s Lil Eats click HERE.

For more recipes featuring women Immigrant Chefs, click HERE

and HERE.



Can’t help it. Whenever I would make chocolate chip cookies, I would eat so much of the dough as to almost halve the cookie yield. Today that’s not necessary. I cut to the chase and just make the dough—an edible version, of course—without raw eggs—without raw flour.

I try not to make the treat too often as I am addicted and eat far too much. However, I made a batch on my last birthday as a Covid19 replacement for cake. I am embarrassed to say that I used my birthday as an excuse to eat the whole bowlful by myself before I could share with birthday well-wishers. The gluttony almost made me sick. On the other hand, the gluttony also made me divinely happy and I am delighted to share the recipe—even if I wasn’t willing to share the real deal.


Yield: 1 to 6 servings.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature

1/2 packed cup dark (or light) brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk 

1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips 

Put flour in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Stir flour and microwave another 30 seconds. Set flour aside to cool.

Put butter in a mixing bowl, slowly beat in sugars. Continue beating until sugars and butter are very well blended. Beat in vanilla and milk. Stir in flour and then chocolate chips. If necessary to firm texture, chill for 15 minutes before eating.

Refrigerate leftovers (yea, right)  in a  covered container and if necessary, to soften texture, bring to room temperature before eating. 



Six months of staying home with Covid 19 concerns and I want out!  I deeply want an escape to rid my spirit and body of 2020 stress. I decidedly want to soak away troubles in healing pools of natural spring water. I distinctly want a spa experience. I definitely want Two Bunch Palms. Today. Right now. This minute. I am craving quiet, serenity and an easy, unfussy escape from politics, climate disasters and health concern. Two Bunch Resort & Spa in Southern California fills the bill—even with the modification the resort has had to make to ensure the safe health of its 2020 visitors.

Although Two Bunch bills itself as the oldest mineral hot springs spa in the country (founded in 1940 and renovated in 2014), the layout and ambiance seems tailor made for Covid stays.

The gated property spreads over 77 acres. Public spaces are outdoors.

Rooms and suites cluster around the resort (some with private patios and soaking pools). People are encouraged to speak in whispers.  

Time slows down.

Adults only.

Unfortunately, for the time being, Two Bunch Palms opens only on weekends and has put a hold on spa services as well as indoor dining.

Then again, I am also on hold and not traveling—just dreaming about cool places where I would like to be. 

Fortunately I scored the recipe for the resort signature cocktail, so I can still use Two Bunch Palms to ease stress without leaving my house. 


Yield: one serving.

1-1/2 ounces gin

1 ounce coconut cream

1/2 ounce lime juice 

1-1/2 ounces coconut soda

Lime peel for garnish

Put all ingredients in a shaker and shake to combine. Pour into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with lime peel.


For other signature cocktail recipes from special places click

HERE for a Kilt Lifter




HERE for a Watermelon Rum Punch




HERE for a Panama Hat




HERE for a Comfortably Numb






I first encountered Annie Fenn when she gave a video presentation, “Cooking in the Brain Health Kitchen” for the Aspen Brain Institute’s Expert series. Her talk charmed me, being not only down to earth, but also highly informative with many take away tips as well as some great recipes.

Annie Fenn

Annie knows what she’s talking about. A longtime obstetrician/gynecologist, Annie turned to full time cooking after retiring. She studied cooking in Italy, France, Mexico and at the Culinary Institute of America and specialized in “cooking whole foods for optimal nutrition.”

Inspired by her mother’s diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimers, Annie turned her culinary attention to the way diet can affect the brain. She began teaching brain healthy cooking classes in 2015 and, in 2017, founded her terrific website Brain Health Kitchen —a multidimensional platform for her many special insights aimed at reducing the risk of dementia and improving cognitive function as one ages.

Although she travels worldwide to lecture and teach brain healthy cooking, Sweet Leisure caught up with her in Jackson, Wyoming, where she lives with her husband and two teenage sons. Ever so curious about this remarkable woman, we asked her the following questions by email and she responded accordingly.

Q: Will you define brain health for us?

A: Brain health means taking care of your brain to minimize inflammation that, over time, can set up an environment for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It means keeping your blood vessels healthy so you have a robust blood supply to the brain as you age. It means slowing down the aging of the brain by paying attention to what you eat and how you live your life. It also means paying attention to your mental wellness and being proactive about cultivating mental health. You want your brainspan—the time when the brain is thriving and memories are intact—to match your lifespan. That’s the goal.

Q: What are lifestyle strategies (besides diet) to keep the brain fit?

A:  Exercise is at the top of a long list of lifestyle factors now proven to keep the brain healthy. The good news is that you don’t have to be a hard-core athlete to get the benefits. Activities like walking, gardening, and yoga are also beneficial. Sleep is extremely important. Getting enough high-quality sleep should be a priority if you want your brain to age well. Others include not smoking, keeping blood pressure under control at mid-life, maintaining a healthy weight, correcting hearing loss, minimizing alcohol intake, and protecting the brain from trauma.

Q: Is a brain-healthy diet also a diet to optimize health in general?

A: Yes, absolutely. When you start eating through the lens of brain health, you are also reducing your risk of all the “lifestyle diseases” so prevalent in our country now, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Following a brain-healthy diet, which is mostly (but not exclusively) plant-based, also reduces the risk of many cancers.

Q: What are the top brain-healthy food groups? The key brain-healthy power foods?

A: The best data we have on how to eat to fend off Alzheimer’s disease comes from the MIND diet study published in 2015 by researchers at Rush University. The MIND diet is a spin-off of the Mediterranean diet specifically geared towards brain health. The MIND diet researchers describe 10 brain-healthy food groups and 5 food groups to limit. To be included as a brain-healthy food group, that food, such as berries, had to have substantial scientific literature supporting the fact that it contributes to brain health.

I always ask my students to include these 9 food groups in their diet on a regular basis: berries, leafy greens, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, fish and seafood, poultry, olive oil. Red wine (up to 5 ounces per day) was included in the original MIND diet study as the 10th food group, but has since been dropped for the ongoing MIND diet trial, a placebo-controlled continuation of the study. To read more about how much of each food group to eat, I break it down for you in this article: What to Eat to Fend Off Alzheimer’s.

Q: What foods contribute to cognitive decline?

A: It is equally important to limit the foods that cause inflammation in the brain. This doesn’t mean you have to give up all the foods you love! This is not an elimination diet. In fact, it’s not a diet at all but more of a lifestyle and balanced approach to eating. The greater diversity in your food choices the better off your gut health and brain health will be. But it does mean limiting processed and packaged foods, fried foods, foods high in saturated fat (like butter and cheese), and foods high in sugar (like sugary drinks, pastries, and sweets.) I would also include processed oils here (like grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, soybean, corn, rice brain, palm, and any hydrogenated vegetable oils) because they contain inflammatory substances and brain unfriendly fats. You can read more about how to limit these foods here: Five Food Groups to Avoid to Keep Your Brain Healthy.

Q:  Out of all of the recipes that you have developed—what is your number one favorite? And Why?

A: I have many, many favorites, but my cooking school students’ all-time favorite recipe is a warm kale salad that checks off 4 of the brain-healthy food groups. I think it’s so popular because it comes together quickly, all in one pan, and leftovers are great too. Even people who don’t love kale really like this salad. It also features two brain health superstar ingredients: kale, the most nutrient-dense of the leafy greens,


and blackberries,the commonly available berry that provides the most polyphenols.

That’s why I chose the blackberry as my logo for the Brain Health Kitchen!


Q: Will you share the recipe?

A: Yes, of course!

Annie sent the recipe and it couldn’t be simpler. She first heats olive oil in a skillet, tosses in chopped kale, and cooks until the kale is somewhat wilted. She then transfers the kale to a plate and sprinkles with pistachios (or other nuts such as almonds and cashews) that she has lightly toasted in the same skillet. The dressing is simply blackberries (or other berries—your choice) and balsamic vinegar reduced in the same skillet until thickened.

Seasoning relies on fresh mint and salt.


And a perfectionist in all she does, Annie decorates her salad with edible blooms, but says this is optional.

Check out Warm Kale Blackberry Salad for details.

For more about Annie Fenn and the Brain Health Kitchen, click HERE.

To see Annie’s segment “Cooking in the Brain Health Kitchen” from the Aspen Brain Institute’s Expert Series, click HERE.

For more about mint, click HERE.  

For more about the Aspen Brain Institute and the Institute’s  free virtual EXPERT SERIES 2.0 click HERE.






I only have two memories from the trip. One is going to a Nice casino with a young American who lost a shocking number of dollars by gambling without accounting for the exchange rate, and a happier memory—the win win of meeting Nathalie Dupree. 

Nathalie and I were taking cooking lessons at Château du Domaine St. Martin in Vence, France. I remember that the chef taught us to made a Salad Nicoise. Nathalie remembers the class featuring an “orange sugar thing like a gastrique for duck.”  This was in the mid 1970s. 

As all of today’s cooks know, Nathalie returned to the States to become a superstar of Southern cooking.

She has authored 15 cookbooks, winning James Beard awards for 





Photo by Hélène Dujardin

Her credentials include hosting cooking shows on The Food Network, PBS and The Learning Channel as well as being the author, producer and/or subject of countless TV and radio programs, magazine and newspaper articles and…well..the list goes on and on. I’ll jump to the chase and send you to her blog for more information: http://www.nathalie.com.

Asking Nathalie to pick one favorite recipe to share with Sweet Leisure readers is like asking an encyclopedia to pick its favorite article. Too many choices. All worthy. 

At last Nathalie settled on a tian of zucchini, onions, tomatoes and basil with feta cheese for a favorite summer recipe. As Nathalie explains, “A “tian” is a fancy French name for a simply assembled and cooked casserole. It is even better the next day after the flavors have melded, making it a good fix-ahead dish. A “use-what-is-in-the pantry” dish, choose any vegetable that will cook in about the same time; don’t worry if a layer gets a little tinged with brown. A flexible dish, it will taste different each time it is cooked, depending on the freshness and amount of the vegetables. The texture is up to the cook as is the amount of vegetables. Since this recipe can be adjusted to using any amount of vegetables, from enough for two or more, the time is variable as well and is just a general guideline.”

Nathalie Dupree’s Ratatouille Tian. Photo by Hélène Dujardin


Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

2 onions, or 3 to 4 shallots, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, sliced or small grape tomatoes, halved or  quartered

1-1/2 to 2 pounds zucchini or half zucchini and half yellow squash

Salt to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh basil, thyme and/or oregano, chopped

1/3 to 1/2 cup feta or other soft goat cheese such as Montrachet

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  

Oil an oven-to-table pan or dish large enough to allow the vegetables to come to the rim.

Heat a large skillet, add the olive oil, and when hot enough to ripple add the onion. Cook the onion until soft, add the garlic and cook a few minutes longer. Remove the soft onion and garlic and spread on the the bottom of the oiled pan, or if you are using shallots, set aside for later so their pretty frizzle and color can go on top.  Meanwhile slice the zucchini thinly and add to the skillet, adding oil as necessary, and cook until lightly soft, but not mushy. If you prefer it a light brown that is fine. Spread over the bottom of the pan, over the onions. Season well with salt and pepper and half of the herbs. Move to the hot oven and bake one half hour. (Cover with foil if vegetables brown.) Add the tomatoes across the top if sliced, or around the edges, if using halved small ones. Sprinkle remaining herbs on the vegetables and if using shallots, add them on the top.  Drizzle the top lightly with oil if desired. Cover with foil and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender and juices bubble around the edges, another half hour to an hour. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with cheese.  

Serve hot or cool down and serve at room temperature or reheat the next day.  May be refrigerated or frozen, once cooled and covered.

Optional addition:

1-2 large long thin purple or globe-type eggplant, thinly sliced

Variation: use rosemary rather than the other herbs.

Nathalie published a similar recipe in her terrific book, NATHALIE DUPREE’S FAVORITE STORIES & RECIPES. The book gives details of her recipe for Ratatouille Tian and uses eggplant which she adds to the Sweet Leisure recipe as an option.


To buy NATHALIE DUPREE’S Favorite Stories & Recipes from Amazon (am testing their affiliate program) click HERE.  

Her books are also available through book sellers everywhere and through her own website.



It’s a hard choice, but as of last go around my favorite restaurant in Germany is in Görlitz.

I know. I know. Located in the easternmost point of Germany along the Neisse River at the Polish frontier, Görlitz is off the beaten path for most tourists.

View of Gorlitz and the Neisse River from Poland.

On the other hand, the village is a superhighway destination for the international film crowd, which accounts for the high quality restaurants.

Escaping damage in World War II and destruction under Communism, Görlitz sports about 4,000 historic buildings that range in style from early Gothic to art nouveau.

Add cobbled streets, church steeples and towers and the whole village offers a magical wonderland of backdrops and sets for movies.

Earning the stage name “Görliwood,” the town appeared in about 100 movies so far.  “The Reader,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Around the World in 80 Days,”  “The Monuments Men,” “The Book Thief” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” shot inside a Görlitz now-closed, art nouveau department store, are just a few films that cast Görlitz in starring roles.


If oscars were given to cities, Görlitz would win for best set design and the restaurant Lucie Schulte, would take top honors as best hospitality in a supporting role.

As if scripted to attract a sophisticated international movie crowd, Lucie Schulte’s dining room sits a bit secluded at the side of a lovely courtyard  behind the “Whispering Arch,” on the beautiful Untermarkt (lower market square).

White table clothes, soft lighting, fresh flowers and decorative accessories add allure.

The restaurant’s attractive bar stocks a cornucopia of German as well as international booze and both bar and patio offer charming spots to wait for a table.


Although all is as pretty as a picture, it’s the food that takes top billing. 

The chef showcases his/her unique creation as well as flavorful, sweet and savory international, German, Saxon, regional and local specialities.

For example, the poppy seed trifle (my name for the dessert as it came at the end of the meal as a surprise and was not named on the menu), represents elements that are both international and distinctly local. Made with French creme anglaise, resembling an English trifle (which we all know is no trifle at all), and resplendent with poppy seeds (I assume from the neighboring Czech Republic, the world’s largest producer of poppy seeds), the desert is both divinely unique and deliciously familiar.

The recipe below is a stand-in for Lucie Schulte’s orginal, which features red currents and physalis. Our recipe substitutes readily available fresh berries and our own interpretation of the custard. As to presentation, you can build the trifle in wine glasses for individual servings or arrange the ingredients in a large glass bowl for one grand dessert.


Yield: Four servings.

6 to 8 ounces pound cake, cut into 4 chunks

3 tablespoons poppy seeds

Creme Anglaise (see recipe below)

Assorted fresh berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries) 

Mint leaf for garnish, optional 

Put a chunk of cake into each of four wine glasses.

Combine poppy seeds with enough creme anglaise to just coat the seeds. Add a spoonful of coated seeds to the bottom of each cup, giving each cup an equal amount.

Pour creme anglaise over cake in each glass, giving each cup an equal amount of creme.

Top as desired with berries. 

Garnish with mint, if desired.


Yield: About 3 cups.

1 cup 14 tablespoons whole milk or half and half

6 egg yolks

A scant 3/4 cup sugar  

1 tablespoons vanilla extract 

Put milk in a heavy bottomed enameled or stainless steel saucepan. Set saucepan over medium heat and bring milk just to the boiling point. Meanwhile, put egg yolks in a mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer, very gradually beating in sugar. Continue beating for  2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon with beaters are lifted. 

Very gradually, pour droplets of hot milk into yolk mixture, beating constantly. (You are slowly heating the egg yolks.) Start with droplets, then, as yolks warm, add milk in a droplet like stream.

When all of the milk has been added, pour egg mixture into the saucepan. Set over low moderate heat and cook, stirring constantly with wooden spatula or spoon, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the spoon, about 5 minutes. DO NOT LET MIXTURE SIMMER OR BOIL. When sauce has thickened, remove saucepan from heat. Strain sauce into a bowl. Stir in vanilla. Cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally to release steam. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. 

For more Görlitz information click HERE.

For more about Lucie Schulte click HERE.