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:

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.





Kobee Factory & Syrian Kitchen

Los Angeles, California

“I never thought I would leave my country,” said Wafa Ghreir of Syria, “but God knows. God wants me to be here (in America).” 

Wafa grew up in a small village three miles east of Homs, a historic city in western Syria about 101 miles north of Damascus. She came from a family of farmers who taught her to have great respect for family, country and tradition. 

Instead of fulfiling her dream of  becoming a pharmacist, Wafa met and married her cousin when she was 19.

Her husband had been in America and wanted to live there, so the couple immigrated to the United States in 1977, settling into a Syrian community in Los Angeles. 

Although raised in the rich food culture of Syria, Wafa did not even know how to boil an egg. Wanting to prepare dishes that her husband loved, she asked her mom and ladies of the Syrian community to teach her how to cook.

 “I loved the day when I started cooking,” said Wafa. “You show your love through food.” 

Life progressed. Wafa had two children and continued cooking as a hobby until her husband died in 2003. She spent several despondent years alone at home before deciding, over her children’s objection, to open Kobee Factory and Syrian Kitchen in 2014. 

Within a year of opening, Kobee Factory earned rave reviews and the restaurant flourished. Despite an active catering business and attracting locals and diners who will drive four hours for an authentic Syrian meal, Wafa sees no need to expand her cozy, simple storefront space holding only six tables and a counter for ordering.

“I don’t think of it as cooking for customers, but cooking for family.” claims Wafa. I want to pass on my country’s food culture to my children and the children of family and friends.”

Kobee Factory serves a variety of Middle Eastern dishes such as shawarma, falafel, hummus and kababs, but it is the kobee that gets the most attention. 

Countries throughout the Middle East make some version of meat pockets made of bulgur wheat, seasoned ground beef and/or lamb and minced onions known as kobee, kibbee, kibbeh, kubbah. The Kobee Factory offers beef filled kobee shaped and cooked in three different ways: disks which are barbecued, foot-ball shaped oblongs that are fried and a layered pie which is baked.



Middle Eastern meat pockets or pie

Yield: 12 large pieces or one 10-1/2-inch pie.


2-1/4 cups fine grain bulgur wheat

1/2 pound ground beef




Put bulgur in a large strainer and rinse under cold running water until water is clear. Transfer bulger to a large mixing bowl. Cover with cold water and set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Drain bulger. If necessary, put bulgur in a layer of cheesecloth or a tea towel and squeeze to get rid of as much moisture as possible. 

Sprinkle beef with salt, pepper and paprika. Using the dough hook or paddle of a heavy mix master or your hands, knead seasoned beef and bulgur together until they form a paste the consistency of dough. Cover and chill dough until you are ready to work with it. 


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1 large yellow onions, peeled and minced

1/4 pound ground beef

Ground allspice



Put oil in a large skillet. Set skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and sauté until light golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove pine nuts from skillet with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. 

Add onions to oil in skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent but not brown, about 8 minutes. Add beef and stir to break up chunks of meat. Sprinkle with allspice, salt and pepper. Stirring occasionally to break up meat chunks, cook mixture until beef browns lightly, 5 to 18 minutes. Stir in pine nuts. Transfer beef to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until chilled.


(See NOTE)

To grill over charcoal:

Take about a pingpong size piece of dough and, by hand, form it into a flat round patty. Make a slight indentation in center of patty and put in a tablespoon of filling. Top with another pingpong- size flat round patty of dough. Press the edges of two dough patties together to make tight and smooth. Repeat. Put packets on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, cover and chill until ready to cook. Place packets on a the rack of a medium heat charcoal grill and grill, turning once, until brown and crispy on both sides, about 20 minutes.

To deep fry: 

Take a pingpong-size portion of dough and form it into a ball. Make an indentation in top of ball so that dough resembles half of an empty egg shell. Add about a tablespoon filling to indentation. Working with your hands, add another pingpong-size piece of dough (or slightly smaller) and smooth  doughs together around filling, elongating ends to a make football shape.

Put packets on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet, cover  and chill until ready to cook.

Fill a deep fryer or deep saucepan with oil. Heat to 350°F. Fry packets until they are brown and crispy about 10 minutes.

To bake in a pie:

1-1/2 tablespoons softened butter

1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine butter and olive oil.

Rub half of butter mixture over the bottom and sides of a 10-1/2 inch pie plate. Put 1/2 of dough in the bottom of pie plate and with fingers smooth to a nice even layer covering bottom and some of sides. Top dough layer with filling, spreading filling to form an even layer. Top filling with another layer of dough, using remaining dough and smoothing with hands to a nice even layer. 

Cut pie into wedge shaped pieces and rub with remaining butter oil mixture.

Bake in a preheated 400°F  until top is light golden brown, about 45 minutes.

NOTE:  Keep kobee dough and filling chilled until ready to shape. Dampen hands with water to shape and stuff the kobee. Put shaped kobee on parchment lined baking sheets and chill before cooking.

For more information, click HERE.



Almost time. Am so eager. My garden is on the verge of overflowing with earthy delights. Although I am especially hungry for plump, bright red, sweet and juicy home-grown tomatoes to be ready for plucking, I can wait. Red is my end stop, but green is the go-to pick until the main event gets here. Of course, I’m talking about green tomatoes and that wickedly delicious country treat of fried green tomatoes.

If looking for a recipe, you can’t do better than the buttermilk-crusted fried green tomatoes served at Kitty’s Kafe in Gulf Shores, Alabama. 

Kitty’s is a a kasual, congenial, diner-like place featuring all-day breakfast and a variety of down-home, Alabama-style “kountry cookin” specialities.  Owner Kitty Simpson fills her menu with Southern-accented delights such as kountry fried steak, kreamy grits, kasseroles and kobblers. (As you will notice, Kitty kharacteisticly replaces “c” with “k” wherever she kan. It’s a little khaotic for spell-check, but kinda katchy on the menu.)

Kitty Simpson

Kitty gave me her recipe for fried green tomatoes and while she was at it, jotted down the recipe for her Creole Potato Salad—another goodie. 

Both are kaloric, but komfort food at its best. Thank you, Kitty

Here are Kitty’s kool recipes:


Yield: 4 to 6 servings.   

4 large green tomatoes 

1-1/2 cups self rising cornmeal

1/2 cup self rising flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

About 1-12 cups buttermilk

Vegetable oil 

Cut tomatoes into 1/3-inch thick slices, discarding ends.

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper and place on a plate.

Pour buttermilk into a shallow dish. 

Dip each tomato slice in buttermilk then dredge in cornmeal mixture.

Pour 1/4 to 1/2-inch oil into a large heavy skillet. Set skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, fry tomatoes, in a single layer, until nicely browned on underside. Flip tomatoes over to brown second side. Remove browned tomatoes from skillet and drain on paper towels. (Depending on skillet size, you may have to fry the tomatoes in batches.) 





For other great recipes from Alabama

Click HERE 


and  HERE


and  HERE 




Lately, confined by the pandemic, I’ve been dreaming of Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a 5-star resort located in a private enclave on the Riviera Maya, a 10-minute drive from downtown Puerto Morelos. 

Here’s a place I would like to be confined. The resort offers gracious suites with large bedrooms, beautiful bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens, dining/living room combinations and balconies overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

The atmosphere is intimate. The pool is so spacious as to seems private.

The beach feels mine alone.

The whole resort is a delight, but it’s the food that sends me into ecstasy.  

Although I enjoyed casual pickup dishes at the beach bar, as well as the Mexican specialties at the main restaurant, a special dinner presented at the resort’s gourmet restaurant, El Faro Grill, was above and beyond—a gift to the gourmet—a grand adventure for the culinary traveler.

Hard to describe it, but I shall try.

Executive Chef Rafael Borbolla applied international cooking techniques to local ingredients, making each of the six courses not only authentically Mexican, but also artistically original.

For example, Borbolla served the first course of bay langoustines with a chorizo crisp, tomato jelly, lime foam and aguachile granita.

The third course offered duck confit with dried cashew fruit mole sauce, chipilin herb tamale and baby carrots.

Fourth came the blackened beef fillet with potatoes, escamoles, bone marrow, asparagus and a smoky sauce. (Despite relishing the taste, I am embarrassed to admit that stopped eating the sweet, buttery, barley-like escamoles when I learned that the delicacy was ant larvae.)

To top off the evening with exceptional style, Pastry Chef Alicia Guzman made a dense pound cake perfectly shaped as an ear of corn with a white chocolate husk. She garnished the masterpiece with candied pumpkin, an array of local nuts and seeds and tortilla ice cream. 

As if food perfection wasn’t enough, Sommelier Javier Moreno matched each course with extraordinary French and Mexican wines.

Oh my! Heaven. The stuff of sweet dreams. Thank you:

Rafael Borbolla, Alicia Guzman, Javier Moreno

I didn’t get recipes from the dinner as the dishes were much too local, intricate and unique to be reproduced, but I do have two Grand Residences signature drink recipes to share.


You can find information about buying and drinking tequila and a recipe for the resort’s habanero margarita by clicking HERE.



And  you can find the resort’s dreamy, creamy Almond Passion cocktail recipe here: 


Yield: one drink (and one is never enough).

Put in a blender:

2 ounces evaporated milk

1 ounce vodka

1 ounce almond liqueur

1 ounce cream of coconut

1 ounce Torres 10 brandy or similar

1 tablespoon grenadine

Blend until ingredients are well combined.

Add lots of ice to the blender and blend until mixture is slushy. Pour into a Hurricane glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. Enjoy.




My son, Mark Katzman, excels on so many levels  that I can’t list them all. And this is not just mommy praise. He is a quintessential photographer (see website; a preeminent authority on the photogravure (see website and a groovy kinda of fun-loving guy who consciously lives a responsible, caring, environmentally and politically sound good life. He’s smart enough to have married a great cook who laughs at his jokes and lent him her DNA to produce incredible kids. He eats for health and wellness, exercises and enjoys drinking (gets this from my side of the family). 

That said, during the shut down for Covid19, Mark was riding his bike, hit a bump in the road, fell and suffered a concussion. Doctors suggested that he not drink during recovery.

To lock out alcohol during the virus lock down proved to be too much for Mark, so, ever inventive, he spent the course of six weeks healing trying a little of this, a little of that, in hopes of finding a drink that he could tolerate.  

Voila! Just in time for summer, he came up with a 70-calorie masterpiece (his word—not mine). He suggested I share the recipe with Sweet Leisure readers, so here you go:


Yield: one drink. 

Fill 1 large crystal glass with Sub-Zero ice (or any ice). Add 2 to 4 capfuls of Kettle One Citroen vodka and 1/2 capful of Roses lime juice. Squeeze to death the juice from 1/2 juicy lime straight into the glass and then rake the lime along the lip of the glass to remove the pulp. Top off with Trader-Joe’s Lemon and Ginger Seltzer Water. Stab the squeezed lime half with a knife, insert into the drink and stir. Enjoy. 





I have traveled with Mindy Bianca on some wonderful trips. We went to Scotland together;


to Sunset at the Palms, a special treehouse resort in Negril, Jamaica;

Sunset at the Palms Treehouse

and to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.

Sunrise along the Alabama Gulf Coast

I went as press. Mindy ran the show, first working for Gillies & Zaiser Public Relations and then designing trips for her own PR firm, Mindy Bianca Public Relations (MBPR).

Highly organized, detail oriented and totally fun, Mindy arranged perfect trips that showed off the multiple attributes of her lucky clients and totally charmed her guests.

I, of course, relished all, but I especially loved the meals that Mindy fed into the schedule. They were always beautifully prepared by talented chefs, appealingly served and throughly delicious. 

Mindy knows food, so I was eager to see what she would pick as a favorite recipe as many dishes that I’ve had in her presence would qualify. 

Lo and behold she reaches back to high school and a neighbor’s recipe for her contribution. Here’s what Mindy says about the favorite cookie: 

This has been a go-to recipe for me since I bit into one of these cookies at a neighborhood cookout when I was in high school. (And who am I kidding? Once I bit into one cookie, I had at least four more.) I got the recipe from the neighbor and for more than three decades it’s been the one that got me through every office potluck. It’s quick and simple to make and always a crowd-pleaser because you think it’s just a weird-shaped chocolate chip cookie until you bite into it and realize – ta-da! – there’s a Hershey’s Kiss in there!


For me, though, the very best part of the recipe for this yummy shortbread is the fact that there are no eggs in it … so you can snitch dough with reckless abandon the entire time you’re baking and never worry about health issues. 


Chocolate Chip Kiss Cookie


  • 1 (9-ounce) bag Hershey’s Kisses
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup mini chips


Preheat oven to 375.


  1. Remove wrappers from Kisses.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until well blended.
  3. Add flour. Blend until smooth.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Mold a scant tablespoon of dough around each Kiss, covering it completely.
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until set.
  7. Cool slightly and remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

MAKES About 3 dozen. 

To read more about:


Mindy Bianca and MBPR, click HERE.


Sunset at the Palms, Negril, Jamaica, click HERE.

Orange Beach and Gulf Shores Alabama, click HERE  and  HERE  and HERE. 

Various places in Scotland, click HERE and HERE and HERE.

By the way, I should mention that Mindy spent seven years as public relations director at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts—but this was before I knew her. When I asked Mindy if the cookies inspired the job or what was the cookie/Hershey liaison, she replied: “I actually baked these and brought them to work with me on my first week at Hershey…and took them to every office party we had during my tenure.”







Yuca’s Hut

Los Angeles, California

Socorro Herrera was born in Mérida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatán State. Both ancient Mayas and Spanish conquistadors settled in Mérida leaving behind rich cultural characteristics that influenced Socorro as she grew up, married and started a family. 

Seeking a “better education for her son and two daughters,” Socorro, with her late husband Jaime, moved the family to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s. 

Socorro settled into American life initially working as a dressmaker, but encouraged by family and friends who praised her cooking, she eventually opened a food “hut”.

“God send me here,” said Socorro, speaking of the 8- by 10-square-foot restaurant hut sitting on the edge of a parking lot in the Los Feliz neighborhood of L.A. “I saw. I fell in love.” 

Not having a business plan, not even speaking English, but sure of success, Socorro opened Yuca’s Hut in 1976. She cooked Yucatán specialties that she learned to make from her mother and grandmother, altering recipes, when necessary, to accommodate local ingredients and cooking techniques. The restaurant thrived. Food critics showered Yuca’s with praise. Oprah invited Socorro to guest star on her show. Yuca’s won a James Beard award in the America’s Classics category. 

Today, tourists in rental cars, stars in Rolls-Royces and gardeners in Ford trucks line up for Socorro’s food which they take home or devour on the spot at one of the seven wrought iron tables set on the parking lot. “For me, success is a big surprise,” exclaims the humble Socorro, “I say God thank you. I have a very very nice life.” 

Cochinita Pibil ranks as a centerpiece on Yuca’s menu. “Whenever people come and they say they never been here,” explained Dora Herrera, Socorro’s daughter who works with her,  “we always suggest that they try Cochinita Pibil. Everything else is good, but we like people to try something from our state.”

Cochinita translates to small pig and Pibil in the Mayan language refers to the technique of cooking underground in stone lined pits.

In the Yucatan, the pork is seasoned, wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted in an earth pit with a fire at its top. Given Los Angeles’ health-department regulations, Yuca’s slow roasts their Cochinita Pibil in the hut’s small oven and serves it in their super popular tacos, burritos and tortas.

Cochinita Pibil Taco from Yuca’s Hut


Yucatán-style slow roasted pork

Yield: 8 servings as a main dish. Serves more when placed in burritos, tacos and/or tortas.

About 1 pound banana leaves (enough to completely cover the bottom and sides of a 4- to 6-inch deep roasting pan with extra to fold over the top of ingredients, encasing the pork in leaves.)  (See NOTE)

About 8 pounds bone-in pork butt or pork shoulder

1 package, (100 g or the size of a deck of cards), good-quality achiote paste (See NOTE)

1-1/2 cups bitter orange juice or 1 cup orange juice mixed with 1/2 cup white vinegar. (See NOTE)

Preheat oven to 300°F.

If necessary to make banana leaves pliable, briefly hold leaves over the direct flame of a stove top or grill. (If flame is not available, steam leaves or place them in the preheated oven and heat until they are warm and pliable, 5 to 7 minutes).  Using your hands or a scissors, cut away the banana leaves’ hard middle rib.

Line the bottom and sides of a 4- to 6-inch deep roasting pan completely with banana leaves. (Overlap leaves, placing them in alternate directions until you no longer see bottom of pan. Place some leaf pieces in each corner to prevent leaks. Make sure leaves overhang the sides of pan so they can be folded over the pork after it is sauced to create a tidy bundle.)

Cut pork into 3- to 4-inch chunks.  

Place pork chunks in banana leaf-lined pan so that chunks butt up to each other, but do not crowd. Put achiote paste in a small bowl and stir in bitter orange juice or juice and vinegar to make a thin sauce. Pour sauce over pork chunks in pan, letting liquid seep between chunks of pork.

Line top of pork with banana leaves, completely encasing pork with leaves. Cover roasting pan tightly with foil. 

Place in 300°F oven and bake until pork is tender and almost falling apart, 3-1/2 hours or more.

When pork tests done, remove pan from oven and set aside for 15 minutes. Then, with a fork, pull the pork into large shreds and let shreds absorb juice in pan. 

Serve as a main dish along with rice and black beans and tortillas, or serve in burritos, tacos or tortas.

NOTE: Yucatán ingredients

Achiote paste: a seasoning made from the ground, red-orange colored seeds of the tropical annatto tree mixed with a variety of other herbs and spices that could include garlic, oregano, cumin, salt and black pepper. Used to add flavor and color to a variety of dishes.

Available in Latin American and specialty food shops. Brands from the Yucatán are best to use in this dish.

Banana leaves: the large fragrant leaves of the banana plant. Available in Latin American and specialty food shops—sometimes frozen.

Bitter orange (Seville orange): a tart orange that grows abundantly in the Yucatán. Can substitute a mixture of fresh orange juice mixed with vinegar.





I first encountered Kellie White when I interviewed her for an article I was writing on the 2018 World Food Championships. Kellie was a finalist in the chicken category of the championships and most impressive. She told me that she worked in medical publishing and was not a food professional, but loved to cook and to enter cooking contests. She credits the good cooks in her family for inspiring her to enter a Pillsbury Bake Off in 2010, where she had such fun that she became hooked and has entered a wide variety of cooking competitions happily ever after. 

We became Facebook friends and I like to follow Kellie’s posts, which are usually about family and home cooking. When I saw her Facebook post that included a picture of Knee Patches, I immediately asked for the recipe for Sweet Leisure. 

Kellie’s grandmother Alma Conklin

Although Kellie has a large and delightful repertoire of prize-winning recipes, she said Knee Patches is a favorite. The recipe was handed down to her from her Swiss Grandmother, Alma Conklin, who would make the sweet crunchy pastries to serve at Easter.

Kellie forwarded the recipe immediately, which makes her a forever champion in my book.  


Yield: 12-14 Knee Patches.

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoon cinnamon

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon table salt

1-½ large eggs, beaten

½ cup milk

1 quart vegetable oil


Stir sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl to make cinnamon sugar and reserve. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add eggs and milk. Stir with a fork until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead the dough for a minute or two until it comes together completely, and no dry flour remains. Let the dough rest while you prepare the oil for frying. Place oil in a Dutch oven and heat on medium high to 350 degrees. Make balls of dough, the size of walnuts. On a floured surface, roll one of the balls into a disc until it is thin enough to read through or see light through. Dough will be tacky, so keep flouring your rolling pin and the surface as much as needed to keep the dough from sticking. When the oil has reached temperature, quickly place the rolled dough into the oil and fry on each side until golden brown. Remove from oil to a paper towel lined pan and dust liberally with cinnamon sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough.