Roman Holiday


Coliseum. Pantheon. Piazza Navona. Campo de Fiori. Spanish Steps. Roman Forum. Bocca della Verità. Ruins. Fountains. Cobblestones. Umbrella pines. Oleander. Tiber River. Scooters. Food. Wine. Prosecco. Pasta. Gelato.

Those are just a handful of the words that spring to mind when I think about my recent visit to the magnificent city of Rome. That Rome has always been at the top of my “must visit” list is no surprise. The only surprise is that it’s taken me this long to book a plane ticket.

Any attempt to write an informative or original post about a city so rich in history, culture, and personality after only five short days, would be an exercise in futility. I haven’t a clue how to go about picking the top 10 things you should do on your Roman holiday. There’s no way to know which fountain you will be mesmerized by; which piazza you will fall in love with; or which set of ruins will capture your imagination.


Indeed there is plenty to do and see in Rome. But, vacations are about more than ticking off a guidebook must-see-list. There are few things as decadent as a mid-day nap on crisp white sheets; more refreshing than a cool shower after a morning of exploring in the summer heat; or as satisfying as sex in the middle of the afternoon with the sun’s rays filtering through the half closed hotel room shutters. And, if at the end of each day you find yourself in a charming restaurant perusing the menu with a chilled glass of prosecco in your hand, I would call your holiday a success.

Here are a handful of suggestions for ending up in that blissful state.


Roscioli – part delicatessen, part wine bar, part restaurant – flavors are bold, preparations are simple, everything is perfectly executed. The Roman meatballs with smoked Gouda served with tomato sauce and fried polenta squares were a revelation, worthy of a second visit. This spot is no secret, locals and tourists alike flock to the tiny but adorable spot. On our second visit we were seated next to a elegant woman who coiled her chestnut brown hair flirtatiously around her fingers while her companion teased her exposed tan arms with the tips of his fingers, pausing occasionally to play with the silver bracelets stacked at her dainty wrists. The only thing jarring about their tender interaction was the monologue delivered by what was apparently, her American lover about his wife who, according to him, “is truly an incredible, artistic soul…with the power to see the world through her third eye”. However, she was complicating his life because, “it’s difficult when the person who you have relied on to have all the answers, begins to voice doubts”. Questions began to flood my head. Was this foreplay or pillow talk? Why was that beautiful woman still sitting there listening to this dribble? Do you think they’ll notice if I whip out my iPhone and record these romantic nuggets? …I do love it when a delicious dinner also comes with a salacious show!


If truffles are your vice (and if they are in season), grab a seat under the parasols at Tartufi & Friends. Resist the temptation to try something inventive. It’s hard to beat fresh tagliolini with high quality olive oil and a generous shower of truffles.

Tartufi & Friends

If you feel like splurging on quality seafood, make a reservation at il Sanlorenzo located just off of Campo de Fiori. Stiff white tablecloths, perfectly set cutlery and stemware, knowledgeable waiters, and a charming owner facilitate a dining experience that included one of the best pasta dishes we tasted on the entire trip – linguini with calamaretti, olive oil, a hint of rosemary, and a dusting of toasty breadcrumbs. Simple. Magnificent. Dessert, a deconstructed tiramisu, might have been the best I’ve ever had. Full stop.

Un-researched restaurants can also be triumphs. After a morning at the Vatican museum we walked back across the Tiber river and stopped at a small sandwich shop called LIKEAT ROMA. The owners behind the counter beckoned us to try their five-hour slow roasted porchetta and we were hooked. As we waited for our sandwiches to toast they shared samples of their other creations like a vegetarian sandwich with ricotta, oven dried tomatoes and sautéed chicory like lettuce. As we were leaving a young British couple inquired how we had heard about the spot. We were surprised to learn that we had just grabbed a sandwich at Trip Advisor’s number one rated restaurant in Rome.

Antico Arco

I would certainly recommend taking a morning to stroll through Trastevere, and then up Gianicolo hill to take in panoramic views of Rome from Colle del Gianicolo. At the top of the hill directly behind the arch that houses a small museum, you will spot a charming restaurant called Antico Arco. Grab one of the small tables outside and refuel with a comforting plate of pasta or a simple, yet beautifully composed, salad.

Wander ten meters or so down the road from Antico Arco and you will find the entrance to an expansive park with towering umbrella pines that provide plenty of shade and perfume the air. If you happen to be there at noon you will hear the bells of a nearby church ring out over the grassy slopes. The accompanying organ will take you by surprise but together they create something truly magical. Finding the church responsible for that mid-day chorus has been added to the list of things to discover on my next visit to this amazing city. In the meantime, I will figure out how to recreate Roscioli’s divine Roman meatballs with smoked Gouda, which will be followed immediately by a decadent mid-day nap.

I have the good fortune of having a number of fabulous friends who live in great cities like Rome and/or have traveled extensively. Before embarking on my Roman adventure, I solicited the input of two such friends and followed their advice on restaurant recommendations with great success. I am in their debt.



Mom, This One’s For You


The most amazing part of a 10-kid family is without question the woman who birthed, raised, taught, watched over, cried with, comforted, and tenderly loved all ten of her wildly rambunctious spawn.

Mom is crazy petite – 5ft flat, somewhere shy of 90lbs. She cries easily, laughs even more quickly, and when she’s mad enough she’ll call you out by name. Luckily, in her flustered state it can take her a bit of time to land on the right name from among the other 10 options – I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance you make it out of the room before she hits upon it. Simple math would show that mom was pregnant for much of my childhood and I always remember that right around the last couple weeks of pregnancy she would get these incredible urges to deep clean the house, and that’s when I’d walk into the kitchen to find her standing on a chair organizing the kitchen cabinets or wiping down the top of the refrigerator. Heightened pregnancy senses also meant that there was no sneaking back into the house late at night pretending that you had just gotten up for a glass of water. Nope, mom could smell the remnants of that night’s vices. My brothers kept an air freshener canister in the bushes at the entrance of our apartment but I knew mom could still smell the cigarette smoke through the chemical concoction masquerading as “meadow rain”.

Mom didn’t go to college and never worked in a corporate environment (although I’m pretty sure raising 10 kids is 100x harder than any office job!) and these vastly different life experiences means that when challenges at work or career decisions arise, I don’t automatically pick up the phone to vent or seek guidance. If I had kids of my own she would be my greatest resource, but I don’t. Mom is a traditional woman, and on that point we can butt heads. I once ducked out of our house early in the morning cause I didn’t want to deal with my (kind of) boyfriend who had spent the night. Mom woke up and cooked him pancakes. She used to call to make sure I was being nice to my boyfriend (now husband). She raised her daughters to be good partners. We cook, clean, hem pants, sew buttons, are skillful with an iron, and always know to separate colors and check all pockets before doing the laundry. Mom thought we’d all be young brides and mothers – but I’m the only married daughter. And none of us have kids. However, mom has passed on a few traits that I see in myself and each of my sisters: Passion, stubbornness, generosity, determination, a highly tuned bullshit radar, and fierce loyalty to family.

Mom, I love you. Thanks for always trying to bring out my softer side. As you know, I’m not great with describing emotions so I’ve enlisted the help of the Stirling clan to help me celebrate this Mother’s Day and let you know just how much you mean to all of us.


Sibling #1: You know the saying, “If dad says no, ask mom”? Well, in our family that was definitely the case with money. If you wanted a ride somewhere, dad was your ticket. But if you wanted to do anything once you arrived, mum was the only one who could make that happen. For as long as I can remember, mum was the one with a secret spending stash, a little coinage for special occasions or to satisfy the 12 AM munchies of a hungry teenager. Not only was she great at hiding an emergency money stash somewhere in the house, she taught that very valuable lesson to us children. As soon as we had summer jobs, you could be sure mum would be around making sure that you squirreled some away. As Frank (sibling #3) refers to in the example of the “guess the furniture game”, mum was like that with any money in the house as well. It was always a challenge to find out where she had hid it. Most amazing though, is that after you thought you found her first, or sometimes even second stash, you could bet that somewhere else in the house was an envelope or shoebox hiding the third or fourth. With 10 kids looking, I think that qualifies mom as a magician.

For all the love you’ve brought to our family, & and the little life lesson you faithfully taught by example, we acknowledge you on this, Our Mothers Day! XX


Sibling #3: Mom is so amazing and she loves keeping things fresh at the house. Every time I come home there is something just a little bit different. We’ve even turned it into a bit of a game called “spot what’s different”. Usually she’ll have moved a piece of furniture or a painting around or purchased a new lamp. Sometimes everything is changed and you can hardly recognize the room. Most recently I came home and started looking for what it could be. I was looking for something small like the saltshaker or something. 20 minutes later I realized it was the whole living room couch set! Well-played mother.

I love you mom and I love all your crazy ideas and home improvements (especially the beanbag chair). Happy Mothers Day!


Sibling #4: Granola, probably one of the weirdest sounding words out there. However, when I hear it I only think of one person, Mom. I would love to sit and watch her make this tasty breakfast treat at least once a week, usually late in the evenings when all my little siblings were sound asleep and I could finally have her attention to myself. She would mix the oil with the sugar and blend it in with oats and sunflower and sesame seeds so that each piece was covered in a soon-to-be bite of sweet deliciousness. After this process she would throw it in a wok and place it on a low flame and roast it till it was lightly brown. She would then put in some coconut and finally raisins. The method was consistent every time and has never changed except for perhaps the addition of a new ingredient now and then.

Thanks to you mumsie, I will never buy granola in a store. Breakfast cereals, no matter how crunchy, nutty, or crispy, will never compare to that first bite of warm granola and milk. Most of all though, I will treasure the memories I have with you and granola.


Sibling #5: Some of mom’s wonderful attributes really bothered me as a young teenager: intuition, impeccable attention to detail, loving concern for her children… geez!

When going through my early rebellious streak (a phase I’ve clearly passed), I remember a time when she caught me with cigarettes in my purse. I had just come home and put my purse on my bed and within 5.5 seconds she was in my room and had the pack in her hand. Magical but also unfortunate since I was grounded for… I can’t remember how long. (Maybe an hour, give or take a few minutes – my stubbornness must have won that round).

I remember clashing a lot with mom when growing up. We were both strong willed, stubborn, and proud. Now that the years have passed – and I like to think I’ve developed a bit more maturity in life – she’s become someone I turn to for a listening ear or sagely counsel.

I love you Mom. All 5ft. and zero inches of you. Thank you for always being there for me.



Sibling #6: “Honey, have you been taking care of yourself?”

“Umm ya, course.. Why Mom..?”

“You just look so healthy now!”


When your mother comments on your look using the word “healthy”, ideas of rosy cheeks and full breasts come to mind for some. For the Stirling girls it’s like hearing you’ve just crossed the line from life and happiness over to death and doom. Mom would never use the word “healthy” unless she felt we girls were headed towards being plump. Thus, the aversion when she’d throw out the H word with much affection.

She’s our very own gauge of how our physicality is working out for us. On the other hand, when we’d dip too low in weight she’d be right there, packing some nutritious meals to send away with us and keep us headed toward this mystical land where all her daughters would be happy and additionally rotund.

She always knew what was going on her girls’ life by eyeing us noes to toes – losing weight meant we were having man-troubles or too much stress, and if we gained, well, we were dealing with some other emotional workup or just living in Mexico (#sorrysharonIloveyoudon’thateme #itsthecheese).

Last September, three weeks into my first term of university, I took a photo to send home. Dad’s text came first with a tone of happiness for me and my new housemates. Mom’s came immediately after: “Are you even eating? Those cheeks don’t look very chubby!”. I didn’t realize that I’d been succumbing to stress and therefore living on power bars and coffee. Mom’s expert eye knew what was going on from one shady polaroid.

I love you Mommy. Thanks for noticing the little things – you can keep calling us healthy, we know your tricks now.


Sibling #7: Let’s be honest I’ve always been a hungry hippo! Noodles, rice, whole loaves of bread, small baby animals… pretty much anything I could get my hands on I ate. Some of the best memories I have are of food, and mom always played a role. She understood that my appetite was endless. Whether it was giving me some extra food before dinner, sneaking in some extra money for my lunch breaks, or giving me some of the hard earned steaks dad would buy for her at Costco, mom was the one I could ask.

Nothing says I love you more then giving someone your food when your hungry, and I can’t even count how many times mom has done it for me. I didn’t realize how much mother fed me until I started trusting other ladies to take on the daunting task of my hunger. And if I’m being honest, none of them have even made the bench, let alone become the star player and I don’t think that will ever change.

If I had to make sense of these little tidbits of my life, I would say that if giving food = love and happiness, then I’m the happiest, most loved boy in the world. Mom, you were the golden ticket that got me there.


Sibling #8: I don’t know how she does it. Mom always knew when something was up. Whether I was stealing cookies from the cookie jar, playing hooky at school, or sneaking out past curfew, mom knew immediately if not before. An all-knowing twinkle in her eyes and an “OK” was usually the reply to my elaborate regaling of guiltless excuses for acts I presumably did. I used to think that my siblings told her of my misbehavior but I’m coming to the conclusion that she never needed to ask. Let’s face it, Mom has a sixth sense! It’s out there, we’ve all experienced its effects, and it’s the only possible explanation.

Even though this super power has thwarted my devious plans many a time, it has also brought much comfort. Her extraordinary gift also allows her to see when I’m not feeling particularly great or when something has me down. Being the youngest boy, Mom never fails to baby me or to shower me with a little extra love in the form of rice crackers and seaweed snacks. On days where I wasn’t at my best, Mom was always there to have my back.

Mom, memories of your selflessness always make me smile and appreciate you more. When I was sick you would make me chicken noodle soup. When I was tired your shoulder was where I could rest my head. When I needed someone to talk to I could always come to you because I knew you’d be waiting with an open mind and listening ear. Thank you for always being there for me and loving me even though I still steal the cookies from the jar. I hope your sixth sense is letting you know from across the globe that I LOVE AND MISS YOU TREMENDOUSLY. Happy Mother’s Day!


Sibling #9: Food. One of the most coveted objects in the Stirling household. Every plan is based around what kind of food we want to eat later that day and how we will obtain that food. Mum is the saint who makes sure everyone constantly has food or has food saved for them. The first question that comes out of her mouth every day when I return from a long day of high school is, “Did you eat today?” This simple question shows how much she truly cares about each one of us, which is not an easy job because there are a lot of children to watch out for.  I remember one time we went out to buy food and when we finally got past the long lines and made it safely to our car mum realized we had not gotten food for my older brother. She went back into that store and waited another long 20 minutes just to make sure that my brother got a good dinner. Her love and concern for us never ceases to amaze me.

Mum, thanks for always making sure that I eat enough food even though it is quite the struggle most of the time. I know you do it only because you love me :D. The dedication and effort you put into making sure that all of us are happy is one of the things I admire about you the most​. I love you to the ends of the earth! Happy Mother’s Day! xoxo 


Sibling #10: It never ceases to amaze me how mom manages to do everything: has time for us kids, and still has time to go above and beyond what she needs to. Now that I’m older I’ve noticed this one habit of mom’s: whenever one of us kids are out for the evening and don’t come home till late, mom stays up until we do. While dad will be fast asleep after one of his long days, mom will still be sitting up in bed waiting for the sound of the front door opening. After noticing this a couple of times, I asked her about it. She simply answered, “I can’t go to sleep I until my babies are safe, and it’s a mother’s job to be sure they are.”

Momma you’re so caring, kind, and always thinking of others first. You’re the best. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I love you!





Glazed Carrots With Mystery Moroccan Spices

Glazed carrots

I’m blessed that I get to travel to some pretty fantastic locations work. But as anyone who travels a lot for work knows, you often spend more time in a hotel, meeting rooms, and conference space than you do actually exploring the city. Overseas trips often mean 18-hour workdays with little to no time to experience the city. But if you’re really lucky – and so far I have been – you’ll find a wonderful friend with a fast car, who knows the city, and doesn’t mind the company of a zombie.

And that is how I found myself in an old Mercedes convertible, top down, with the Moroccan afternoon sun casting a deep golden glow on the dusty Rabat roads. Adib is the young man at the wheel who has graciously volunteered to take me into the medina to buy spices. I suppose I should have been slightly nervous by the throngs of people and the fact that I don’t see any Westerners in this particular part of the medina. But truth be told, seconds before climbing into the car I had polished off a glass of vodka on the rocks – the celebratory drink signaling the end of yet another successful conference. Thus, blessed with an ambiguous ethnicity and a solid vodka buzz, I’m feeling pretty comfortable in the crowded market.

Adib skillfully navigates the medina. He occasionally pauses to shake the hand of a friend or exchange a few friendly words with a vendor, but he’s always quick to glance around to make sure the crowds haven’t swallowed me up. In no time we find our way to his favorite vendor whose piles of spices mimic a range of yellow, green, and red mountains. Turmeric, cumin, paprika – all excellent but I’m only interested in what I can’t identify. If I can recognize the spice by its smell, I pass. Embracing the challenge, the two men in the little stall begin excitedly pulling down containers of complex spice mixtures. There are hints of the familiar, but most of it is new and enchanting. They begin weighing and filling little bags with my selections. They write poisson in big black letters on one bag, kefta on another. The others they leave blank – ready for a cook’s imagination.

On the way back to the car, Adib introduces me to a local favorite – freshly pressed sugar cane with lime. A simple concoction made by stabbing a couple chunks of lime with the sharpened end of a stick of sugar cane, then feeding everything into a giant juicer. Within a few seconds we’re holding little plastic cups filled with sweet juice, balanced by the acid from the lime.

Sugar Cane Juice

Once home I share my spice loot with the most amazing chef I know – a peace offering for having been so absent from the restaurant world since returning to foreign policy. I don’t know what marvelous creations Chef has devised but I’m hoping they will be the subject of a future post. As for me, one quick and delicious use is a simple dish of glazed carrots with roasted nuts. It’s not a traditional Moroccan dish. But, the smell that is released when these exotic spices come together in a simple butter sauce, serves to remind me that even if you’ve been working 18-hour days for a week straight, sometimes you just gotta down a glass of icy vodka, find a friend, and go for a ride. Because let’s be honest… sleep is so overrated!


5 medium carrots
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon of your favorite spice blend (would be beautiful with a Vadouvan curry mix)
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts or halved pistachios
Salt to taste

  • Peel the carrots. Slice into uniform pieces about one inch in length. My preferred method is to slice the carrots on a diagonal, rotating a few degrees after every slice until I reach the top of the carrot.
  • Place carrots, sugar, a pinch of salt, and chicken stock in a skillet over medium high heat. Cover and allow the carrots to come to a full simmer. Once the carrots begin to cook, but still maintain their firmness, remove the lid and allow the stock to reduce by half. (check the doneness of the carrots with a fork. You want to be able to stab the carrot but there should still be resistance)
  • Meanwhile, roast the nuts over medium heat and in a clean, dry skillet. Once fragrant and golden remove from heat and set aside.
  • Once the stock has reduced to the desired amount, add the butter and spice blend to the pan. Toss throughly to glaze the carrots. Turn the heat down if you find that the sauce is reducing too quickly. You can also add an additional splash of chicken stock or water if necessary.
  • When the carrots are cooked to your desired doneness, add the roasted nuts and toss to incorporate.
  • Plate and serve immediately

Head Over Heels for a Cliché


City of Light. City of romance. Men with no sense of boundaries. Amazing food. Overrated food. Rude waiters. Museum queues for blocks. Fabulous shopping. Snobby Parisians. I’d heard the raves as well as the complaints. Honestly, the first time I visited Paris in 2006, I was prepared to hate everything about it but instead I fell completely in love – and not just the “I like spending time with you” kind of feeling. This was the, “I can’t stop fantasizing about you” kind of attraction.

I’ve just returned from my third successful rendezvous. Like my visit last year, this was another 24-hour, carefully designed, layover – a chance to decompress after an intense eight days of conference insanity in Rabat, Morocco. Here’s my winning formula. Take the high-speed train from the airport into the city, check into the hotel, take a hot shower, put on comfy clothes and ballet flats and let the wandering begin. Sometimes I listen to music, other times I leave the earphones in my room and take in the sounds of the city.

Scheduling a museum visit hasn’t worked out yet, mainly because I don’t want to waste the precious few hours that I have standing in a line. Yes, I would love to visit the Musée de l’Orangerie and be enveloped by Monet’s Water Lilies. However, I’m just as happy to walk along the Seine, gaze at the stunning architecture throughout the city, or grab a cup of tea at a sidewalk café and spend a lazy hour or two watching the lives of others play out around me.  Whittling away an hour of the evening staring up at an illuminated Notre Dame, silk scarf providing a kiss of warmth against the crisp autumn air, brings me indescribable pleasure.

And then there’s the food… Unfortunately, with the crush of work in Rabat some nights the only things to pass my lips are the three vodka soaked olives from a dirty martini. By the time I arrive in Paris I’m ready for a three-hour, thousand calorie feast.


Thick slices of foie gras torchon paired with plum preserves, and crusty bread.  Crispy duck confit rests on a bed of duck fat roasted potatoes and on the side, a simple green salad with flecks of pink shallot from the vinaigrette dotting the leaves. The yolks of over easy eggs tucked into savory crepes stuffed with smoked duck, gizzards, and potatoes mingle with melted cheese to create a simple sauce. I normally don’t eat dessert, but it’s hard to pass up a lemon tart accompanied by a cup of Earl Gray tea – a simple yet remarkable pairing.


In the morning, a final meal before the transatlantic flight home – warm flaky croissants and an omelet filled with cheese, ham and herbs. A lanky waiter pauses by my table, pen in the right hand, spiral bound notepad cupped in his left palm. He leans in, “Madam, I’m so sorry you’ve had to wait so long”. Darling please, you could leave me alone at this bistro table for hours and I’d remain perfectly content. Loving Paris may be cliché, but it’s a cliché for a damn good reason.


A Simple French Omelet

Yes, there is a technique to making the perfect omelet. But I say, don’t stress yourself out worrying about it too much. Swirl the eggs around the pan, keep the heat medium to low and fold however you like. Remember, it’s a just an omelet!

2 eggs
2 teaspoons milk
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 Pad butter (about 1 teaspoon)
1 small Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into 1/8 rounds
2 Tablespoons diced ham
1 Tablespoon grated cheese of your preference (I like using a slightly tangy goat cheese)
1 Tablespoon herbs of your choice – chives / parsley / tarragon – finely chopped
Salt & pepper

  • Crack the eggs into a bowl. Add the milk. Season with salt and pepper. Whip with a fork until everything is incorporated and eggs are fluffy. Set aside.
  • Heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat in a skillet. Once the oil begins to shimmer add the potato rounds in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, turning once until golden brown and cooked through. Approximately 2 minutes per side. Remove the slices and drain on paper towels.
  • Add ham to the empty but still hot skillet. Toss until lightly browned and warmed through, approximately 1 minute. Remove and set aside.
  • Heat a new skillet or clean the existing skillet, dry, and return to medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and the pad of butter. Once the butter begins to bubble slightly add the eggs.
  • Tilt the skillet until the eggs cover the entire skillet in an even layer.
  • Work quickly to layer the ham, cheese, and potatoes atop the eggs. Sprinkle in half the herbs.
  • Once the eggs are ¾ of the way set, fold the omelet in half or thirds (whatever you are comfortable doing).
  • Once folded, jiggle around the pan to finish cooking before sliding the omelet on to a waiting plate. Sprinkle with remaining herbs.
  • Serve immediately.
  • Paired with a simple green salad, omelets make a wonderful brunch or a light lunch.

Island Inspired French Toast

French Toast:Ingredients

You know it’s going to be a good vacation when the taxi driver from the airport inquires about your tropical drink of choice, then promptly calls your hotel to place an order. Seven minutes later a friendly staff member greets us in an airy lobby with two pink Bahama Mama’s in frosty tumblers. Thick slices of juicy pineapple hang from the rims waiting to be dunked into the rum cocktail.

Every now and then even the most die-hard workaholic appreciates a few days of doing absolutely nothing. And absolutely nothing is exactly what I did over the July 4th weekend on the dreamy island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas where the water is the definition of turquoise blue and the sand is as soft as sifted flour, warm and white from the sun.


This ridiculously lazy vacation took place at The Cove, a sexy, elegant, slick but unpretentious 3-month old high end-resort where a dozen or so white bungalows punctuate an expansive lawn that leads down to two private beaches. White hammocks swing lazily in the breeze, supporting readers lost in their trashy beach novels and ready at night for a playful couple up for a physical challenge and the rush of possibly getting caught. Hey, I’m not one to judge. After a day in the ocean, drinking slushy piña coladas under a beach umbrella and knocking back a few glasses of champagne with dinner, creativity is awakened…


After a night of raunchy activities, famished guests can either enjoy breakfast outside along a sunken white bar built into a point that acts as a natural divider for the two beaches, or at the hotel restaurant adjacent to the glassy infinity pool. The French toast, with extra richness and crunch from coconut and macadamia nuts, is one of the menu highlights. My interpretation uses thick slices of challah bread and begs you use more shredded coconut and chopped macadamia nuts than you really need. Slathered in butter and drizzled with syrup, this is a breakfast that will give you all the energy you need for another day of doing the unbelievably decadent, and surprisingly rewarding, activity of doing absolutely NOTHING.

Coconut & Cream 2

Serves 2

4 slices challah bread, 1 inch thick
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons milk
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tablespoons chopped raw macadamia nuts

Nuts and Eggs

  • In the shallow bowl mix the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla. Mix well until fully combined. Add the coconut and macadamia nuts. Stir to combine.
  • Place a skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the pan.
  • Dunk the slices of bread into the egg mixture. Once the egg mixture is sopped up, use your fingers to scoop up any remaining coconut and macadamia nuts. Slather generously on both sides of the bread.
  • Gently place the slices in the hot skillet and cook over medium heat. The sugar, coconut, and macadamia nuts are all sensitive to high heat so be patient and let it cook low and slow until golden brown on both sides.
  • Remove from pan, spread generously with butter and serve with syrup.


Obsession: the Excessive Preoccupation of the Mind

Harissa Shrimp

I consider myself fairly good at controlling emotions, thoughts, desires, and cravings. As a methodical and emotionally conservative individual I equate obsession with weakness. Unfortunately, as an avid food lover I am no stranger to it.

Someone once told me that cravings only last for a set period of time and if you manage to deny yourself the craving it will eventually go away. That person was a liar! My cravings don’t dissipate until satisfied. My ridiculously gorgeous, man-eating, sister once told me that if she ever finds herself obsessing over a boy she recalls a single flaw of his that irked her, and then replays that over and over in her mind until she’s rid of her infatuation. While this method may work for getting over crushes, I haven’t been able to come up with a single flaw to cure me of my obsession with French fries or hay smoked salmon belly.

My latest obsession is harissa, a North African paste with numerous variations but usually comprised of a mixture of chilies, spices, garlic, citrus, herbs and oil. A year ago I would’ve made my own harissa, but the demands of my current job severely limit my time in the kitchen. Thankfully a good store-bought harissa allows me to serve up food that tastes like I spent hours slaving away when really all I did was open a container. You can pull together a decent plate of pasta in about 15 minutes by simply putting some spaghetti on to boil and throwing a spoonful of harissa into a hot pan with olive oil, thinly sliced garlic and chopped tomatoes (fresh in the summer, canned fire roasted tomatoes in the winter). Once the garlic becomes fragrant and the tomatoes begin to breakdown slightly, just add the al dente pasta and a couple splashes of the salty pasta water. Toss together and garnish with freshly chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese. On the weekends when I have a little more time to play with my food I rub harissa paste onto pork loin, and allow it to marinate for a couple hours before throwing the thick cutlets on the grill.


A dozen large shrimp were the latest victims of my harissa obsession. Peeled and deveined but with their tails still attached, I marinated them in a tablespoon of harissa, a generous squeeze of lime juice and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. 20 minutes later they went in a hot pan where they were seared on both sides until they were deeply colored and firm to the touch. Served with lime salt (lime zest mixed with fleur de sel) these intensely flavored, and coyly spicy bites, brought me no closer to easing my obsession.

Perhaps it’s time I learn that occasionally it’s okay to relinquish control and allow oneself to become excessively preoccupied by something that brings pleasure.

Fall Weekends and Apple Cider Cream Pie

The first time I went apple picking was at a tiny orchard outside Matsumoto, a city in Nagano prefecture in the northeastern part of Japan. I distinctly remember how the Japanese farmer had carefully laid aluminum foil underneath his well-trimmed apple trees so that the sunlight bounced onto the underside of the ripening apples, giving them a uniformly red hue. In a country where grocery stores wrap each apple in a soft Styrofoam net, and customers buy a single apple for the price of a full meal at a decent restaurant, I suppose it makes sense that farmers would be concerned that each apple’s underside had been properly warmed by the sun’s rays.

I don’t know if it’s due to the experience of growing up near farms as a kid or just my incessant desire for the freshest produce, but I plan weekend trips to nearby Virginia farms at the start of every growing season: strawberries in early spring, cherries in late spring-early summer, and peaches and blueberries in the summer. Each season offers incredible fruit, but with the crisp air and brilliantly colored foliage in the low mountains surrounding the orchards, apple season is by far my favorite.

A couple weeks ago I visited Stribling Orchard in Markham, VA where rows of large apple trees sprawl across 30 acres of gently sloping hills. On the day that I visited, the ground was already covered with ripened fruit that had fallen from the trees. The smell of the fermenting apples immediately—and perhaps somewhat strangely—made me wish I’d brought along a bottle of wine. The beautiful old trees filtered the soft afternoon rays giving the orchard a romantic hazy look. It’s the kind of spot that, were you to bring a blanket, picnic, and sweetheart, you could easily spend a lazy afternoon misbehaving like a couple of teenagers in the grass underneath the trees.

Regardless of what you’re picking, the one constant truth is that you will undoubtedly end up with far more than you know what to do with. Personally I don’t love cooked apples. I’ll do an occasional apple crumble and I love a good French apple tart, but in general I like my apples simple—cored, sliced, and with the peels still on. However, last year Food and Wine magazine had the most amazing recipe for apple cider cream pie. I don’t know what possessed a non-baker like me to make it the first time, but the response from family and friends was enthusiastic enough to prompt me to make it several times since. No surprise, I’ve tweaked the recipe a touch.  I’ve switched out the regular piecrust for a graham cracker crust—a simpler and, in my humble opinion, far tastier option. I also top the pie with crunchy bits of toffee instead of baked apple slices. The reduction of the apple cider and addition of sour cream to the custard filling gives the pie a beautiful balance that’s not overly sweet.

This pie definitely deserves a spot on the Thanksgiving dinner menu.  Or better yet… save it until everyone has gone home, grab your sweetheart and a bottle of wine, and have your own little after hours picnic right there on the living room floor.

A Stirling Engagement Celebration

Earlier this month I flew up to Toronto to celebrate the engagement of my amazing sister Michelle. Shel, as we all call her, is the third girl and fifth child. She got engaged last Christmas and this engagement party is part of her “10 year plan” on the road to the altar – her words not mine!

Shel and her fiancé Tony put together a gorgeous fête. Tony has the imagination and ability to construct just about anything—a truly rare talent in a man these days. He built a stage for their guests to dance on; a rustic lamp, which he strung from a branch that extended over the equally gorgeous and skillfully crafted wooden bar. Cloth covered rectangular hay bales with tree stumps, 2-3 feet tall nestled between them, provided tired guests with a place to relax and nurse their drinks. White paper lanterns surrounded the stage, while red lanterns of matching size were scattered among the branches of a nearby tree.  Holes were drilled into old tin cans, allowing the light from the candles buried inside to cast their magical glow across the garden.

Every time I visit Canada I’m reminded of two truths. One, that country is freaking cold! And two, the Stirling sisters are hilariously similar – headstrong, proud, brutally honest, independent to a fault, and painfully hard on ourselves. For some unexplainable reason we think that doing something the easy way means we’re doing it wrong. We will wear ourselves ragged in the pursuit of perceived perfection, convinced that achieving anything less means we’ve failed. We perform best under immense pressure and thus derive a sick satisfaction from overloading our work and/or school schedules. But when we’re all together, we will happily whittle away the hours sipping wine and chatting about work, food, and the men we incessantly torture with our impossible standards and difficult ways.

Engagement party and wedding speeches tend to be chock-full of tips on how to behave as a couple, or so-called “secrets to a happy marriage”. As the oldest, and only married, sister I suppose I am expected to pass along the plethora of lessons that I’ve learned since I walked down the aisle seven years ago. I won’t pretend to know all the secrets to a happy marriage… I’m still figuring that out myself. So I will leave it to your more “wifely” friends to pass along those particular words of wisdom. What I do know is that you have to remain an individual. And that means the following:

  • Pursue your own passions and interests. It’s hard to respect a woman who only likes something because her significant other is into it.
  • Be with a man who, by his own example, challenges you to be the very best version of yourself.
  • Never make yourself small because he needs to be big in order to feel good about himself.
  • At the end of the day you get one life – from time to time take a step back and make sure you are living the one you’ve always dreamed of having. If you’re not, do something about it.
  • Lastly, if you ever begin to feel like you’re losing yourself, come spend a few quality days with your sisters… we’ll remind you who you are, and that you come by all that crazy honestly!

A special thanks to Shel and Tony’s friend and event photographer, Nicholas Zalevich, for the use of his photos.

Turning Fantasy Into Reality

We all have fantasies. It’s that dream you have of owning a vineyard and sipping wine all day in the south of France. It’s the far-fetched scenario you’ve conjured up of taking two ridiculously hot lesbians home from the bar who are, for some unexplainable reason, totally game for a ménage à trois with a man. It’s the former lover, current crush, or celebrity you think about on when you need just a little something to… how to put this delicately?… “help you cross the finish line.”

A reoccurring fantasy of mine involves a shack on the beach, white tank pulled over a wet bikini, hot sand enveloping my feet, beads of condensation forming on the chilled bottle of rosé, sweet-salty juices mixed with oil and lemon running down my forearms… Minds out of the gutters folks, obviously I’m talking about food. Were you seriously expecting a “Letters to Penthouse”-esque confession?

Lucky for me this particular fantasy of mine played out last month in Cala Torta, a beach on the northeastern point of Mallorca. And I have my fabulous friend and partner-in-crime, Sacha to thank for making it happen. Having spent many a summer in Mallorca, he was the one who directed us to this hidden treasure, just a couple miles outside the town of Arta.

My anticipation was immediately amplified when, upon arriving at the cove-like beach, we spotted two men cleaning fish of various sizes and shapes in the ocean 20 feet from a dusty blue chiringuito (stall, shack, open air restaurant). After an hour or so of swimming and hiking around the surrounding hills we agreed that we were sufficiently ravenous and grabbed a seat at a well-worn picnic table in the corner of the tiny open-air restaurant.

Since my hubby doesn’t eat fish (proof that marriages really can survive anything), Sacha and I split a mixed seafood platter. It was piled high with shrimp, langoustines, calamari, mussels, and two kinds of local fish. Everything was cooked a la plancha, (on a big metal plate) and smothered in a mixture of lemon, garlic, and herbs. We ate with our hands, which I believe only serves to magnify every moment of sheer dining pleasure. The langoustines were so sweet we ordered a second plate of them. My husband even got involved. Eating the bodies and handing off the heads for me to suck on (yeah, okay that might be a little weird for some of you. Don’t judge. They’re delicious).

By the end of the meal we were lightheaded from the wine and covered in juices from the fish. While Sacha demonstrated the effectiveness of using sand to remove unwanted oil, I chose the tried and proven method of jumping into the ocean.  That afternoon I realized that the only thing I need to make my deepest desires a reality is a plane ticket to Spain and a friend who loves simple food just as much as I do.

Stealing Pigs…

It’s 9 a.m. in Mallorca, day four of our vacation. We pull up to the curb outside a large apartment complex and our friend Sacha jumps into our tiny white rental Fiat. Excitedly, he unfurls a thin white plastic bag, “for pigs”, he explains. “Last time I drove up to Cala Torta I found some fantastic ones by the side of the road.” It takes me a couple minutes to figure out exactly what is being discussed here. Pigs = Figs, and apparently fruit-baring trees can be found dotting the arid landscape along the road to the northeastern coast of the island.

A quick disclaimer: we will not be stealing per se… it could be more accurately considered a case of graciously relieving trees, of dubious ownership, of their summer bounty. Regardless, I don’t need to be convinced to participate. This is exactly the kind of activity I wish all my summer days were filled with.

We spend the day in Cala Torta swimming in the crystal blue Mediterranean, eating platters of seafood with our hands, and drinking bottles of rosé and pitchers of sweet sangria. By late afternoon I am in prime condition for “stealing pigs”. We designate my hubby the get-away driver while Sacha and I peer out the car windows searching for targets. The first tree is a bust… already picked clean by other fig enthusiasts. A little farther down the highway we spot a tiny dirt road that leads to a distant farmhouse. A large fig tree overhangs a stone wall and wire fence. (I did admit that ownership was dubious right?) We dart out of the car and climb the fence brushing aside large floppy leaves in search of the purple fruit. A brood of boisterous hens scurries over, clucking noisily. I assume this is an attempt to shame us, but we ignore them. After all, it’s nearly impossible to be scared by something you eat for dinner twice a week. It’s not until I hear the sound of a goat bell coming down the hill behind us that I signal to my accomplice that it’s time to go.

With our bag only half full, we continue our search. It’s not long before we spot two large trees, deep purple fruit weighing down their branches like ornaments on an overly decorated Christmas tree. One illegal U-turn later, and Sacha and I are out of the car even before it’s completely stopped, excitedly popping the sun-warmed fruit off the tree. My hands are sticky with sap. The bottom of my skirt, which has been busily caressing the grass and bramble around the trees, is covered with prickly burrs that scratch my calves and ankles as I move. We fill the bag until it’s dangerously close to tearing, and Sacha is forced to cradle it in his arms like an oversized newborn as we make our way back to the car.

On the drive home I doze in the sun-filled car. The air is redolent of the sea, sweat, and sweetness from the ripe, sugary fruit. It’s 7 p.m. when we pull up to the curb outside the apartment complex. Sacha scoops up the 15-pound bag of figs in his arms, the thin plastic stretching and splitting in several places, and declares with the authority of a teacher trying to get a last word in as the school bell rings, “Lesson for the day people… if you’re going to steal pigs, be sure to bring along a sturdy bag!”

Figs stuffed with camembert cheese and topped with jamon serrano.

Try cutting and stuffing your figs in a similar manner to the one in the photo above. Place them on a sheet pan and into a 375° oven for a couple minutes. The interior of the fig will become soft and incredibly sweet, somewhat similar in taste and texture to a date. Sprinkle with fleur de sel (sea salt) to balance the sweetness.