Chocolate Raspberry Tart

I bake when life is good. I bake for the people I love, the occasions we celebrate, the husband whose sweet tooth I live to please.

And I bake when I feel out of control. I choose the most complicated recipes and make it as hard as possible for myself. It’s as if I subconsciously try to force myself to make a mistake. The measurements are so exact, the ingredients so hard to find. I know I’m reassured by the order of things. There’s chaos in the kitchen – flour everywhere, dough sticking to the rolling pin, spilled milk, a pile of dishes in the sink – and then, just like that, there’s a beautiful chocolate raspberry tart to show for it.


My friend, Betsy, gifted me this gorgeous cookbook for my birthday featuring recipes from iconic chocolatier Guittard. When she invited my husband and me for Easter brunch, it was the perfect occasion to wow her with a recipe from the book. And who isn’t wowed by a dramatically long, rectangular chocolate tart, dotted along the edges with bright, red, juicy berries?


Chocolate Berry Tart

From Guittard Chocolate Cookbook, available on Amazon

Tart shell
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Guittard Cocoa Rouge (Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder)
2 Tbs. cacao nibs
1/4 unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 granulated sugar
1 large egg

To make the tart shell, combine flour, cocoa powder, cacao nibs and salt in a bowl.

In another bowl, with a hand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the egg and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the flour mixture until the dough forms a ball. Shape into a disc, wrap with plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to 5×14 or a 10-inch round (depending upon the type of tart pan you’re using – rectangular or round). Roll the dough onto the rolling pin and then carefully unroll into the tart pan. Press the dough into the sides of the pan and trim the extra. Use a fork to poke holes in the dough to prevent it from puffing up while baking.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes. The crust will still look a little doughy in the center, but it will set as it cools. Let cool completely on a rack. Once cool, pour the ganache into the shell and spread out evenly. Set aside.

Chocolate ganache
4 oz. Guittard bittersweet or semisweet chocolate baking bar, broken into pieces
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream until bubbles begin to form at the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes. Using a dry silicone spatula, stir to combine until all of the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let the ganache cool (about 15 minutes).

1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup Guittard Cocoa Rouge

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar and cocoa powder with a hand mixer until combined, thick and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

Pour the filling into the crust and spread out evenly over the ganache. Place the berries on top in whatever design you like. Refrigerate the tart for at least 1 hour or overnight. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.


I Didn’t Go to Your Baby Shower and I’m Sorry

I sat there staring at the invitation, taking in the baby boy colors and images of balloons and Winnie the Pooh characters; I have Winnie the Pooh on my Pinterest board, too. It was an adorable invitation and I knew it was going to be a wonderful day for you. Nowhere in any place of my heart did I feel anything other than joy for someone as sweet as you, but I was shaken out of my daydreams of honey pots and snuggly Tiggers when the timer went off. It had been three minutes and now, instead of your invitation, I was staring at another test that said Not Pregnant.

Not Pregnant, in spite of all the basal temperature taking and ovulation tracking. Not Pregnant, in spite of the fruits and vegetables I started eating, yoga I started doing and coffee I cut back on drinking. Not Pregnant, in spite of the reiki and crystal therapy. Not Pregnant, in spite of being this close to buying Clearblue stock. I felt happy for you and sad for myself, so I put the invitation down and promised myself I would at least be kind enough to respond to it later. I might not go, for my heart is painful around these types of things these days, but I would still send a nice gift to show you I really do care – I’m just being kind of a jerk right now.

When I met my husband, we didn’t hurry. We married when I was 30 and he was 36. We traveled, advanced our careers, and told everybody we were enjoying just being married for now – and we meant it. When we’re ready to start a family, we’ll start a family, we agreed. We thought it would be that easy.

Female Infertility is what it reads in my chart. It appears right above Left Wrist Pain and Exercise-Induced Asthma. People ask “What’s new?” “How are you?” Sometimes I say exactly what I’m thinking, but let me tell you, I’ve learned that one of the quickest ways to make a situation awkward is by saying “We’ve been trying” when asked “When are YOU going to have a baby?” It turns out nobody wants to hear the answer unless it’s “Soon!” I might have never said anything, but one day I was in a room with a girl my age and the rest of the women were much older. The women fawned over the girl, clamoring to know when she and her new husband planned on having kids and how many. Nobody asked me – they had never asked me – and it stung. Had they given up on me?

There’s a lot of hurt these days and that’s a great, big mountain to scale and come back down the other side. I’m working on it – starting with forgiving myself.

I know this is really the start of our journey to have a family. There are others who are years in and I salute every one of you. The struggle to become pregnant in the face of infertility is not for the faint of heart. I wanted an outlet – somewhere I could take the time to craft my thoughts and share those instead of awkward responses to unexpected questions – and so I talked it over with my husband and decided to reinvigorate my blog. One day I hope to look back on these posts and remember how hard we tried and how worth it it was.


This is the script from the last few minutes of the movie, Wild, about Cheryl Strayed’s journey through grief – as experienced along a grueling, 1,100-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I almost have it memorized. In this scene, Cheryl meets a little boy and his grandma on a hike in the rainy forest. She’s almost to her final destination. The precocious boy offers to sing a song his mother taught him for Cheryl, and does, and that was all it took for her to fall to her knees.

I watch this scene when I’m needing something. I’ve never been quite sure what draws me to it or why. Maybe it’s a reminder of someone’s else’s triumphs through very hard things. There are some beautiful words below – spoken by Cheryl as she finally gets there.

There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course. 

What if I forgive myself?

What if I was sorry?

But if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently.

What if all those things I did were the things that got me here?

What if – I was never redeemed?

What if I already was?

It took me years to be the woman my mother raised. It took me 4 years, 7 months, and 3 days to do it. Without her.

After I lost myself in the wilderness of my grief, I found my own way out of the woods. 

And I didn’t even know where I was going until I got there on the last day of my hike.

Thank you, I thought, over and over again. For everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know.

How in four years, I’d cross this very bridge and marry a man in a spot almost visible from where I was standing.

How in 9 years, that man and I would have a son named carver. And a year later, a daughter named after my mother, Bobbie.

I knew only that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. That seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything.

My life, like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable and sacred. So very close. So very present. So very belonging to me. 

How wild it was to let it be.

Self-love Strategies

I have another title for this post, and it’s called “When life is good, but heavy.” That’s the name of the game these days. 2017, you’re not what I expected, but you’re teaching me many things. Now more than ever, I’m really needing to take care of myself to make sure I’m the best daughter, sister, wife, friend, employee and human being I can be. Here are my favorite ways to do exactly that.


Take daily prenatal vitamin

I’m a terrible vitamin taker, and an even worse fruits and vegetables eater. I started taking a once daily prenatal vitamin (I like the Goddess Premium brand I buy on Amazon) and love it because I get nearly everything I need. I almost immediately noticed a boost in my hair – it’s true what they say!

Use diffuser with essential oils

I love to make my home my sanctuary with candles and music – my husband and I love listening to movie scores. My co-worker is a big believer in essential oils; I gifted her some oils for her recent birthday and picked up a diffuser and set of oils for myself while I was at it. I chose the Urpower diffuser (such a steal on sale for $16 on Amazon) and a set of oils – my favorites so far are lavender and sweet orange.

Reiki massage and crystal therapy

I see an incredible woman for Reiki massage and crystal therapy. I used to turn my nose at these things, but now I’m all about it – mind, body, spirit. One session, I came to her under quite a bit of stress. She burned sage all around me and sent me home with leaves that she instructed me to burn and sweep around my head and feet to clear all harmful energies. Something real happened to me that I have trouble describing. It was like all my deepest feelings were brought to the surface; after about 12 intense hours of feelings the effects, suddenly I felt completely light. It was a free feeling I can’t wait to replicate.

Limit coffee consumption to one cup a day

Some say it’s good for you, others say it’s not. All I know is I’ve increased to two lately and have felt noticeably amped up.


I love my high-energy, intense Barry’s Bootcamp workouts, but they amp me way up. Yoga is a great complement to bring me back down and back to center.

Spend free time in nature

This is a no brainer: Less time in front of the screen, more time in nature. I’m looking forward to getting a bike soon and riding around our local beaches with my husband. And, as much as I miss her now that she lives in a different state, I can’t wait to escape and unplug every so often during visits to Lake Tahoe to see my sister.

San Diego Summer Bucket List

Memorial Day is here and the sound of summer can officially be heard. I grew up in San Diego, but my enchantment with it only grows stronger the longer I live here (housing prices, though, you can take a hike). Here are the things I’m excited to get into this summer.

  • Ride bikes with my husband around different beaches – but first, I need a bike! I have my eye on this seafoam green one with a cute basket.
  • See a San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights concert (Harry Potter on July 29!)
  • Take in a waterfront picnic dinner and movie at the Waterfront Park’s Summer Movies in the Park series.
  • Take a day trip to Valle de Guadalupe and stop for lunch at Deckman’s en el Mogor
  • Celebrate Pride!
  • The San Diego Chargers are no more, so the Padres are it. They’re not the best team, but there’s nothing like baseball on a warm summer day.
  • Try live sea urchin at the Little Italy Mercato
  • Discover new music. I’ve had Sampha, Blackbear and GoldLink on repeat lately.
  • See summer films. They’re saying Sam Elliott is going to win an Oscar for The Hero, and Nicole Kidman/Kirsten Dunst/Colin Farrell directed by Sophia Coppola in The Beguiled is a major yes.

What I Ate in Paris

Of all the quotes I’ve seen about Paris, this one is perhaps my favorite:

“You’ll have to fall in love at least once in your life, or Paris has failed to rub off on you.”

I was already in love when I went to Paris, but I had heard it’s a place for lovers. We were just beginning to settle in to the City of Lights when, before we could realize it, we were cuddled up on a bench sharing a baguette, kissing the Nutella from the corner of each other’s mouths, and leaving the last bite of crème brûlée for the other. I would be a liar if I didn’t admit to there also being a bit of bickering over missed Metro stops!

But Paris is definitely for lovers – lovers of each other, lovers of beautiful sights and sounds, and lovers of some of the most incredible food in all the world. Here’s where and what we ate. ** denotes the best of the best – our favorite places and dishes.


Lunch: La Gentilhommiere, Saint-Michel/Odéon
Pommes frites, Caesar salad with bacon, champagne

We arrived in Paris in the most wonderful of ways: on a lovely train that traversed the lovely countryside to deliver us from London to France. We were starved after the time it took to get through customs and figure out the legitimate taxis from the illegitimate ones. They almost got us! We checked in to our hotel (Hotel Victoire et Germain, which was one of the best places I’ve ever stayed with its perfect Paris location in the Latin Quarter) and ventured not far out before settling on the first cute restaurant we saw, packed with rows of tiny tables filled with Parisians. With all the locals, we figured we had made a good choice. We later saw Yelpers say differently, but I would disagree. Maybe it was the champagne, but I loved the Caesar salad I had with bacon, and my husband’s boef bourguignon was warm, comforting and full of flavor.

Dessert: Crêperie Chez Suzette, Saint-Michel/Odéon
Nutella and strawberry crepe**

You have your pick of places to enjoy a crepe in Paris. Savory or sweet? Banana or strawberry? The possibilities are endless. On our first evening in Paris, I threw caution as it concerns my diet to the wind and ordered a crepe slathered with Nutella and fresh, juicy strawberries tucked between the folds. Mon dieu! It was incroyable.

2 Crepe


Lunch: The Smiths Bakery, Saint-Germain-Des-Prés
Salad niçoise, sandwich, tomato tart, baguette

On our first full day in France, we decided to take it easy with a nice, long sit in beautiful Luxembourg Gardens. We watched little toy sailboats chartered by children and couples canoodling. We stopped by a bakery along the way to pick our picnic items and made an American mistake of buying too much food. A tomato tart, a small tub of salad niçoise, un sandwich and a baguette (but of course) – we had more than we could eat, but it was all very good.

Dinner: Ippudo, Saint-Germain-Des-Prés
Gyoza, Shiromaru (classic) ramen

This ramen restaurant is located just a couple of doors down from our hotel. The gyoza was great, and the ramen was similar in a way that soothed, but with a slightly different taste I couldn’t place. It’s always fun to try something you’re used to in a different place.


Lunch: L’As du Fallafel, Marais
Pita sandwich, fries

If you’re going to Paris, the odds are good at least one person will tell you to go to L’As du Fallafel. They will not be wrong. Walk, take the bus, or get on the Metro – whatever you do, make sure you get here. We both ordered the sandwich, filled with crispy, garlicky balls of fried chickpea swimming in creamy hummus, pickled red cabbage, cucumbers, fried eggplant and harissa. The gorgeous French girl next to me ordered the same thing, but only one of us ended up with it all over our face (it wasn’t her).


Dinner: Hereaux Comme Alexandre, Saint-Michel/Odéon
BBQ beef, savoyarde (plain cheese) fondue, salted caramel chocolate fondue with fresh fruit

I live for fondue and this restaurant came highly rated. We had the fondue feast of my dreams, with slices of seasoned beef set to sizzle on a hot stone and chunks of French bread to dip in gooey cheese fondue. There was no dessert listed on the menu, presumably because it goes without question. We picked the pot with salted caramel chocolate, which came warm and creamy, served with fresh kiwi, banana slices, strawberries and apples for dipping.


Lunch: Paul, Saint-Michel/Odéon
Toasted ham and cheese sandwich

My husband had previously seen a pig roasting in a window and marveled at the beauty of such a thing. He asked if he could search for it while I shopped at Le Bon Marché. Is the sky blue? I did my damage, then picked up a sandwich from the popular boulangerie Paul, which I took back to our hotel for a bit of people-watching.


Snack: Ladurée, Saint-Germain-Des-Prés
Rose petal, Morello cherry**, chocolate, pistachio, orange blossom

I had my shopping bags from Le Bon Marché and suddenly I felt like Carrie Bradshaw! The only thing missing was a pink macaron (or several). I stopped into Ladurée, the lovely macaron boutique and tea room, and bought a row of colorful macarons with every intention of sharing them, but I’m sorry to say that didn’t very well happen. The Morello cherry flavor was sweet and light – definitely my favorite.


Dinner: L’avant Comptoir**
Pork belly, citrus foie gras, beef croquettes, empanadas

L’avant Comptoir came recommended by several people and turned out to be just a couple of short blocks from our hotel. We were forewarned of the crowds here, but it wasn’t until we arrived that it sunk in. Nobody sits – in fact, there’s so little space that menu items are strung from the ceiling. On the little bit of table space are big-as-your-head mounds of hand-churned Bordier butter, meant for everyone to share. The staff hustle to take orders shouted over the packs of patrons. The wine selection is fantastic – we loved the light red wine recommended to us. Here, it felt fitting to try foie gras for the first time. The one I ordered and the one I received were different, but the citrus was enjoyable. Still, I can’t say I’m going to crave foie gras now. We finished the night by taking in the black and white Woody Allen classic Manhattan at a small theatre tucked into an alley. It was a date night to remember.



Lunch: Les Antiquaries, Musee d’Orsay
Mixed salad with lightly fried goat cheese, bacon, Serrano ham and pesto**, white wine, crème brûlée **

This was a meal that caught us by surprise. We were hungry as a downpour was just beginning after a morning at the Musee d’Orsay. We stumbled upon this darling restaurant just around the corner and it turned out to be one of the best meals of our entire time in Paris. An elderly French man seated next to us was clearly enjoying a leisurely lunch, so I decided to do the same. As he ordered a second white wine, so did I! My mouth watered as I read the description of the salad I ordered. Lightly fried goat cheese, bacon and Serrano ham – oui, oui, oui! Since I had veggies (do you see the sliver of green below?), I decided I was allowed dessert. The crème brûlée literally melted as I slipped a spoonful in my mouth.


Snack: Little Breizh, Saint-Germain-Des-Prés
Choc and croc crepe

This recommendation, I’m sad to say, disappointed, although it looks spectacular, doesn’t it? Little Breizh is located literally next door to our hotel. I had high hopes for another incredible crepe, but I didn’t care for the batter or no filling in lieu of everything piled on top. It seems I’m in the minority because the reviews are excellent.



Breakfast: Marché Notre Dame de Versailles (Versailles open-air market)
Ham and cheese crepe**, orange juice

We took a train outside Paris to Versailles, where my girl Marie Antoinette once reigned. We were signed up for a bike tour around the gardens and palace, which sounded like a neat way to see somewhere. First, though, we had to cycle through traffic to get to the open-air market, called one of the best in the world, to purchase our picnic items for later. It got dicey for a second as it was my two wheels vs. four, but we made it. I rewarded myself with a savory breakfast crepe and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Both were incredibly delicious.

Lunch: Marché Notre Dame de Versailles (Versailles open-air market)
Cheese with herbs**, parmesan**, baguette, sliced Serrano ham, rosé

Shopping at the Versailles market was a treat. We visited the boulangerie, fromagerie and boucherie to make our picnic purchases. I wish I could remember the name of the cheese crusted with flavorful herbs – it was excellent. The parmesan was other-worldly. I would have liked to take at least a pound home. Everything was made that much more delicious by the fact that we ate them among new friends along the spectacular Grand Canal.

Versailles cheeseversailles more cheese


Dinner: L’avant Comptoir, Saint-Michel/Odéon
Chèvre crumble, chorizo cigarettes, beef stew, hot dog canard

After a tiring day in Versailles, we had worked up quite the appetite. There was so much still to try at L’avant Comptoir that we decided to return. This time, the creamy chèvre with a sweet crunchy topping and beef stew (so flavorful) were among my highlights. This was it for our time in Paris – what a way to end it!


What I Ate in London

My husband and I returned last weekend from the most spectacular trip to London and Paris. We knew we wanted to go to Europe, but he wanted to go to Spain (I’ve been) and I wanted to go to Italy (he’s been), so we landed on two places neither of us have ever visited: London and Paris.

It was originally going to be a trip just to Paris, but I’m so glad we tacked on London. What an incredible city. I loved everything about it. The people, the history, the darling flats, and the food! Who says British food is no good? We do, which is why we only ate it twice. The rest of the time we spent delighting in London’s culinary melting pot of cultures.

I got the idea to keep a food diary from another blogger. It’s a wonderful way to look back on the meaningful moments of our trip, like the lychee martini with which I toasted my husband on his birthday over divine dim sum, or the traditional British pie after a very British day of sightseeing. Here’s where and what we ate in London. ** indicates the absolute best of the best – our favorite places and dishes.

Dinner: Yauatcha, Soho
Lychee martini, Wagyu beef puff, prawn and bean curd cheung fun**, spicy Szechuan pork wonton, char siu bun, beef shu mai, duck roll

We arrived in Europe on my husband’s birthday. We had a reservation at Yauatcha, the Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant in Soho, that we had both been eagerly awaiting. I could tell instantly it was part of the Hakkasan hospitality group with its dark, moody vibe and sultry decor. I’ve never had the food at Hakkasan in Las Vegas, but if it’s anything like Yauatcha, I’m on the next plane to Sin City. Everything we ordered was exceptional, but the dish I least expected to interest me, the prawn and bean curd cheung fun, blew me away the most.


Breakfast: West Grove Cafe, Notting Hill Gate
Ham and cheese toastie**, soy latte

This was the bistro within spitting distance of our Airbnb flat. On that subject, we LOVED our Airbnb in London. Beautifully appointed, perfect location, and kindest, most gracious host, Amanda – I can’t recommend it highly enough. Take a look at it here.

Back to the bistro. We picked up a quick bite on our way to the Tower of London. Something about a simple, crispy ham and cheese toasted sandwich hit the spot.

Lunch: The Gallery at Sketch, Mayfair
White peony tea, rosebud tea, Comté cheese soldier**, Oscietra Royal caviar, corn-fed coronation chicken sandwich**, Scottish smoked salmon and Jacob’s cream sandwich, desserts (malabar marshmallow, pistachio petit choux, Lincolnshire rhubarb cheesecake, chocolate and caramel gateau, lemon and strawberry Battenberg cake, Victoria sponge cake**, fudge and banana loaf)

If dim sum at Yauatcha was my husband’s must-have, afternoon tea at Sketch was mine. I had Instagram stalked the pink-covered tea room for months prior. With pink plush chairs; a bright white bathroom resembling a futuristic scene from Arrival, complete with individual potty pods that looked ready to transport one into tea space; and all four walls covered in eccentric illustrations by artist David Shrigley, I was in heaven – and that was before the tea and bites arrived! Our host introduced us to the cast of impeccably-dressed characters who would be attending to our needs: the Tea Master, who took us on a journey through dozens of brewed offerings; followed by the Caviar Man decked out in a devastatingly handsome pink suit; not to be outdone by the ravishing Ladies with Dots who delivered our delightful feast of sandwiches, cakes, pastries and scones.

The perfectly prepared egg taster to start was unlike anything I’ve ever enjoyed, and the corn-fed coronation chicken sandwich was so nice, I asked for it twice. This was a definite trip highlight.

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Dinner: Waitrose Market, Notting Hill
Meat and cheese assortment

We were still stuffed from tea by the time dinner rolled around, so we walked to our nearest market and picked up a couple of items for a cheese and charcuterie plate.

Breakfast: Avocado toast made in our flat

We burned off the biscuits on Friday morning with a class at Barry’s Bootcamp Central London. I’m a Barry’s Bootcamp San Diego devotee, so it was fun to try a different studio. Avocado toast fueled us up for a grueling burn.

Lunch: The Chandos, Covent Garden (near Trafalgar Square)
Cider, pork and cider reserve pie

After a delightful walking tour of some of London’s main sights, we thought it fitting to try a traditional British meal. It was good, not great, but filling like we craved after a multiple miles-long walk around the city.


Snack: CakeCreate Bakery, Bayswater
Assorted cookies

I had an afternoon sweet tooth on the way back to our flat after another full day, and the couple of baked goodies we picked up here satisfied.

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Dinner: Bao & Noodle, Chinatown
Tiger beer, big bao with pork**, Kung po chicken, hot and sour soup

After taking in Kinky Boots in the West End (fantastic show!), we realized we were close to Chinatown and our stomachs grew at least three sizes larger. We perused several menus before deciding on Bao & Noodle. You don’t ever have to ask me twice if I want a pork bao. It’s like they knew I was coming by making it supersized.

Breakfast: Granier Bakery Cafe
Spanish ham and cheese croissant, soy latte from Second Cup Coffee Co.

We couldn’t find anything that tickled our fancy for breakfast along the bustling Portobello Road Market (had we been browsing during lunchtime, we would have had tons of options), so we popped into this cafe desperately hungry. It was sadly just OK.

Dinner: Ciao Bella, Bloomsbury
Prosciutto and melon, spaghetti carbonara**

I don’t recall how we heard about this Italian restaurant, but it was what we were promised: very good, authentic Italian food. I opted for the creamy spaghetti carbonara after seeing our tablemates next to us order the same. Excellent.

Dessert: Amorino
L’inimitable and speculoos gelato with chocolate macaron**

We realized by the time we got to Paris that Amorino is a chain. I’m tempted to liken it to Yogurtland, but that would be terribly insulting. You can choose as many flavors as you want, which the talented scoopers painstakingly pat around the cone so as to create a flower. I chose just two flavors that sounded like a perfect match, topped with a giant, chocolate macaron.


Breakfast: West Grove Cafe, Notting Hill Gate
Soy latte; eggs, toast and salad; full English breakfast

With little time to catch our train to Paris, we popped back into our neighborhood cafe for one last English meal: eggs, toast and salad for me, and a full English breakfast of eggs, beans, sausage, toast, mushrooms and tomatoes for my husband. It was good, and time to say cheerio to our time in London!


Book Soup: What She Left Behind

I am thrilled – I am absolutely, positively, out-of-this-world thrilled that after the upside down-ness of my life changes over the last six or so months, things seem to have somewhat settled down enough that I have time again to pick up great books and dig into them.

To ensure I keep this up, I’ve set a goal to read 20 books in a year. To hold myself accountable, I’ve created a new segment of my blog called Book Soup to write reviews of the books I read. I’m by no means an expert book reviewer, but hopefully my comments inspire at least someone to read (or not read) a new book. Because the more we read, the more we know!

What She Left Behind
A novel by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Available in paperback and Kindle here


What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman was the first book I picked up after a long hiatus and it was the perfect one to get me back to my love of reading. I couldn’t put it down. I loved it. It had me in tears and on the edge of my seat and feeling as if my heart was being ripped out all at once. I’ve read some other reviews that criticize the sophomoric writing of this book, but I disagree. I think it’s well-written in the style of telling a great story, and what a great story it is.

The story centers around Izzy Stone, who, at 17 years old, has experienced tragedy well beyond her years. One her most horrific life experiences is seeing her mother in a psychiatric hospital, where she was sent for shooting her husband, Izzy’s father, to death when Izzy was only 10. Izzy dreams of leading a normal life, but instead drifts through the world, floating from one foster home to the next and enduring bullying at school.

Izzy finally finds herself in a wonderful, loving foster home – although she maintains a cautious distance from her wonderful, loving foster family – that is located near the Willard State Asylum for the insane, now closed. It is scheduled to be demolished soon, but first, Izzy’s foster parents are tasked with documenting the lives of the patients who resided there using the possessions they left behind. While helping her parents, Izzy finds the diary of Clara Cartwright, an 18-year-old girl committed to the asylum by her parents in 1930. From there, the book moves between the 1930s and 1990s, with similar story lines that make you think you have the ending figured out (spoiler: you don’t). Neither Izzy’s nor Clara’s stories are exactly what the seem and as we learn about each, we learn about two strong, complex women who are forced to confront many of the same issues, even though their lives occur in starkly different times. Several themes play out in each story: the idea of a normal life and being denied the opportunity to lead one; doing what you’re told; the strength and love that should exist in a family; and betrayal by a parent. At times, it is a sad story, but more than that it is a real story with believable characters who pull at your heartstrings and might even remind you a little of yourself.

Smitten Kitchen’s Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Another wonderful Fourth of July has come and gone. The husband and I started the day with a delightful morning bike ride around Lake Murray, which, fortunately, wasn’t crowded at all (likely a side effect of the big sign at the entrance that read “No fireworks at Lake Murray this year”). After, it was time to get cooking in the kitchen. I contemplated deviled eggs, then pondered providing the burgers and dogs, but in the end, I asked myself who would I be if I did not come armed with dessert. I couldn’t let down the masses, so I made a big batch of Hello Dolly bars, which are so easy, I could surely make them half-asleep. For my second act, I wanted a bit of a challenge, which Smitten Kitchen’s recipes always are. Deb’s Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies are among the best cookies I’ve ever made. Her recommendation to add a couple of tablespoons of turbinado sugar is not to be missed, as the added crunch on top of gooey puddles of chocolate on top of salty sweetness is oh-so-good.

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies
A recipe adapted from Ashley Rodriguez’s Not Without Salt and Date Night In

Makes about 18 to 24 cookies

1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (25 grams) turbinado sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (165 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon (or, technically, 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon) fine sea or table salt
1 3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 pound (225 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
Flaky sea salt, to finish

Heat oven to 360°F (180°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated, and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in salt fine sea or table salt and baking soda until combined, then the flour on a low speed until just mixed. The dough will look crumbly at this point. With a spatula, fold/stir in the chocolate chunks.



Probably the most sinful cookie batter I’ve ever sneakily sampled. I could eat an entire bowl of this deliciousness and the terrible stomach ache that would result would be well worth it.

Scoop cookies into 1 1/2 tablespoon (I used a #40 scoop) mounds, spacing them apart on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft inside. Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet out of the for 5 minutes before transferring a cooling rack.


Mounds of cookie dough dotted with sea salt. Try to resist leaving the mounds of dough undisturbed on their mat instead of in your mouth – I dare you!


And there you have them. They might not look like anything special, but one bite and you’ll be delighted with a puddle of warm chocolate oozing into your mouth. Pure cookie heaven.

Stitch Fix #1: My First Stitch Fix


As a woman, handbag and high heel hoarder, and lover of fashion, is there anything more exciting than a box of clothing and accessories, hand-selected just for me and delivered directly to my doorstep? I asked myself this question as I placed my first order with Stitch Fix recently. The answer, I found, is not a whole lot!

Stitch Fix is a genius idea for ladies who love to shop and appreciate convenience and the expertise of a virtual stylist assisting you in your selections. Now, for the sake of transparency, your Stitch Fix stylist determines your selections much more than he or she assists with them. As the buyer, I had no control over the items I received save for trusting my stylist got a sense for my style from the very detailed style profile I filled out (no pleather, please!), however I think a box filled with surprises is a big part of what makes the process so fun. Although the style profile questionnaire asked nearly every question about my personal style (I love the section that gives you sample outfits and asks you to rate each according to personal preference), I was still nervous I would get a box of things I didn’t like. My first Fix, as they’re called, wasn’t perfect, but it came pretty close.

On the financial front, Stitch Fix is a brilliant idea. You pay a $20 styling fee, which is charged when your Fix ships and is applied to any items you choose to buy (for example, a $38 blouse will cost you $18 if you choose to keep it). That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. Even sweeter is the 25 percent off you receive your total order if you buy all five items. I look forward to the day I receive that Fix – my husband, probably not as much! All the things you don’t want to keep get sent back in a pre-paid shipping envelope. It couldn’t be easier!

Below is a round-up of the items I received in my first Stitch Fix and my verdict about each.

Le Sample Kahlo Embroidered Racerback Tank
Keep or Return? Keep!


Cute casual tops are high on my list of things I want for summer, so I was especially excited to receive this tank, which is not only stylish with contrasting light gray and white stripes and orange embroidered detail on the front, but incredibly flattering (flattering stripes do exist, ladies!), soft and long enough to comfortably fit my 5’8” frame. I’m looking forward to pairing this tank with shorts and skirts this summer and jeans, boots and a chunky sweater in fall and winter.

Kut from the Kloth Kate Boyfriend Jean
Keep or Return? Return.

Pictured above

I slipped on these jeans and was amazed at how perfectly they fit. They were also incredibly soft and comfortable. With a price tag of under $90 for designer jeans, I would have been eager to hang these up in my closet if I didn’t already have a similar pair.

Gilli Jessie Maxi Dress
Keep or Return? Return.


I went back and forth on this dress. It’s very flattering for the most part, but I didn’t love the very short short sleeves as I felt they didn’t do my arms any favors (I’m working on them in the gym!). The dress’s rich blue color was lovely, but I felt $64 was a bit much for such a casual dress. In the end, I decided it wasn’t for me.

Urban Expressions Elle Woven Clutch
Keep or Return? Return.

Pictured below

This clutch was cute and I loved the pop of teal, but I tend to carry a clutch with dressed up outfits, and the overall style of this clutch is very casual. If the style had been an over-the-shoulder handbag, we would have had a deal, but alas, this one went back, too.

Renee C Tucker Mixed Print 3/4 Sleeve Blouse
Keep or Return? Return.


Last but not least, I loved the vibrant pattern of this blouse, but I’m a tall girl, and this blouse wasn’t long enough for me to feel comfortable wearing it. It’s too bad, because the color and print and really spectacular.