Sunday, November 12, 2017

Diner En Blanc - Tres Magnifique

We had another amazing time at the annual Diner En Blanc this year- put on by JAGA Productions! Diner En Blanc is a pop-up dinner set in a secret location with over 1000 invite only attendees that started in Paris and has spread across the world in recent years.

JAGA Productions outdid themselves for the 2nd annual one in Central Florida this past Friday night by hosting the event at the amazing Lake Eola in downtown Orlando.  The beautiful atmosphere was enlightened by all of the white clothed lucky attendees and elegant white decorated tables and the sounds of corks popping and musical performances and the glow of sparklers and happy friends- both new and old.  Click here for: Sparkler Time video! #DEBORL2017

Here is another brief video clip of the traditionally dinner knapkin waving time! Click here: Knapkin time #DEBOrl3017

Check out some of the highlights we got to experience this year... and if you want to be invited next year post a comment and I will select someone to receive an invite.

Look at some of these gorgeous table setups and delectable foods:

The Cannoli cake on top tire of our table

Some of our appetizers

Me at our table

En Blanc, en magnifique

We had a tres magnifique time!

Looking forward already to #DEBOrl2018

Check out more about Diner En Blanc at

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Journey

Today, unexpectedly went uphill so far it started in my heart and then hit the sky.  It's been a year since I've posted here, only posting occasionally on my Facebook version of my blog page -because, well- life happened- and someone reminded me today that those obstacles-those ARE what make my life, MY life.

Today, THIS happened.

I nonchalantly got the mail... and a delightful surprise card, a package, and 2 simple yet profound red balloons fell out.  

A quote from the heartfelt letter inside the card, "... The enclosed gift jumped out and into my hands with only you in mind.  Tell Robert to buy you a helium tank and an unending supply of red balloons... choose to be happy every single day... we all love you."

At first the wave of tears was what the 2 red balloons reminded me of and how on earth could this sweet friend and former co-worker (who has lived in another state for a few years) even know what it symbolized to me.  And then....then- I opened this original artwork she sent to me because it "spoke to her..."!

I am sure my neighbors could hear me bawling for what seemed like a lifetime.  Of course!  Two balloons can help me fly, seek happiness, find and spread my wings when I feel like I cannot go. Imagine what 99 red balloons can do for me?  For you?  Imagine what sharing some balloons with someone else can do for them?!!  (Imagine if there are penguins involved too....... WOW!)

And then, the symbolism on top of it.  As many of you may know my mother in law and father in law both passed away last fall within 3 months of each other.  We loved them dearly- she truly was the mother I didn't get to have in my 30s when I needed advice or to vent about certain things.  I was lucky to have multiple mothers in my lifetime and still have one very special mother- Robert's mom.   For me, Michele though as my (step) mother-in-law was a confidant a lover of all family no matter what you said or did and a reality checker (in a BIG WAY, which you'd easily know if you knew her).

This is the perfect example..... you see, when Michele was ill with leukemia last year in her final month in all practicality she was making jokes and also trying to make plans for all of us for the future.  She was adamant with a smile on her face....."The only way I'd agree to a funeral is a celebration of life, first of all here take this- I have a coupon (and SERIOUSLY she pulled out a Banfield Coupon for a discount off of cremation services!)...(insert shock and awe for all of us 'kids' who were sitting there at that moment!). Apparently the Banfield Veterinarian hospital shares the same name with the Banfield Funeral Home in their suburb.... yet another hilarity).  THEN, she said, "...And the ONLY way you are going to have a celebration of MY life is if you get those red blow up crazy waving flying balloon guys that gets your attention outside of a car dealership!"  Well.......... 

Needless to say, not only did we use her coupon but...... she got her RED balloon guy!  
Actual red balloon guy outside of Michele Billoni's celebration of life October 2016
And so, as I dry my tears and focus on the blessings I have like my remaining family, my friends and loved ones and people like my friend Sandy who go out of their way to think about others, pray for others, support them through and during and AFTER the tough times..... giving that extra time or sending that extra card or gift or call, including a penguin in it on top of everything.... it gives me renewed faith and belief that happier times are to come.  They may not always be with the same old friends, same old best friends even, same old company, same ole family members even.... but during the times I am down and out,

I will learn to LOVE the skies that I am under.

Thank you Sandy for reminding me that the sky is not the limit, the door is never closed, the day is never done and those gone are not forever.  There are always the red balloons, the red cardinals, the butterflies, the dimes, the breeze that lets you know that you aren't alone and you can always find a way to fly.  I do believe I can.  Thank you!

Cathy 2016

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Develop Your Own Compass, And Trust It.

Not to be morbid, but a new month also means one less month on earth.  Just as a new years means the ending of someone's life sooner than later....

Recently, a friend and I sat down and chatted about life and meaning behind things.

We’ve both been alive for 40-something years. The first decade was somewhat a blur, but also our foundation and the fundamental character-building years. The second decade—our roaring twenties—we made impulsive decisions, fought for love, fought for career, saved some money, spent a lot more than we made.  My brothers and I lost our mom to breast cancer and it was a huge eye opening and difficult time accepting and then telling her it was okay to let go.  Then one day we woke up and we were 30.

Now, in our thirties, we had (some) clarity and, finally were investing a little in retirement funds, built a house or two, moved, possibly changed careers or started a new business and found structure. Some of my siblings had children, others did not by choice or chance and we all were making the best of our situations come heck or high water and sometimes amid both.

And suddenly we were in our forties and when  the heck did that happen??  According to my calculations and family history, we are about halfway through our lives. If we count on our good gene pool, and a little luck, lots of healthy eating and exercise, we are still about halfway through the most active years of our life.

I told my friend what I wanted to do during this next decade of my life, and he responded without hesitancy:

Do it.

But, I said.

Do it.

I sat and stared. The list of all my responsibilities came to mind (many job/travel/family commitments, schedules to follow, meals to cook, places to be)—all of which did not seem as important as the fact that, no matter what, I have to live my life, so how do I want it all to look? Feel? Be experienced?

He turned to me and said, we get one chance to walk this planet.

This. Is. It.

Today, I feel empowered to make all the changes I want to make in order to live my most vibrant life. Tomorrow, I may be scared (actually, I’m sure I will be scared). Either way, those dreams and desires are beckoning. They are calling. They are waiting to be lived.

In the spirit of the new month, new quarter of the year, new beginnings, many new moons, know your vibrancy.

Know that you are given one chance to really experience life in this unique body, in this unique form.

You are given one chance to roam with these phenomenal legs and tremendous eyes and unique voice.

In another decade, you might not have the ability to do what you love. You may not be able to write furiously or teach yoga with agility; you may not be able to travel with ease or make love with fervor. You might not have the love of your life by your side through a purposeful separation or through a terrible loss.  I cannot imagine life alone but we must imagine ourselves living with fervor while we CAN.

So today, I encourage you to do it.

Do it all with no regrets.

Do it all without asking for permission.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
~ Rumi

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Comforting Shepherd's Pie Means "I Love You"

It has been a long hiatus for me and I thank you for your patience.... lots of traveling so the good news is I have lots to blog about coming up this spring!  Adventures everywhere from Paris to London to Dublin to Vegas to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the northeast and even a glamping adventure on a dude ranch!!  Think of all the yumminess and great places I have to share!

During my time traveling away from my blog, I have shared quite a few tips and fellow bloggers great recipes and ideas on my face book page over the last few months and I hope you will check them out at

In the meantime, I have a special treat in honor of the heartfelt love that is shared during this month of February and chilly days and lots of savory spoonfuls of deliciousness!

This week I made the most amazing Shepherd's Pie for my husband (if I do say so myself) and a few extra for the freezer. Wow -you have truly got to make this ASAP -it really can be simplified or as complex as you would like!

You can use ground turkey and lamb like I did or any variation of meats- the key is in the farmer's market rainbow carrots and a great stout beer!  In the recipe I provide to you below I tweaked a little from the original and also added two splashes of  worcestershire sauce and halved the original suggested full bouillon cube and a couple splashes of a good red wine to further deepen the flavor.

The original called for instant mashed potatoes but why not take the extra few minutes and slowly boil your own.  I was a bit surprised to see that the mashed potato mixture called for an egg yolk but boy did that make a nice difference in richness of these beauties!  I went with some chives and maybe a tad or two more cheddar handfuls than in the original recipe.

You can use one long casserole dish or baking pan but I opted to split it up for several meals easily frozen and easily broken down for just one person if needed.

Of course it is all about the layers of meaty juicy saucy veggie filled goodness, followed by those potatoes but nothing in the world beats a whopping layer of cheddar falling off the ramekins and overflowing from your pan with a splash of paprika.

The layers are a thing of beauty - this can go right into your freezer since it is completely cooked through or right into your oven and in 30 minutes you will have your family devouring it!

I think I may have to save one of these for my dad with heating instructions- I have a hunch he will adore it!

I may even have a few friends and neighbors knocking on my door -if you could just smell the incredible aroma in my home.

So, in this month of sharing love to your significant other and friends- consider sharing a love pie right from the heart!

Recipe (ingredient list is below):
Start with bowl of mashed Yukon potatoes. Add sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, chives, egg yolk, teaspoon of salt, and teaspoon of black pepper and stir until smooth. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat.

Add lamb and/or ground turkey and cook until browned. Pour off any excess grease, and season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes with liquid and any preferred vegetable medley (it can even be frozen) and cook for 5 to 10 minutes.

While that is cooking, in a small saucepan heat beer and add beef bouillon (consider using only half- the salt just isn't worth that flavor). Bring up to a simmer and add cornstarch mixture. Then add that to lamb mixture and simmer until thickened.

Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Pour in lamb mixture. Spoon mashed potatoes over and make sure the potatoes cover all meat mixture. Top with 1 cup cheese and sprinkle paprika over the casserole. Pre-heat oven to 350'F.

Cook covered with foil until hot. If the the ingredients are still hot when it goes in the oven, bake 25-30 minutes. If the casserole ingredients are cold, bake for about 45 minutes.

Uncover and place under broiler until cheese is bubbly and golden, about 2 minutes, optional chive or parsley garnish.

-My recipe was adapted from Al Roker at

    • 5 cups mashed, boiled Yukon potatoes (shortcut: You could use instant potatoes)
    • ½ cup sour cream
    • 3 ounces cream cheese
    • 1 egg yolk
    • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
    • 1 1/2 pound ground lamb
    • 1 can of diced tomatoes with juice (16-ounce can)
    • 1 small bag of frozen vegetable medley (carrot, peas, onion, corn) or cut up fresh carrots, celery, etc.
    • 1 bottle of good stout beer
    • 1 cube beef bouillon (try using only a half)
    • 1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with a enough cold water to make a paste
    • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
    • 1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese
    • 2 tablespoons chives

Enjoy and let me know what your secret is to a great valentine's homemade comfort food!
xoxo, Cathy

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Illumineati Dining Society: Dinner #2, Bleu Acier

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” ― Paulo Coelho, Brida

The secretive Illumineati dinner number two was finally upon us- and we clasped our hands in delight not knowing what, where or who we were to dine with yet again!  You can check out my earlier blog post here about the first dinner where we were first treated to this mystical and delicious experience earlier this fall. The suspense for tonight's dinner was joyfully rewarded.   We were to be whisked to another terre to enjoy a collaboration of southern and french  and art and wine- and of course it all paired incredibly well!  The new and old friendships flowed as easily as du vin.

As we gathered for this secret yet unforgettable meal in a setting truly unique on its own, the word terrior caught my ear as we discussed wines, great foods and regions of France. Terrior : (French from terre, "land") is the 'essence of a place'... a set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, hops, tomatoes, heritage wheat, and tea. You certainly got a real sense of the terrior of our dining venue -which was both someones home, work studio, art gallery and a one-of-a-kind setting for our meal.  The essence of this place was comfortable and lived in yet you could almost hear the grind of a welding machine, the plank of the press or the satisfied stretch after completing a true work of art.

Bleu Acier is owned by Erika Schneider and Dominique Labauvie who exhibit works of all disciplines.  Their collaborative and contract studio supports many printmaking techniques as Erika is a Master Printer including: Intaglio, Photogravure, Lithography, Photolithography, Relief and Monotype.   Dominique is a fascintating metal sculptor, known for his lyrical interpretations and their related prints which adorn their work and home spaces.  They aptly named their studio Bleu Acier which is French for blue steel - the transformational moment when intense heat turns metal blue.

Our fantastic dinner was prepared that evening by Price Evans, an accomplished Tampa Chef who has worked with the astute team at Sidebern's (soon to be Haven winebar) and Elevage at the Epicurean Hotel.  Price and his team were a show to behold working efficiently and patiently plating each of the nine courses with adept hands and a careful eye.

Our Illumineati hosts were again Jimmy Breen and Johnny Ciani who greeted everyone warmly as we first gathered on the back art studio patio to start the festivities.

We then toured the expansive art studio and work spaces where Erika and Dominique demonstrated the beautiful presses they brought over from France-- you could tell that these massive machines take much time and love poured into them as they created the beautiful wood inlaid menu sleeves for tonight's dinner- each one unique, numbered and signed by the in house artists.

The menu itself was also a piece of art with the magical Illumineati logo again done by graphic artist and co-host Jimmy Breen.

We were to enjoy a vast array of French wines to accompany the dishes as well thanks to our very passionate wine sommelier.

But first,  the evening began with a specialty cocktail - their spin off of the delicious French 75.  

It was divine, truly something you could go back for seconds or thirds-and-before-you-knew-it you were transported to a park bench on the banks of the Seine listening to Parisian music and watching the twinkling Eiffel lights........ but I digress.... and the food awaits us......

Southern Duo:  An oyster po boy with remoulade, arugula, country ham with iron skillet, cornbread, pepper jam
Peanut dusted trout with smoked peach and wilted cabbage
Take a closer look next to that trout - and you will gaze upon deconstructed peanuts- I kid you not folks- this was heavenly!
Slow cooked hen egg with matsutake mushrooms, creamy grits and pork ragu

Paneed quail with creole mustard, green tomatoes, tasso and fettuccine
Bourbon laquer foie gras, pork belly, applewood smoked bacon, brioche and aged balsalmic
Roasted prawn etouffee - (incredibly huge) Galveston prawns and dirty rice
Smoked jerk short rib with Beecher's cheddar potato au gratin, bitter greens and plantain chip
Photo by Jimmy Breen of
But wait - there were still two courses left!!!!  Countless hours later we were to arrive at our cheese pairing.... buttermilk bleu, Abbaye de Belloc, fig jelly and sour cherry compote
Photo by Jimmy Breen of
Followed by a beautiful farmer's cheese pie with lemon curd, cornmeal crust and blueberry and thyme ice cream!
Photo by Jimmy Breen of
And still, before the clock could strike midnight - one of our generous fellow guests brought with him a treat beyond all hope in the spirit of the holidays....
A gorgeous 1983 Sauternes to share one and all!  Many thanks for this beautiful glass of gold!

It twas a beautiful evening that held the exceptional essence of a place to treasure...

The terrior of delicious art  
       - both on the walls and on our plates!
Photo by Noah Blaustein of the Southern Gun in the midst of the Bleu Acier Studios.