Our Very Own Paladares


I know I’m not alone when I say that I’d like to visit Cuba one day.  It’s definitely on my travel bucket list.  With regulations easing up, it looks more and more feasible that I’ll be able to make this dream come true and eat in one of the authentic Paladares.  In Cuba, a Paladares is a restaurant run by self employers, usually family run, and often in the home of the family.

Recently I was with a few good friends and they told me that their husbands were sailing to Cuba in May.  Everything about this trip sounds amazing.  They are taking a large catamaran with two captains on board.  As a woman who grew up going to sailing camp, the thought of sailing to Cuba is more than just a little enticing, but alas, it’s not my time yet.  But lucky me, we decided to have a Cuban themed brunch to celebrate the guys upcoming trip.  You can always count on me to say yes to an opportunity to cook good food and eat and drink with friends.  We did so yesterday.

Our hosts were incredibly gracious and made each of us feel welcome and loved.  While the house was impeccably designed and needed no further decoration, our host had added her special themed touches to take the brunch up another notch.  We planned this event in my favorite potluck style.  Every couple brought something delicious to the table.  I can only offer the recipes for the food that I took to the brunch,  but I had to show all of the wonderful food that was there.  I made my own version of pulled pork, tostones, and black beans, but the menu was so much more than my small contribution.  In a way, we created our very own Paladares, and that, along with great fellowship, filled my cup.

Pulled Pork and Tostones
Black Beans with fresh avocado
White rice with cilantro
Black Beans with Cilantro
Cuban Panini’s with ham and pickles made with an amazing homemade caramelized onion bread
American take on a Cuban sandwich made with crescent rolls
Fresh Watercress salad with thinly sliced red onion, avocado, lime and a light vinaigrette
Flan so shiny that it’s impossible to take a picture without a reflection of my hand
Mojitos made with freshly squeezed lime juice and muddled mint. 
Champagne, Prosecco, White Burgundy and a Rum sampling were provided by our generous hosts, as well


Crockpot Pulled Pork


4 pound pork shoulder-trim excess fat
1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced
sea salt
black pepper
1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
14 ounce diced tomatoes
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp lime zest
Juice of 1 lime

Pat pork shoulder down with paper towels and season with sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and cumin.   Drizzle olive oil into the base of the crock pot and scatter onion into the base.  Place pork shoulder onto the nest of onions and pour chicken broth, vinegar, and tomatoes into crockpot.  Mix in the brown sugar and turn crockpot to low.  Simmer for 6 hours until the pork is done and will easily shred with forks.  Remove the pork and use two forks to shred.  Once shredded,  squeeze the fresh lime juice over the pork and add lime zest and another sprinkle of cumin.  Enjoy!

Spicy Black Beans


16 ounce dried black beans
4 cups Chicken or Vegetable broth
1 large jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
1 large fresno pepper, seeds removed and diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves minced
2 tbsp. olive oil

In a large stock pot, add beans and pour boiling water over beans until they are covered.  Cover with a lid and let them sit for two hours.  Drain beans.  While the beans are draining, add olive oil to pot and heat to medium high heat.  Add onion and stir often until softened.  Add peppers and garlic and continue to stir.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cumin and cook until fragrant. (2-3 minutes)  Add beans back to pot and cover with broth.  Bring to a boil and simmer on low for 2 hours.



4 large plaintains
canola, olive, or coconut oil to fry plaintains
lime zest

Peel plaintains and cut on a diagonal into 2″ slices.  Heat a large frying pan with the oil of your choice.  The oil will need to be deep enough to meet the tops of the plaintains.  Heat oil to medium high heat.  Carefully add plaintains and fry for one minute and flip and fry another minute.  Remove and drain on a paper towel.  Use a glass to smash each piece into half the width and return to frying pan and repeat.  Remove from pan and place back onto a fresh paper towel and sprinkle with fresh lime zest, cumin, salt and pepper.  Serve hot!



On Occasion, He Danced


Christmas morning on Harris Street always began with my sister begging me to get up so she could open presents.  Mornings were not my thing.  By the time she could convince me to get up, the house would be in full swing.  Daddy would already have his Christmas albums playing vociferously,  while his strong baritone voice carried over the volume.  He would be dressed in his green Dockers, with his red sweater and Christmas tie,  matching socks, along with his well-worn penny loafers.  This was the one day of the year that daddy cooked, and he went all out.  His dusty waffle maker would be going full force.  He usually made about fifty waffles for the four of us and tried relentlessly to make us eat them all.  As he rotated batches of burned and “not quite done” waffles, my mom, sister and I would giggle and watch with awe.  He exuded happiness.  On these mornings, he danced.

In the midst of cooking, he would take turns dancing with us.  One by one, he would twirl his three loves around as he continued to sing along to his records.  These memories fill my heart with an equal amount of happiness and grief, but I’m incredibly thankful for them.  Memories make up the chapters of my life.

Yesterday, I sat with my mom on her deck, and we talked about happy things…lots of them.  These moments are also few and far between, but also, magnificently special.  We had mostly avoided the topic of daddy, maybe on purpose so we could avoid the inevitable tears, but of course, he came up during our conversation.  How could he not?  She told me a story that I had never heard before…a story from recent years, most likely his last summer with us.  She said the two of them were at the beach for the weekend and they had decided to go to the Dollar General.  Apparently they had good ice cream there.  🙂   While they were there, daddy chose a new tape for them to listen to in momma’s jeep.  They finished their cones and walked outside to a beautiful sunset.  They were parked on a side street.  Momma said that a construction crew was across the road working on a house.  Daddy put his new tape in the cassette player and blasted it as loud as the speakers would allow, and danced with momma in the middle of the street.  Momma’s eyes glistened with so much love as she told me about the dance.  They were in their own world for a moment.  When the song was over, he kissed his love and the crew from across the street cheered and clapped.  She said when he asked her to marry him, he added that dancing was not a part of the deal.  But on occasion, he danced.

Paleo Shrimp Sweet Potato Cakes With Avocado Salsa


Sadly, I can’t take credit for this awesome recipe, but I’m excited to share the original one and my small changes.  Heather Christo is an amazing blogger, mom, chef, published author, wife…all the things.  For years I have followed a small band of food bloggers and this amazing lady is one of them.  In 2014, she was diagnosed with severe food allergies, along with her darling girls, Coco and Pia.  Being the rockstar that she is, she took it in stride.  “Turning Lemons into Lemonade, Heather has totally rededicated her passions into creating delicious allergy free recipes that everyone can enjoy without missing a thing!”

Follow this link to her awesome site and delicious recipes!

I made minor changes, (mainly because I was trying to remember the recipe instead of looking it up)  I know, I can be ridiculous.  I made the shrimp paste in my nutribullet.  I added the shrimp, one whole jalapeno, and a handful of cilantro to the mixer with a squeeze of lemon and lime.  It’s an awesome trick for those of you that can’t use egg as a binder.  I’m already imagining multiple takes on this recipe.

Anyway, Heather Christo is the bomb diggetty, and so is this recipe.  Annnnddddd, buy her new book, Pure Delicious!  It’s divine and a little birdy told me it’s been nominated for a James Beard Health Award!  Yummy!

It All Started At YoZone


It’s no secret that I’m passionate about interior design.  Helping a client decipher what they truly want can sometimes be difficult, but so worth it. There’s nothing like that moment when the client enters the door to their new room and says, “You really got me”

My youngest niece will turn nine years old in a little over a month.  Her early birthday request was to have a bedroom makeover.  We had our first interior design consultation at YoZone.  While we enjoyed our decadent treats, we discussed what she really wanted in her new, “big girl” room.  We searched the internet for things that she loved and found quite a few items that gave me a good sense of her present style.  After our consultation, we went to Lowe’s Home Improvement, and picked out some paint samples together.  We talked about color and our mutual love of unicorns a lot that afternoon.  While I was thrilled to have a unicorn theme, I also wanted her room to be able to grow with her.  There’s always the possibility that she won’t love unicorns in a few years.  🙂  Maybe not though.  I still do.  🙂  We also decided to flip flop bedrooms with her younger brother.  We discussed the possibilities of this move with him and he was just as excited.  It made it more fun for him, too.

After a few weeks of anticipation, today was reveal day.  In all honesty, it was my favorite design job ever.  The look on her face as she opened the door to her room was priceless.  She loves it, and nothing makes the designer in me happier than the moment a client tells you how much they love their new room.


Avocado & Chicken Burgers

jalapeno chicken burger

Oh how I love Monday lunch.  It’s the day of the week that my sister comes over to share a meal with me during her lunch break.  It’s just the two of us.  No husbands, no kids, no mom…just sister time.  Lately we have been watching the HBO series, Big, Little Lies.  It’s sooooo good!  We both read the book a few years ago and neither of us are disappointed with the writers of this series.  The cast is amazing.  Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgard and Adam Scott are all in this wonderfully addictive drama.  Wow!  Today, I made burgers for us to eat while we indulged in our latest obsession.  Healthy. Yummy. Gluten-free burgers.  Try them out.  They are deliciously guilt-free-kind of.  🙂

Makes 4-5 burgers


  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 large or 2 small avocados
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cilantro-chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large jalapeno-seeds and ribs removed
  • 1 large clove garlic-minced
  • 1 tbsp raw agave nectar (do not use if you are following  a paleo or Whole30 diet)
  • 4 ounces goats cheese

Preheat oven to 375º and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil

Cut avocado/s in half and remove the seed.  Use a tablespoon to remove the avocado flesh and chop into 1″ pieces.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the avocado and ground chicken.  Mince garlic clove and add to the bowl.  Chop cilantro finely and add to the mix.  Add salt and pepper to your liking and gently mix together.  Form patties with your hands and place on sheet pan.  Once oven has heated to 375º, place pan on lower-middle rack in oven.  Bake for 15 minutes and then flip burgers over.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

While burgers are baking, dice the jalapeno pepper and place in a small bowl or ramekin.  Add the agave nectar, salt and pepper to taste, and stir.  Stir occasionally while burgers are baking.

To Serve:

Place burgers on a plate.  Top with a round of goats cheese and dress with sweetened jalapenos.


Lessons From Daddy


Every day I think about my dad.  Today is no different from any other in that way, but today I was reminded of one of the many lessons that he taught me.  My parents only had girls, and dad especially, never wanted us to rely on anyone but ourselves in this life.  Don’t get me wrong, he hoped and prayed that we’d find partners in life that would be just that…partners, and we did, but he never wanted us to be less than self sufficient.  It was instilled in us from a very young age.  One of the ways he did that was by making us mow the lawn.  Yes, I said it.  Our dad made us mow the lawn and oh how we hated this chore.  We couldn’t even hope for a tan, because he insisted we wear jeans for protection from possible flying debris.  We used a push lawn mower, too.  There was only a brief time while I was still home that a riding lawnmower was introduced, and there’s a story and a lesson that came with that, too.  I’ll save it for another day.

Today was beautiful.  I returned home after a workout sweaty and tired and decided that I would tackle our front yard.  My husband takes pride in cutting our lawn and honestly, he does an amazing job, so I rarely even think about the task.  Well, I’m really good at telling him how great of a job he did,  and even better at rewarding him with an ice cold beverage.  (it’s the southern lady in me)  This afternoon, as I struggled to get the push lawnmower out of the shed and push it to the front yard, I questioned if I was really up for it, but I knew it would be a nice surprise for my husband and I also wanted an excuse to stay outside and avoid any other work, so I pushed on.  Since the weather has been warm and gorgeous lately, the grass wasn’t overall bad, but it had sprouts of weeds poking here and there that certainly were not pretty.  I guess it’s time to address the weeds that have wondered into our yard, as well.  Anyway, halfway through struggling through the front yard I remembered a Saturday long ago.  Saturday mornings were the day of the week to cut the lawn, if we were in town.  This particular Saturday was one that my teenage self had plans on that had nothing to do with yard work.  I remember the angst I felt at having to do this chore before I could leave.  I practically ran while I mowed the endless lines of grass in the backyard and in no time I was done.  I raced to the back door with a huge smile of relief ready to take a shower and go about my super fun day with my friends, but was quickly greeted by my dad.  He met me at the door and turned me around.  I was bewildered and confused, but he quickly made me understand.  My “super fast” job was not as wonderful as I had thought.  He pointed out how I had not overlapped my lines and there were sprigs of grass sticking up all over the backyard.  I felt the weight of the world at that moment.  Not only did I have to clean those sprigs up, but as part of the lesson he made me cut the whole backyard over again while he watched.   I remember fuming inside.  How dare he make me do this task again.  I had friends to hang out with.  I had important things to do.  As I finally finished my second round of mowing, my dad greeted me and asked me what I had learned.  Begrudgingly I admitted that in my rush I had failed to do a good job.  He looked at me with the kindest eyes and said that every job we take on in life should be done the best way we can do it.  We should always worry about the quality of our work, because it bears our name.  In my haste to mow a quantity of grass in a short time, I had not done a quality job.  It was still hard to look at him with understanding then, and at that age, but to this day it has stuck with me.  I also remember that he pointed out how great the yard looked after my second attempt.  Quality will almost always win over quantity.  It’s just one of those lessons on my mind today.  Thanks dad.

Healthier Stuffed Peppers

Red Peppers stuffed with grilled chicken, quinoa, kale and cheese

As a woman that was born and raised in the South, I’m no stranger to a stuffed pepper.  There were so many meals that my mother prepared for us growing up that still cause my mouth to water, but her stuffed peppers were not my thing.  Everyone else loved them.  I’ve just never been a fan of the green bell pepper, which is what she stuffed with some kind of hamburger meat concoction.   Trust me, I’ve come a long way from the picky eater that I was as a child, but I still have no desire to add the green bell pepper to my diet.  A girl has to be true to herself.

A few years ago, my friends Bill and Cynthia brought a cool jalapeno pepper grill rack to our beach house.  They had stuffed them with some kind of sausage concoction and they were delicious.  I’m a little bit of a jalapeno pepper addict.  I like things spicy.  So, I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually start stuffing peppers.  Here’s the evidence.  🙂


  • 4 whole organic red peppers
  • 1 cup dry organic quinoa
  • 2 small skinless and boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup raw kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 3 cups Gluten Free organic chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella and asiago cheese
  • 3 large cloves of garlic freshly minced
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pack gluten free taco seasoning
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil to medium high heat in a small frying pan.  Add the chicken and cook until the juices run clear.  Most small chicken breasts should cook in about 5-7 minutes.  It just depends on their size.  The chicken will need to be flipped over half way through the cooking time. Once cooked, remove from pan and set to the side. Leave any leftover chicken fond in the pan.  Let chicken breasts sit for at least ten minutes before you cut them.  While the chicken is cooking, fill a small boiler with 2 cups of the broth and the quinoa.  Bring to a slow boil and reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer for about 9-10 minutes.  Keep an eye on it and stir periodically.  You just want to cook it until the liquid is gone.  Salt and pepper to taste.  While quinoa is simmering, add the remaining olive oil to the pan the chicken was cooked.   Bring the pan to medium high heat.  Once hot, add the vinegar to the pan and use spatula to lift fond. Add the minced garlic to the pan and cook until it is golden. ( takes about one minute)  Add the kale and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 2-3 minutes until wilted.  Remove from heat and add the kale to the quinoa.  Mix 3/4 of the cheese and all the taco seasoning into the mixture and set aside.  Chop chicken into small pieces and add to the quinoa.  Remove the tops of the red peppers, seeds, and ribs.  Place in a casserole dish that will fit all four peppers inside.  Fill each pepper with quinoa mixture.  Top with remaining cheese.  Pour remaining broth into the casserole dish.  (this will help the peppers steam)  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30-40 minutes.  Peppers will be soft and liquid will have evaporated.  Remove foil and broil the peppers for 2-3 minutes.  Do not walk away while broiling.  As soon as the cheese starts to bubble, they are ready.  Let peppers stand for 5-10 minutes.  Chop fresh parsley and sprinkle over hot peppers.  Serve with a light salad.


This makes 4 stuffed peppers.  Depending on the size of the peppers, there may be leftover quinoa mixture.  You can save this in the fridge for 2-3 days.  The peppers that I used were rather large and technically were two servings each.  The hubs and I shared one.  My sister heated hers the next day in the microwave and added goats cheese.  It’s not a bad idea, so feel free to add more cheese.



A Keen Design

I can still remember vividly drawing out floor plans, while spread out on the living room floor as a child.  The books I read at the time were so in depth with their descriptions.  From the characters themselves to the homes they lived in, my mind swooned with imagination.  Mom would give me a stack of paper and a pencil and I would spend hours drawing out each room.  Our living room had the best natural light in the house and it was also the most quiet.  Seems like every house in the seventies and eighties had a separate living room space that was only used for special occasions.  Also, ours had cozy, light blue carpet and wallpaper with gold trees.  The room was magical to me.

It was a natural fit to study design, so that’s what I pursued in college.  To be real though, I was a little late with that realization, so my bachelors degree in interior design, came in my late twenties.  After graduating, I married my longtime sweetheart and moved to the beach.  While there, I opened A Keen Design.  (Keen was my maiden name)  It was exciting to work with clients to help them find their style and make their homes reflect more of who they were.  But after a few years of running my own business, I decided to close the doors.

Fast forward the clock ten years and I’m happily thriving with my husband on the other side of the state, with my mom one block away and my baby sister two miles away.  I have some of the best friends and know that I’m blessed.  I try my best not to ever take them for granted.  What I do struggle with is not doing as much design work here.  I have clients occasionally that I do some work for, and when that happens, there’s a light that feeds my soul.  Recently, I had a return client who asked me to renovate his master bedroom.  I had the reveal yesterday.  There’s not much that compares to the feeling of making someone happy, and yesterday, my client was really happy.  I’ve had permagrin since.  So thank you to those of you that trust me to find your vision.  It fills my cup.


Too Early for Wine

I’ve had a plethora of emotions in 2017, and it’s only mid-February.

  • There’s the political atmosphere that keeps my heart rate up.
  • Balancing this “working from home” thing, that’s still pretty new.
  • Working on bettering myself as a writer, a designer and cook…

I never want to disappoint or fall short, but I know that I often do.  This human thing can be tricky and tiring.

Recently, I’ve been re-charged by a returning interior design client. I’m finishing up this week, so I’ll post some fun before and afters soon.    It’s always an interesting challenge to help a client “see” what they really want.  It’s also a challenge not to do everything the way I want to do it.  It’s like a marriage, there’s a lot of compromise to get things right.

My love of food has completely consumed me and I’m looking into the logistics of catering.  I’ve worked in enough restaurants in the past to know that I’m not cut out for the whole shabang.  I’ve taken some samples to friends and asked for feedback.  Here’s a few I tried this week.  They were all gluten-free.  And yes, I’m still working on my cookbook.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve been studying my way through the wine regions of Europe.  Italy was fun.  I’m now working on France and starting with the Champagne region.  🙂  I follow so many wonderful wine bloggers online, like https://winewankers.com/ https://thedrunkencyclist.com/  https://talk-a-vino.com/  and https://pleasebringmemywine.com/  The more I read, the more I appreciate the efforts that each of these bloggers makes to educate us mere mortals on the intimacies of wine.  I write this with the utmost respect for each of them.  As hard as I try to decipher the aromas and tastes that grace my palate, I still haven’t been able to tell you if there’s a minerality or smokiness to my wine.  I’ve resorted to looking up the descriptions online about each bottle and then trying to “sniff and taste” them out.  So kudos to those of you that can; it’s not like I haven’t finished off enough glasses to have a minor in Wino.

So as I continue to work on my plans for this year, I hope you’ll continue to follow along with my progress.  Clearly, I have a lot on my mind, and need to work on completing some of the ones that I’ve already started, versus adding more to the list.  And is it acceptable to open a bottle of wine before noon on a Wednesday?  Never mind.  I’ve actually got to get some things done, but a girl can dream.

Fried Chicken & Waffles


Believe it or not, it had never crossed my mind to make these at home before yesterday.  As a southerner, born and raised, I have an intimate relationship with this combination.  Just the mention of it causes my mouth to salivate.  So in celebration of finishing a self imposed 21 day detox, I fried chicken.

Ingredients for Fried Chicken:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter


Cut each chicken breast into three pieces. Sprinkle each piece with salt and pepper on both sides.  Fill two separate pie or casserole dishes with flour in one and half and half in the other. Mix honey into the half and half mixture.  Dredge chicken in flour, followed by half and half, and then back to the flour once more.  I use tongs to lessen the “biscuit fingers”
Heat a large skillet with the canola oil to medium-high heat.  When hot, add butter and use a spatula to mix it into the oil.  Add chicken to pan.  It should immediately start to sizzle.  If it doesn’t, your pan isn’t hot enough.  (this can make the chicken greasy)  Cook each piece for 3-5 minutes per side.  Try to only flip once.  Make sure that chicken is cooked until the juices run clear and there is no pink left inside.  Cut it open in the middle if you question it, at all.

Ingredients for waffles:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the waffle iron until ready.  Beat the eggs with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Add in flour, milk, half and half, canola oil, sugar, baking powder, honey, cinnamon, salt and vanilla.  Once the mix is smooth, set aside for 2-3 minutes.

Spray waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray and ladle mix into the iron.  Cook until golden brown.

To Serve:

Place one waffle on a plate and top with 2-3 pieces of fried chicken.  Add a few tbsp. of butter to the hot waffle and pour maple syrup over the whole plate.  Serve hot!  Depending on your hunger level, this either serves 2 or 4 people.  My waffle iron makes large waffles that could easily be cut in half.

This is not gluten free or low in fat, but it’s entirely worth the splurge.