Christmas Parties to WHOLE 30 to Paris and everything else in-between…..

My mom was thoroughly indoctrinated into the Hammond life and lifestyle. She came for a month and she came during the festive holiday season where parties were in abundance.

Two neighboring couples on another floor invited us to a progressive party that began at their place and progressed to across the hall from them. Here is a small glimpse of a few guests.

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Both condos had varying menus, but one of the gals had her friend Liz make her famous cupcakes. They were MIND-BLOWING good. I am someone who has had many cupcakes in my time in New York, only because I have two friends from NY/my tennis world that consider themselves to be cupcake connoisseurs. They introduced me to Crumb, which I did not find extraordinary and then to Sprinkles, which were the rage for awhile and pretty darn tootin’ good. I tried a Sprinkles red velvet cupcake thinking I will take a bite and throw the rest of it away. (I know insane but I have to ration my caloric intake when in NY or I will be in trouble.) It was divine. I ate the whole thing and felt guiltless because it was so good but Liz’s cupcake in good ole Cincy RIVALED it and surpassed the others by leaps and bounds. I will get her business cards for you!!! If anyone needs over the top in deliciousness. Liz’s cupcakes are it. One was chocolate and the other lemon. It would be rude to not try both. She actually ran out of them they were devoured so rapidly.

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There is a cupcake maker in town that people love and I tried her cupcakes because her branding is so cute and inviting and it was getting a lot of buzz. I threw it away after 2 bites. It was not good. When was the last time you heard of me throwing away food, especially sweets? Yeah, NEVER!

One of the couples throwing the party suggested we try a Chinese restaurant out in Evendale called Sichuan Chili. When we approached the almost non-descript restaurant my mother looked more than skeptical about entering.

It was very clean, no ambiance and some of the best Chinese food I have had in years!!! This includes Chinese food in Chinatown in Manhattan, which for some odd inexplicable reason I believe to be more authentic than in smaller towns but that is truly a preposterous notion. And let me tell you, I thought about that meal for days. And even the leftovers the next day for lunch were superb.

Sichuan Shrimp

Then we ran up 75N to the Monroe outlets to shop. In 1.5 hours, we were unable to hit as many shops as we hoped and we came out almost empty handed. I did pick up a couple of blouses I really like. Merry Christmas from mom!

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is searching for the tackiest Christmas lights in town. I have found some good ones over the years, but this year I was able to acquire a few more for my list.

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Then we have to go to the funeral home and pet the farm animals….

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And here is a picture of my building with Xmas lights. Didn’t photograph well but you get the gist.

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Phillis was my Tasmanian friend in Cincinnati. I have Tassie friends that live in Tassie and a few that I met in Tassie that live over in Perth. Phillis passed away in the fall and in typical upbeat, Aussie form she wanted her 90th birthday party to go on as planned. She was there in spirit and so were her kids and her dear friends. It was a room filled with love for an extraordinarily special woman. I was fortunate enough to be included in the celebration of her life. She was such a lovely human being.

The following morning we went to Littlefield to check out their Sunday brunch. We knew it would be good. It always is!

We did our usual…we order two different dishes and split and share.

We got shrimp and grits with a fried egg on top. I know..the fried egg has not arrived yet!

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My mom being the “Southerner from living 10 years on/off in Savannah” said, “The proper way to eat shrimp and grits is with a fried egg on top.” Let me tell you their shrimp and grits were so tasty. There was a nice amount of grits and we became members of the clean plate club.

Then we tried one of their specials. Savory bread pudding with sausage and a fried egg on top of it. It was yummy but I am so partial to that combination of flavors.

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My mom also ordered a Mimosa that she loved!

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Later that day, we ventured down to Findlay Market for shopping and to try my friend David’s restaurant Pho Lang Thang. I never understood why my mom liked this soup. I had tasted it a few times, years ago, and I did not like it. But when I had my friend David’s soup. I got it. It was amazing. Still craving it!!!

BEFORE PIC:

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Do you think we liked it?

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My mother and me (by familial association) had a dinner party for our family. Various family members suggested a great idea. Everyone brought their favorite appetizer and I made a dessert so we could have something sweet for after.

The food was yummy. Everyone is a really good cook!

My cousin Pam makes something that reminds me of a ceviche without the seafood with fresh avocado among other ingredients and you can scoop it up with the paper-thin Parmesan crackers she makes and artfully adds to the dish.

I wish I had a picture of this dish because it presents beautifully, but I just have a shot of Parm chips.

Parm crisps

Then she made these meatballs and I had just told my mom I was meatballed out this holiday season until I tasted Pam’s meatballs. She said it was just cream and dill. She MUST be lying!!!! I love you, Pam. But there had to be something else in those meatballs that caused me to hoard and devour them until I was aching of bellyaches, because I ate too many of them. I did not share them well either!

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Then there was Cuz Debbie’s seven-layer dip that was tasty. Very few 7-layer dips that don’t hit the spot.

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Aunt Connie made these veggie and egg squares that were tasty.

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The Honorable Cuz Kathy made cheese and bacon quiches, need I say more….

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and her sister Chris, another Honorary, Honorable all the same with those two! She created tomatoes, basil and mozzarella and stacked them on toothpicks.

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We had a ball. We always do! They really know what they are doing when it comes to wine and they brought some great wines. I on the other hand know diddly about wine. I know the difference between red and white and what I like and don’t like!

The next day I had lunch with someone who has asked to be removed from mention in my blog because every time he is mentioned he gets grounded. So we will call him “that not allowed to be mentioned family member.”  I can think of a few things to call him but none would be polite. He is family. I love him dearly.

He came over to my office and had lunch with me and a few co-workers came to meet him.  He went on and on about tennis and it was fascinating. I grew up in a tennis family and knew so much about local tennis growing up here and then more globally after working with a company that does the major tourneys, but I learned things I never knew listening to him speak. It was pretty cool.

Christmas Eve we went to a cocktail party at some very old family friend’s apartment downtown. They had moved from a large three-story house in Prospect Hill to a cozy apartment downtown. It was an architectural delight. Really nice features. The brick walls, the panes of glass over door structures. We visited with their family and then came home for the night.

Christmas Day, my mom took a tortilla and on top of it added salsa, sausage, cheese, avocado and a fried egg. It was yummy. We drank capps.

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We started a new tradition. We watched and really loved How Murray Saved Christmas. We immediately adopted it as a new annual tradition.

http://www.nbc.com/how-murray-saved-christmas

Then I made up a plate of cheeses and salami for an afternoon snack.

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We decided to try three more cheeses and a salami from J.E. Gibbs Cheese down in Findlay Market. If you are local…go!

First, we tried…Pepperoncinco Red Pepper Asiago. It had a little kick. My mom liked it but didn’t love it. I liked it. I think it had a nice flavor to it. Maybe better for enhancing recipes than eating in slices.

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The second cheese, we both loved! It was called Resto Rosso and it is a sun-dried tomatoes and pesto in a gouda cheese. I could have eaten ENDLESS slices of it. No cracker required!

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The third cheese was a Mexican cheese called Chihuahua cheese. It is one of my mom’s all-time favorite cheeses. I am so so on it.

Then we tried a salami called D’ Amore or something like that….pardon me…I do not remember…amore, heart shaped…can’t miss it.  It was delicious.

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The evening of Christmas Day we went to one of our family’s homes in Wyoming, where I grew up! The town not the house. My cousin Debbie and her husband Jim took over his childhood home tucked into the woods on a steep hill, but it felt like being in a tree house. I could only imagine the views out the windows in the daylight. And his parents’ artwork all over the walls was wonderful! I really loved it!!! Deb said I could have a piece of it because there is so much. Usually, I would politely decline, but not this time. I DO want one!!!

Deb had her immediate family, a few of her son and daughter-in-laws friends and her siblings and it was just really nice. Fun night and again another good meal. I was too embarrassed to stand up and photograph her food. They had pork tenderloin that was wrapped around goat cheese, craisins, nuts, etc. I went back for seconds. As well as two different stuffings, a cranberry dish, green beans and it was all good! We didn’t eat dessert because before we went to dinner my mother had told me she wished we had a really good sugar cookie to eat, so I had made a batch from scratch and put the cookie dough in the fridge and when we got home, I said pull off some make little cookies in 8-10 minutes. They were so good that we ate them all by the time she left Cincy.

sugar cookies

 

Probably should not tell you the recipe said it makes EIGHTY cookies!!!! I am sure that is a rough estimation and for really small cookies. Rationalize, rationalize!!

The next night we went to visit a friend in the building and her daughters and we drank fruity drinks and ate snacks and chatted for two hours. It is the thing I love about the building. The friendships in this building are family-like in a lot of respects.

I found a pic of my building that I wanted to share with you! I love this pic!

Hammond North poster 1

The following night we had a party. My mother made the list of the invitees upon hearing me talk, people she has met and we decided upon a Southern menu.

My mother makes the best shrimp and grits. Yes, I have had really good shrimp & grits in various places, but I am telling ya, my mama’s shrimp and grits are yummy!

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Then we made finger sandwiches. A variety from pimento cheese sandwiches to cucumber sandwiches to tomato sandwiches. We trimmed off all the crusts, Hellmann’s mayo and Wonder bread. The secrets to good finger sandwiches!

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My mom is reading some Southern book she picked up in Savannah about having a Southern funeral and it is all tongue and cheek but it has recipes in it. So from there, my mom made Curried Chicken Salad but we used turkey instead!

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My friend Jo gave us a cheese ball so we used it. It was really good.

Cheeseball

I made Rosemary Cashews thanks to the delicious recipe from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook set in Paris called Barefoot in Paris. Rosemary Cashews are so easy to make! Follow her recipe. (Link below.) DO NOT spend the money on gourmet nuts when you can make them so easily and they will taste SO MUCH better than anything you will buy and so much fresher.

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Apparently, the recipe is originally from one of Manhattan’s best restaurants called Union Square Cafe.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/rosemary-roasted-cashews-recipe.html

Then I made Ina Garten’s aka Barefoot Contessa’s lemon bars and pecan bars. The pecan bars ended up being more like a crumble because I didn’t follow the recipe when making the crust. Whoops, but people loved it!!!

Lemon Bars

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Pecan Bars that I turned into Pecan Crumble

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Then spiked eggnog with Kahlua. I could drink it with a straw! I just love it. I could get hooked on it. SO easily. I can only imagine someone walking up to me and saying….what is your poison? My reply: Eggnoll and Kahlua. My weakness at Christmas time.

One of my friends suggested I learn to make it so I can drink it all the time and not just annually. I looked at her and simply said, “Are you nuts?” It is bad enough at Christmastime, but to know how to make it and drink it all the time. NO WAY! I would weigh 500 lbs!!!

The next day we were a bit worse for wear or my mom was as a sore throat really hit her hard. We went back to Pho Lang Thang for Pho soup. After we ran out of the soup.

I tried to replicate it because it made me feel so much better after being sick but I couldn’t. And that is fine because Pho Lang Thang is better, but I wanted to replicate it because I am lazy and it would be easier to make it at home rather than schlep downtown for it and maybe cheaper. I know. So pathetic!

That night for dinner I made fresh guacamole and sautéed shrimp in old bay and garlic and then plopped it on top of the guacamole. Can you say yummy!

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That night I sent a text to a co-worker and said I have serious amounts of leftovers. DO NOT bring lunch! I am! Well, we ate cheese grits (I took the leftover grits and added cheese to them), finger sandwiches, turkey salad, a partial cheese ball, lemon squares and Pecan Pie Crumble.

I like leftovers. I have a mom that would never eat the same thing two days in a row. I do not have that problem. I could eat the same thing three days in a row.

That evening, I went home for Candidates Night in my building, which was guaranteed to be a show, but not before my mom and I ate Red Beans and Rice, New Orleans style.

When we were in New Orleans last year, my friend Alston’s mom made the best Red Beans and Rice my mother and I ever ate! My mom tried to duplicate it several times unsuccessfully. A few New Orleans people told me Zatarain’s is a pretty close 2nd. So we ate that and it was okay. Not as good as Anne’s but good enough to kill the craving.

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I had a bad hankering for sushi. It comes over me in waves and I must eat the fish! We went to Ichiban in Mt. Lookout. The place was packed. They told my mom 20 minutes. She wanted to leave. I told her in the restaurant business when I was in it eons ago we were taught to always overestimate by at least 10 minutes so customers are happy when they get in faster than expected. FIFTY-FIVE minutes later we were seated. I am usually the last one to be so unnerved but that was bullshit. She sat the big tables first instead of realizing the rule of thumb. The perk to being a small party is you get a seat faster. You know if you have a big party you will not, but not this gal. She could have split up so many 4 tops and made them two-seaters and she didn’t. I never do this but I said something. She treated us to a sushi roll, which was very kind and quite frankly necessary for her to do. It made up for the long wait for me. As for my mother, she said she would most likely not go there again. However, the sushi was very good. We tried something called a Pink Panther, which was Spicy Crab, Cream Cheese, Avocado, Shrimp wrapped in Pink Soy Paper, Deep Fried and topped w/ Spicy Mayo and Eel Sauce.

Here is the pink panther:

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Then we had my favorite. Salmon and avocado. I love the combo. I almost always get it.

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I love a spider roll. I love soft-shelled crab. When I lived in New York, I would go to Citarella on the weekends and buy two soft-shelled crab and sauté them in butter, salt and pepper and eat them. Every last bite! If you haven’t tried one, do it. It is delicious.

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Afterward, we went to Littlefield because we wanted to try Grandma’s Fur Coat. We debated about wearing fur coats there to drink them but we didn’t!

It was good but not great. I like Kahlua in my eggnog and everything else complicates it for me. But I loved the idea of it!

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I really, really, REALLY hate New Year’s Eve. I don’t know why but my two least favorite holidays are New Year’s and Valentine’s Day.

I told my mom she was not allowed to leave Cincy before New Year’s. She thought it was because I wanted her there and I did, but I could have gone to a party. She would have been all alone and I as a true hater of New Year’s, I think that would be awful, so I made her stay.

We had a ball.

She made Béarnaise and I cooked up the steaks and I tried three different toppings on three small filets. One I took a spice mixture and mixed it with butter and rubbed it on one steak. Next steak I rubbed with butter and drizzled salt and pepper on it. The third one I wrapped in bacon. Put your hands together, palm-to-palm and bow to the Bacon Gods. For bacon makes everything better. For a veggie, we had tomatoes with melted Gruyere and Swiss on them. It was yummy.

We drank spiked eggnog, we watched fun stuff we had recorded on television and we had such a nice time.

One evening we went to have dinner with her friends, old friends for many years, like family, named Angie and Tom.

I must confess, I didn’t want to go. Long day at work, the weather was crappy. I wanted to go home and crawl into my jammies and snuggle with Dulce on the couch. I am so glad I went. We all had such a ball. It was such a fun night. I really like them. A neat, neat couple.

Well, the evening started with an app that is an oldie but a goodie. Rye bread, thinly sliced onions and Swiss cheese. Melt under a broiler and it is divine.

For dinner Angie made a yummy salad and a big bowl of Cincinnati chili. You could taste all of her spices. I really enjoyed it.

Dessert was a Cincy tradition that I never ever knew about being a world-class ice cream snob. Every year at X-mas time, Peppermint ice cream is sold at UDF. Let me explain, as I said earlier, I am an ice cream snob and only eat Graeter’s. I do not eat UDF. I used to but decided why waste the calories on mediocrity because there is NO comparison. But I must confess the Peppermint ice cream was yummy with chocolate sauce drizzled on top. And then I drove home; stopping at a Frisch’s to buy that “last” slice of pumpkin pie for the year. Do you notice how many last slices I have had?

I wanted to go home and take a bite or two, but after the peppermint ice cream, I knew I was pushing it. I didn’t. Wanted to, but didn’t. Oh such restraint. Please laugh here.

My mom jokes that my car has a hard time going past Frisch’s when it is pumpkin pie season. It does.

I could feel my OUT of control holiday eating was quickly coming to a halt. My doctor had recommended that I try a diet called WHOLE 30 when I told her my joints felt better when I didn’t have carbs or sugar.

Most people start diets on January 1st, but not me. It would have to be the 2nd, because I was smart enough to know starting a diet with my mom still in town would not work. January first was my mom’s last day in town and we were going to Littlefield for The Hangover Brunch. I was not watching my diet for this!

We shared a Truffle Egg Sandwich with Prairie Breeze cheddar, Skyhaven ham, scrambled eggs laced with black truffle on ciabatta. Oh yes!!! People leaned over and told us that was their favorite Sunday brunch dish. I saw many of them pass me by!

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And then…we shared a Frittata that had a yummy cheese called D’affnois (vaguely remember this cheese from my Parisian days), cheddar and Swiss cheeses, mushrooms and a side of local baby greens in a sundried that tomato buttermilk dressing. I loved the frittata, but that dressing on the salad was exceptional.

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Of course, my mom had a Mimosa. I stuck with coffee. Everything was yummy. The sun was shining through the windows. It had such a great vibe considering it was New Year’s Day and could have been easily filled with tired, hung-over, grouchy people. The crowd was vibrant and alive, happy, fun and funky. It was crowded.

The food as always was very good.

My big complaint when I moved back to Cincy was food was good but missed the mark for being great. That has changed. Littlefields is a prime example of this!

I feel like I am back in my home of Manhattan when I am in there. It is the food,  the people, and  the décor. It is my little slice of Manhattan in Cincy.

After brunch, my mom and I hung out and then it was time for me to take her to the airport. Dulce and I went for a long Clifton walk after our airport stop.

We came home and chilled out. I ate the leftovers from brunch for dinner. Knowing the next day my diet was going to change completely. COM-PLETE-LY!!! And quite dramatically!!!

January 2nd, here is the diet. You can tell a lot from the grocery-shopping list.

whole30-shopping-list

Here are the rules.

What you CANNOT eat

I think it would not be so bad if I could eat things like cheese, milk for coffee, yogurt, mayo, and soy sauce.

But I can eat proteins, veggies and fruit. My fats are limited to clarified butter and olive oil. I can and will do both. I am going to try coconut milk tonight, not sure that is going to happen beyond the initial sip.

Part of me thinks I should scrap it because it is hard OR do it but add back in the dairy, but I want to see if I can live like a caveman. I have become VERY creative with my food and it makes me appreciate everything I do and I don’t eat SO much!!!!

So, here is my plan. I am going to do this for 30 days and then I am going to do this diet plus add back in the dairy for another 30 and see where I am!

If you want to join me, come on….my joints don’t hurt. Three days in and I really notice a difference in my face! Thinner.

I feel like it is a good detox and I have never done one but after my gluttonous month…I think I need it.

And the doc said I could shed up to 20-30 lbs. Yeah, I want to try this!!!

I was eating an apple with peany boo for breakfast. NO peanut butter is allowed. Me without peanut butter? It hurts me deeply. Profoundly.

But I need to share my creativity with you. As you could tell, I am very proud of myself for staying within the limitations. Rules.

Below is a zucchini that I peeled into long strips, with a Granny Smith apple that I also peeled into long strips and then I tossed in some lox (aka salmon) added dill, a tablespoon of olive oil. It was really good. I will do it again.

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The next picture is a bit more difficult to decipher. It is a hamburger with roasted leeks, beets and sliced apple on top of it. I cooked onions and garlic into the burger. It was good. Not great! I think if I had fried an egg for the top of it that would have made it even tastier.

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One of the best hamburgers I have ever had in my entire life was in Tasmania. I think it was so good because in addition to all the lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and mayo we put on our burgers. They add beets and a fried egg and it just gives it that, Je ne sais quo. I don’t know what!

Well, I will keep you posted. The blog is going to be a little different for a bit as I navigate the diet and my willpower.

There is a note I want to add here. It is with a very heavy heart that I mention the terrorist attack in Paris yesterday. Paris was my home and since all my homes remain in my heart to some extent (some a lot more than others). I was profoundly affected by it. This morning I came into work and saw The Wall Street Journal and read that the shootings took place in Place de la Republique. I would walk to school around the corner from there, but if it was bitter cold or raining that is the place I went to catch the Metro (subway). (Mom you are going to call and ask where it is…easy…it is where the Habitat store was located.) I had walked the streets around there too many times to count. There were a few stores I frequented there. One to get minutes for my phone and it is where I would go for crepes. I think about what happened and where it happened and it is one of those times and moments I count my blessings and then I think of those less fortunate and I want to cry.

Many people had told me the French were a cold, punishing, cruel bunch, but I had such an opposite experience. I felt embraced and loved. I was treated so well by the French, but then again I was not an ugly American. I liked the French. To me, they were very warm and friendly people. My heart goes out to the French. To my Parisian friends, and to the ones lost.

The other enormous travesty was people being killed for their written words and illustrations. They are words. They are cartoons. And in the name of God? God would never ever condone killing and definitely not in such a violent manner. And what that travesty did to the written word yesterday is unforgivable. Everyone has a right to their beliefs and vocalizing them as long as they do not do it with force. You can say anything you want and that is sometimes not a beautiful thing and sometimes it is! But either way, freedom of speech is one of the best things we have going in the USA. We are lucky!!!! And those French journalists were unfairly gunned down and assassinated for that right we hold with the utmost respect. They were jokes. Grow some thick skin you nasty, worthless terrorists. You are upset about words? Don’t you know…sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?

My unmentionable family member called me and said, “I am so glad you don’t live in Paris anymore!” I said, “I loved Paris.” And he said, “DO NOT leave the country for awhile, E-R-I-N M-O-S-S. You are a journalist!” I told him I write trashy novels and that I am probably not a target of theirs. He didn’t care.

My hope is that fear will not keep us from continually speaking our minds and expressing ourselves.

Je suis desole. J’adore Paris! Bon chance mon amis! (I am sorry. I adore Paris. Good luck, my friends.)

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Until we meet again…

Enjoy! Eat, travel, laugh…often….

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2 thoughts on “Christmas Parties to WHOLE 30 to Paris and everything else in-between…..

  1. Glad to hear Zatarains gets the nod of approval from natives – I love ’em! Chop some red onions, peppers, zuchini and ckn in a skillet, then mix in rice n beans when cooked! Excellent with mango salsa salmon too! Happy New Year, Erin!

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