Fall into a bowl of veggie chili

Tuesday, 24 October 2017
It is so THAT time of year again. I love the fall season because I enjoy making soup and chili.

James and I enjoyed vegetarian chili with corn bread on Sunday evening. It is my go-to dish in the fall when I don't have a ton of time to cook dinner. We had just returned from Knoxville, Tennessee, for my friend Melissa's wedding, and I needed to put something together. I was tired after the six hour drive back and wasn't about to go to the grocery store. So, I headed to the pantry. (Sometimes I like to pretend that I'm on the Food Network show Chopped). Which ingredients do I have and what can I do with them?


I try to ALWAYS have canned tomatoes on hand as well as various types of canned beans. I checked the produce drawer and was happy to see carrots, onions, and garlic. I usually buy Hunt's petite deiced canned tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano. (We are finally out of fresh tomatoes and the garden has been tilled under.) I also had a can of Bush's navy beans and a can of Bush's great northern beans. 

This is an easy recipe that you can throw together in no time and let simmer. *Just use whatever spices you have in the cabinet. It doesn't have to be too complicated.

Denae's Vegetarian Chili

1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
6-8 baby carrots, chopped into small pieces
1 can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable stock (you can use chicken), brought to room temperature.
1 T chili powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t cumin
3/4 t dried red pepper (I used Serrano.)
Dash of cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 T olive oil

In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil. Add carrots and sautée over medium to high heat until they begin to get soft, approximately four minutes.

Add onions and sautée for an additional minutes. 

Turn heat to medium, add garlic and sautée for two minutes. Pour the tomatoes, including the juice, into the pan. Stir the mixture, scraping up any browned bits of onion, garlic, and carrots. 

Add drained and rinsed beans, stir. 

Add vegetable stock, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Boil for four minutes, stirring almost constantly. Turn heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes. 

I served the chili with a boxed cornbread mix that I added a bit of corn kernels to. Toppings included grated cheddar cheese, hot sauce, and pickled banana peppers. ENJOY!

Parisian market and cooking with Chef Charlotte Puckette

Monday, 16 October 2017
There's a joke amongst some academics who earned their PhDs: Why didn't I spend three years and copious amounts of energy researching something like cheese making in France? Well on a recent trip to Paris, I did just that. Sort of.

Paris Perfect is a full-service, reliable company in France that rents flats to tourists and also arranges interesting tours, experiences, and dining options. I looked to see if they offered cooking classes and sure enough - we were able to spend the day with Chef Charlotte Puckette. She is originally from the U.S. but has lived and cooked in France for 30 years. Please visit her website. 

First we went to the market. 


We sampled cheeses and chose goat's, sheep's, and cow's milk cheeses for the fourth course of our lunch. Our group of six was on the lookout for seasonal ingredients including mushrooms, figs, and plums. At one beautiful booth, we hit the mother load. Look at those gorgeous varieties (below)!


Back at the chef's amazing studio kitchen in her five floor flat, we prepped Chanterelles, Trompettes, and Porcinis. We used a wet paper towel to wipe off any dirt and then scraped the sides of the Porcinis with a knife to remove additional debris. The mushrooms were to be sautéed in HAZELNUT BUTTER and served over haricot verts, topped with fresh ricotta - that we learned to make ourselves!


The experience was complete with fine wine selected by the chef herself and explained, as well as a lovely bottle of champagne. I brought one back from France for my husband because he's a fan of sparkling wine and we haven't tried this one. 


I met my girlfriend from college, Angelica, in Paris (she lives near London), and she attended the class with me. We were all given tasks during the class and she was asked to rub the skins off of the hazelnuts with a kitchen towel. We roasted the nuts first and once the skins were off, we processed them with butter and put it in the fridge to chill. 


For dessert, we made a rustic fruit tart using a homemade pastry. Chef Puckett taught us to grate the butter into the flour mixture using a box grater. She didn't even use a mixer to bring it all together with ice cold water. We used our hands! We cut up figs and plums, added sugar, and brushed the edges of the tart with butter. The combination of sweet and tart fruit was divine. 


My favorite course was the duck breast. Chef taught us how to make a fig gastrique (sweet and savory sauce) with a bit of wine and shallots. She seared the duck in a cast iron pan and finished it in the oven. It is by far the best duck I've ever eaten. I can't wait to get back to Paris for another culinary adventure! 


Celebrating a CPA in the family

Tuesday, 10 October 2017


My little (younger) brother Dannen passed his final CPA exam. I believe there are four in total and he said the tests are pretty grueling. My mother and I will take almost any reason to throw a party especially if we can host it in a private venue and not do all of the clean-up!


Mom found the Chef's Room at Smith and Wolenskis in Columbus and Nick (Events Manager) set us up nicely. We brought decorations, had chilled sparkling wine waiting, and invited our immediate family. (The immediate family now includes my husband, James, his parents, my brother's long-time partner Haylee and her mom and sister.) The 10 of us had a blast.


To add to the ambiance, we placed large glass hurricanes on the table with candles and we played Pandora (Bluegrass Junction) on my portable Bose bluetooth speaker.


I think Dannen was pleased with the celebration and the room. It was pretty cool because we were able to open the blinds and watch what was going on in the kitchen. Plus, the rectangular set up of the table allowed us to have an intimate conversation space.


The best part of the night was when the sous chef came in to speak to our party AND invite us back to the kitchen to see the beef aging. 

Dried herbs - a great way to have herbs on hand for the winter

Monday, 2 October 2017
It's that time of year - be sure to begin harvesting the remainder of your fresh herbs for drying. I like to dry rosemary, flat-leaf parsley, thyme, sage, oregano, and lavender. I'm trying to dry basil as well but it doesn't always work because it is delicate. This fall I am trying Thai basil to see if it holds up better in the drying process.


Drying herbs is really quite simple. First, harvest your herbs. Take care not to cut too many at once unless you are facing a frost. (You basically want small bouquets.) I harvest herbs and dry them in batches. That way, the air can circulate around the leaves and dry them thoroughly.


Next, rinse the herbs and blot them dry with a paper towel. Remove some of the leaves at the base of the stems so you have space at the end to tie them together. 


Tie the herbs in bundles, keeping like herbs together. (Different herbs dry at different speeds.) Once they are tied, hang the bouquets upside down on a drying rack. You can get creative here - my rack is something I picked up from a thrift shop. I just balance it on my cabinet's handle but I'd really like to hang it from the ceiling in the pantry.


Your herbs are ready to be crumbled or chopped into small pieces when they are dry to the touch (most take about 1 week to dry in the open air). I store them in small, air-tight jars. You can also wait to crumble them into a dish when you are ready to use them. Remember to rub dried herbs between your fingers to release the oil.

*Dried lavender blooms are lovely in small sachets for a delicates drawer or also paired with bath salt for a relaxing soak. (Just remember you'll have to clean out the tub to remove the debris.)

You've Got to Be Kidney-ing Me

Thursday, 28 September 2017

A good friend, and my brother's partner, Haylee lost her father suddenly to kidney disease two years ago.


Bud Erwin was a tall, funny, kind, and caring person. He loved Kentucky basketball, OSU football, and enjoyed cooking for his family and friends. I never had the fortune to meet him but I've loved learning more about him over the years.


This past weekend we participated in Columbus, Ohio's Kidney Walk and supported funds raised to go to awareness and research about kidney disease. In her spare time, away from her busy work schedule, Haylee put a walk team together and tirelessly raised funds by promoting the cause on social media.

She came up with a clever name for the team: You've Got to Be Kidney-ing Me and raised more than $2,000.


If those efforts weren't enough, the director of the Kidney Foundation asked Haylee to tell her story and share about her father. She did a most wonderful job. I know her mother was very proud of her and Bud would also be extremely proud.


Haylee implored the crowd to pay attention to warning signs such as back pain, high blood pressure, itching, swelling of feet, and other symptoms. Bud suffered some of these elements, including Diabetes, but just thought he was "getting old." He was in his 50s. He finally went to the doctor and they found a 11 inch tumor on his kidney. They were unable to save him.


Kudos to Haylee, her mother Gail, her sister Hannah, her friends Nick, and Mandi, and to my brother, Dannen, for spending a beautiful September morning to bring awareness to kidney problems. We are already making plans for our team for next year.

The Columbus Kidney Walk teams raised a total of more than $60,000. *I took the photos.

A New Venture

Friday, 22 September 2017
My love for cooking and teaching will come together soon on a new website. My next book, "Lentils, Dumplings, and Bird Nests, Culinary Lessons Around the World" will be ready soon and I hope to publish the book and launch the new site at the same time.

The website's focus will be on sharing recipes, short how-to cooking videos, and a place to book in-home cooking classes in the Greater Columbus, Ohio area and seasonally on Bald Head Island, North Carolina.

After amazing feedback on Facebook, I settled on my first logo. I have a long way to go in developing my brand but this is a start. I used Fiverr to source a logo, an intro for my YouTube videos, and short clips of music that can be used for videos. Fiverr is pretty amazing because you can access talented freelancers who are up-and-coming artists that will complete projects for a reasonable price.

What are you up to this week?

Exploring the Tetons and Yellowstone

Monday, 18 September 2017
This wildlife in the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park is pretty amazing. James and I have been trying to get to more national and state parks this year and we really enjoyed this part of the country. (Obligatory photo by the sign below.)


James is fairly serious about wildlife photography and I get excited when I am able to capture decent video of creatures so we were up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. each day. It was chilly but we bundled up and hit the road before dawn. I drove and James watched for animals. 


During one outing in Yellowstone with a guide, we ran into this gorgeous female Grizzly. She was walking along the side of the highway. Look at those shoulders! We were lucky to get great lighting and she didn't pay much attention to us. (I shot this with a long lens so it looks like I'm closer to her than I actually am.)


On the same drive, as we were tooling along, I thought I saw a grey-ish four legged animal in the distance, we pulled over and sure enough - this gorgeous coyote was trotting along. It has such a gorgeous coat.


Our most rare encounter with an animal occurred in the Tetons. One late afternoon, we were able to locate this Cinnamon Bear (variety of black bear) in the area where locals believe it dens. It is an amazing red-ish brown color.


Something to be aware of when traveling there in the summer months is the absolute mayhem of people. Take a look at this group of photographers and tourists trying to get a shot of a black bear. Finally a ranger had to come out and tell everyone to move out of the road so people could drive through.


We preferred Teton over Yellowstone because it was much less crowded. Your best bet is to visit in May or September and avoid the summer crowds if possible. We hope to go back to visit in the winter time. 

End of Summer Update

Monday, 11 September 2017
I'm teaching again this semester at Northern Kentucky University and one of my students asked me to read one of her blog posts. This reminded me how much I love to share photos, videos, and experiences with others.

Our garden this year yielded Roma, Big Boy, grape, and cherry tomatoes, so last night I invited my parents, brother, and his girlfriend over for a homemade chili and cornbread feast. We sat by the fire, covered in blankets, and enjoyed an adult beverage. It is getting cooler in Ohio and I love it. We are especially enjoying our new backyard. The deck was rotting so we replaced it with pavers, new landscaping, and a water feature. We enjoy camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so that was my inspiration. It sort of looks like a campground:


My next book is in the works. This time I'm writing about cooking classes that I've taken during travels and the existential lessons I've learned along the way. Staying up to date on my blog will hopefully help me with discipline when it comes to finishing the book. I even had some new photos taken for the author page.


We recently got back from a wildlife photography trip to Custer State Park where we were able to spend hours with a herd of mountain goats. They are so fun to watch. 


Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you too.

First Book Signing (with a shaky hand)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I worked hard to finish my book in as little time as possible after we moved back from Sri Lanka because I wanted people to be able to talk with us about it while it was still fresh.

Land of Spice and Heat, a Fulbright Scholar's adventure in Sri Lanka was published (in print) just last month. The digital version is available through iBooks and Kindle. You can order the print version on Amazon.com.


The book was published using the hybrid self-publishing company Pronoun.com, and we are called "indie authors" by the publishing team. You do not pay to have the book published and receive royalties when copies sell.

It is certainly an interesting way to publish but it is a lot more work when you do it all yourself. You serve as your own editor, marketing specialist, and designer. I designed the cover of my book myself using a template. Obviously this method bypasses the need for an agent and the pitch process to "traditional" publishers. The publishing company gets a cut when the books sell but if you can't get through the design process, there's nothing to publish. That's the incentive to produce a good product.

I learned of this option from one of my mentors at the University of Tennessee. He has used Pronoun for several of his books and I thought that his description of the service was ideal.


I hosted 50 people at my first book signing a week ago. The event was a success and even the reading and question-answer session went well. I was especially excited to see that those in attendance were actually interested (or they pretended to be) and asked several well thought out questions.

James held a photo exhibit during the event to display and discuss some of the pictures he captured of the culture and wildlife in Sri Lanka. They were beautifully presented on easels on the exterior of the event space and people viewed them while sipping wine and enjoying Sri Lankan inspired appetizers.

I made all of the food myself and the chicken curry seemed to be a hit.


The event played out even better than I had hoped for in. All but eight copies of my book supply sold and many guests wanted them personalized in the signing. I found out that when you sign books for people you get to talk and spend a minute or two getting to know them. Our guests were interesting people and I was thrilled to learn more about my community, readers, and why they are interested in travel and Sri Lanka. One gentleman even has a daughter in the Fulbright program. Small world!


My hand shook a bit while I signed books because it was a first, I was nervous, and also high on adrenaline for realizing a goal. One foot in front of the other. Let's find a way to realize what motivates us and practice compassion for ourselves and others along the way.

Hitting the ball around with pro Mike McDonnell

Monday, 10 April 2017
One of my favorite parts of visiting Napa Valley earlier this year (besides wine tasting at Domaine Carneros) was our croquet lesson with pro Mike McDonnell. He is the resident pro at Meadowood Resort and we enjoyed an hour of instruction on a day when we did not go wine tasting.


Can you believe how beautiful those grounds are? I would like to visit again for another lesson.

We learned that there are two versions of croquet. "English" competitive croquet with mallets that are square, and the Americanized "yard" version (can also be competitive) with mallets that have rounded edges. We learned the rules of the former.

Mike made the experience absolutely hilarious, interesting, and educational. James always seems to pretend that he doesn't really "do" sports but so far in our relationship I've come to realize that he is better than me at canoeing, corn hole, bowling, croquet... and the list goes on. I'm a competitive person and he fooled me into thinking I could win at life against him. Nope.

James was beating me during the game that Mike led us through and every so often our instructor would "tap in" and win the shot for me. Here's a great example:



I've always wanted to learn how to play croquet because you don't have to break a sweat, can enjoy a team sport, sip wine occasionally while playing, and play on the tournament courses throughout the world. Bucket list! 

Schramsberg - 13 cases ordered by Nixon as a domestic "champagne"

Friday, 7 April 2017


One of the other sparkling wines we decided to taste in Napa Valley (already being a fan) was Schramsberg. The winery was originally founded in 1862. It has been a winery for 150 years although it is interesting to note that it was not a winery every year since 1862. 

The Schrams were interested in hillside vines rather than valley or farm-like vines which is quite different from the norm in Napa Valley. In 1875, the family was the first to build wine storage in a cave (in the area) and in 2015 the winery celebrated 50 years of sparkling wine.

In 1965, the winery went through a second birth. The new owners loved champagne and sparkling wine and wanted to produce it. However, it is difficult to grow chardonnay or pinot noir in Napa Valley because it is too hot. Cabernet Savingnon grapes, as well as Bordeax, and Malbec grow easily here.


As our guide explained during the tour, Schramsberg sparkling wine was sold to the White House (13 cases) for special events in the Nixon era. The president wanted a domestic option for “champagne.” Barbara Walters apparently talked about the winery on the Today Show for seven minutes.

During the tour we learned that grapes that are low in sugar and high in acidity are best for sparkling wine. Also, who knew but the wire cage on sparkling wines and champagne is not for decoration. The little cage holds the cork in because there is a lot of pressure internally.


The riddling process (bottles are stored inverted and moved ever so slightly over time), which helps to process the yeast needed to interact with the grapes to create bubbles, is usually four to six weeks in length. It can take up to eight to 10 weeks. Sometimes it is done by hand and a person will come through and turn each bottle just slightly every day. Riddling can also be done with a machine. The bottles are put in large cages and moved each day. Mechanically riddled wine isn’t always perfect. Our wine guide explained, “We only walk as fast as the slowest bottle.”


Schramsberg does three sparkling roses: Brut Rose, J Schram Rose, and Querencia Rose. The Querencia Rose is $55 per bottle and the name is a Spanish word that means “Your love of the place you call home.” The proceeds of this wine go to educational foundations that protect farmland for vines. It has a nice pink color. More chardonnay, pinot noir… partially fermented then the skin is removed and the process continues. Winemakers only do a first press so the color comes from that. 10.2% alcohol.

Tasting at Domaine Carneros (Taittinger in Napa Valley)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley may be my favorite winery in Napa Valley (but I love sparking wine).
The house has produced sparkling wine since 1988, using the traditional method - just like champagne - but it cannot be called "champagne" because it is a place, not a wine. We tried several sparking wines.
We tried the Estate Brut Cuvee – “cuvee” means “blend.” It had aromas of lemon zest, grapefruit, golden hay, floral notes of delicate grape flowers. I really liked the subtleness of this blend.

The Blanc de Noir is a “white” sparkling wine from a “black” pinot noir grape. Luscious notes of honey, baked pear, toasted pie crust, and lime zest. This one was a bit too dry for me.
We both like the Brut Rose which had vibrant fruit floral notes of wild strawberries and hints of pear. James loved this one and thinks he can find it on wine.com. Although as we continued tasting, we decided to become members of the wine club because it is free to join, and we can get sparkling wines delivered to Ohio that we cannot get elsewhere.

I enjoy dessert wine rather than actual dessert so the Vermeil Demi-sec – pronounced “vehr – MAY” was lovely. This is a sweeter sparkling wine with aromas of orange blossom, citrus, baked pears and vanilla, with a long, creamy finish.
  
At Domaine Carneros, there are generous tasting options overlooking the valley. The views are lovely even though there is quite a bit of traffic noise.