Pumpkin Spice Beignets with Caramel Sauce

Here we are in the middle of my favorite season! The days are definitely getting cooler and shorter. To my standards that means I need to be surrounded by pumpkin. From the windows to the walls I need pumpkin spice everywhere in the Fall. I don’t feel there is a thing as too much pumpkin spice when it comes to baking during this season. I try to incorporate pumpkin in as many culinary concoctions as I can.

I was rummaging through my pantry and found some Café Du Monde beignet mix I still had in my possession from a Mardi Gras party earlier this year, pre COVID lockdown. I love this mix because every time I make these beignets, it transforms me back to the French Quarter where I first experienced all that Café Du Monde has to offer. After one bite of beignets, I also get the sense of being in Paris at a quaint little French bistro. What a fantastic way to mentally escape and travel the world.

Me at a quaint bistro in Paris

I also obtained a large tub of pumpkin pie flavored hummus from Costco a few weeks back. Since I was moving at a glacial pace eating it all by itself, I thought the perfect way to use both of these ingredients is with a new recipe. I decided to combine both the pumpkin pie spread with pumpkin puree and stuff it inside some authentic beignets. Then I would top them off with cinnamon and powdered sugar for that beignet authenticity . Not only that, I decided that these fried masterpieces needed to be topped off with a caramel dipping sauce to add even more flare.

I must say that I was even impressed with results of these treats. I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie at all, but I would eat these Fall inspired beignets any day of the year. Check out my recipe and DIY video below.

Music: Meet Me in Paris- Darien Brockington

Ingredients

(Make approximately 12 beignets)

Beignets:

2 cups Café Du Monde beignet mix

7 oz. of water

Filling:

1/2 cup of Delighted By Pumpkin Hummus (Buy some here)

1/2 cup of pumpkin puree

1 quart 1 liter vegetable oil for frying

Topping:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tbsp. cinnamon

Caramel Sauce (optional):

(Click here for recipe)

Cosmic Shimmers (optional)

Directions

Make caramel sauce (optional) .

Make topping by combining confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon in a small container or shaker. Set aside.

Using a large bowl, following package directions on beignet mix to make the dough. Once dough has formed set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together pumpkin pie hummus and pumpkin puree. Mix together until fully combined.

Roll out dough onto floured surface in a form of a large rectangle approximately 1/8″ thick and 11″ x 14″ in size. Using floured knife, cut large dough rectangle into smaller rectangles approximately 2″ x 3″ in size. Using a tablespoon, spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons onto each rectangle. Fold and seal up each beignet to prepare for frying.

Using a large pot or Dutch oven, heat up vegetable oil to 370F. Fry beignets 2-3 at a time for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and puffed up.

Place beignets on rack to allow oil to drain and cool. While beignets are still warm cover them with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon topping.

Dip beignets into caramel sauce or drizzle on top of beignets.

Devour and enjoy!

Pumpkin spice beignets with caramel dipping sauce

Pumpkin and Crispy Tofu Curry

I can’t believe we have reached October of this year! It has been a long and hard road stuck here in California not being able to venture out across the world. I am thankful that I am safe at home, but I miss traveling with a passion. My last trip before I would be handcuffed to the West Coast was Southeast Asia. I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to spend three weeks overseas for an unforgettable adventure. I was able to visit Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore and eat and explore to my heart’s content.

Going through travel withdrawals for these past nine months has required me to be inquisitive on how to cure my addiction. I made travel shadow boxes which features some of my most treasured collectables from my worldly explorations. (Here’s the link to my DIY guide). I even rewatched seasons one through twelve of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown for the 100th time, which definitely is one of my favorite series. After all that I still have a longing for packing my colorful suitcase and waking up someplace new. If I can’t travel somewhere why not at least create something for my tastebuds to travel to.

Curries of Thailand

Since it’s my absolute favorite season I decided I would incorporate Fall’s favorite fruit into my dish. I brushed off one of my latest cookbooks from my last trip and decided to try my hands at pumpkin curry. To be honest living in L.A. has allowed me to never have to make my own Thai food as there are some amazing places to order from. I rather enjoyed making this dish. As I chopped up the pumpkins and squashes, I was reminded of when I was in Chiang Mai at an elephant sanctuary feeding elephants of all ages out of my own hands. After I took my first bite of this curry, I was brought back to my fabulous curry dinner I had in Phuket. This curry dish is spicy, hearty, flavorful and its definitely worth giving a try!

Step by step video
Music: Yellow- India.Arie

Ingredients

Broth

1 quart (32oz.) of vegetable stock

4-5 sprigs of lemongrass

2 cups (approximately) of celery stalk

Curry

1 pack extra firm tofu, drained and dried out

2 tbsp. curry powder

2 tbsp. ground coriander

2 small/ medium sized pumpkins

4-5 large dried chilies, soaked in water to soften

2 tbsp. (2 cloves) garlic, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. seaweed powder (substitute for shrimp paste)

2 tbsp. of lime zest (approximately 2 limes), finely chopped (substitute for kaffir lime zest)

2 tbsp. of lime juice (approximately 2 limes).

¼ cup peeled shallots, finely chopped

1 ½ tbsp. lemongrass, finely chopped

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. of fish sauce (use seaweed powder for Vegan option)

28oz. (2 cans) coconut milk

1 tbsp. of coconut sugar

¼ cup basil leaves (substitute for Thai basil)

coconut oil

salt/ pepper to taste

additional vegetables of your choice (optional)

cilantro

Directions

In large pot simmer together vegetable stock, lemongrass and celery stalks until it comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow stock to cool completely. Refrigerate overnight if possible, otherwise let sit for a few hours.

Pat dry tofu. Cut tofu into bit size pieces. Add tofu to a medium sized bowl. Add 1 tbsp of curry powder, coriander, salt and pepper to taste. Mix tofu and coat with coconut oil. Bake tofu at 425F for approximately 40-45 minutes.

Cut pumpkins in half and clean out seeds with spoon. Coat pumpkins in coconut oil and add salt pepper to taste. Add pumpkins to baking sheet and bake at 425F for approximately 20-25 minutes.

While tofu and pumpkins are baking, in a large pot or dutch oven heat oil oven medium heat. Add peppers, garlic, bay leaves, shallots, lemongrass, remainder of curry powder, coriander, cumin, seaweed powder, half of lime zest and lime juice and salt/ pepper to taste. Stir-fry until fragrant. Deglaze pan by adding half of vegetable stock. (Save other half of stock for making your rice). Remove bay leaves and chilies from the pan. Add coconut milk.

Once pumpkin is finished cooking. Remove outer rind, chop it up and add it to the curry. Continue to stir-fry. Add remainder of lime zest and lime juice and season with fish sauce (seaweed powder) and coconut sugar. Simmer over low heat until pumpkin is very tender. Add tofu, basil and additional vegetables of your choice. Turn off the heat.

Make jasmine rice according to package instructions with additional vegetable stock. Serve in a bowl. Garnish with basil and cilantro.

Devour and enjoy!

Central California During COVID

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting my mother during her birthday weekend. I must say that although I was looking forward to the time well spent with my fabulous matriarch, I was anxious about traveling during the middle of the continued COVID pandemic. These last past months I remained bunkered down in my Los Angeles chateau only venturing outside when absolutely essential and of course masked up. This trip not only would be my first time traveling outside L.A., it would also serve as my first time back on a plane since the Coronavirus reared its ugly head in the U.S. I, being the experienced traveler that I am, made sure to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 traveler requirements for myself and the airlines. I was also weary about all the fires along the West Coast and how that would affect my travel plans as well as my allergies. I booked my ticket, got my masks cleaned and packed, secured my Flonase and prepared for a wonderful and safe adventure in central California.

My Central CA Trip
Music: Blessed by Jill Scott

Where I stayed:

Carmel, CA- A quick 20 minute drive from the Monterey Airport and nestled inside Monterey County lines off the coast of California is the small city of Carmel. Fun fact, Clint Eastwood once was the major of Carmel. Another fun fact, my mother being born and raised in San Francisco always wanted to retire in this naturally beautiful city. Although she may not be retired just yet she bravely moved here a few years ago and loves her community every day. Carmel is naturally picturesque with views of 100+ year old evergreens on the mountainsides and the beauty of the world renown California coastline just a short five minute drive away. What she and I also love about Carmel is the sincerity that comes with its quaintness. People are indeed friendly to not only each other, but the environment and definitely dogs. There are also some great natural hiking trails intertwined into the Carmel Valley landscape. On Sunday, my mother and I went for a nice hike along a trail by the Carmel Valley River.

(Here’s more information on the city of Carmel, CA) 

What we did:

Paso Robles- About an hour and half drive away from Carmel is the valley laid city of Paso Robles. This was my first visit to this city and it definitely won’t be my last. Paso Robles is home to several well known wineries including JUSTIN and Halter Ranch Vineyards to name a few. This particular visit to Paso Robles was for another venture so we saved the wine tours for a different time. My mother and I happened to stumble upon the downtown area after I looked up a dinner choice on Yelp. I enjoyed the small town vibe, but there were also tons of good food options with outdoor dining and excellent wine selections. I must also say that this city was on top of their COVID safety practices. Everyone outside was wearing masks, all of the restaurants had only outdoor dining available and were cleaned well. There was also social distancing being upheld in the large park located in the heart of downtown.

(Here’s more information on wine tours available in Paso Robles)

Sensorio- Honestly this place has been on my radar for longer than I can remember. My mother and I were discussing, and I can’t recall how I originally found out about this experience, but I am so thankful that I did. I originally had plans to visit Sensorio last year but couldn’t fit it into my busy physician schedule. Sensorio was also temporarily closed during the beginning of this year, of course related to the pandemic. It is now open and rightfully so. If you are unfamiliar with this place, imagine Willy Wonka meets National Geographic in this intersection of art, technology and nature. Its an outdoor exhibit filled with colors and wonderment. I purchased two general admission tickets about a month prior to our visit as there are limited amount of entries daily to allow for social distancing. I honestly don’t think the VIP tickets are necessary. From what I observed, VIP status allowed for a 5 minute head start upon entry and a patio to observe the Lights. Luckily if you arrive at least 15 minutes before 7pm, you will have front line access to entry to the Field of Lights. There is also plenty of seating inside the exhibit. My mother and I found a large bench and sat in the middle, so we could have the perfect view to watch the Lights come on. The exhibit also has strict COVID guidelines. Everyone was required to wear masks at all times inside the exhibit, except for when eating or drinking. Upon entry to the exhibit everyone underwent thermal temperature checks as well. Social Distancing was observed also in the food truck dining areas not only the exhibit. The Field of Lights is definitely a must see to anyone who enjoys art, nature and chromaticism.

(Here’s more information on Sensorio.)

Posing at Sensorio
Field of Lights

Carmel Beach- Although this natural treasure is technically located in the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel holds the fame of the name. This beach is renowned for its good surf and breathtaking sunsets. This beach is also surrounded by the architectural and unique homes of Carmel-by-the-Sea which makes for a great backdrop and walking views. This beach does have limited parking so get here early. I like this beach because it not as busy and known as beaches frequently visited in Big Sur, CA, which is about a 20 minute drive away.

Masked up on the beach

What we ate: 

TASTE! Craft Eatery located in downtown Paso Robles. 

I discovered this place after searching for some nutritious vittles on Yelp nearing the end of our car ride. I made the right choice and would definitely recommend this place to anyone planning a trip to Paso Robles. TASTE! Is located in the heart of downtown and directly across the street from the park. There was plenty of available outdoor seating with social distancing in mind. I loved that all the staff was masked up as well. The staff also cleaned every table throughout each dining experience, which was reassuring. The food at this place was also very satisfying. This place offered a variety of healthy and vegetarian food options, from their sliders to their salads. It was also my cheat day, so I also indulged in some local red wine and garlic fries.

(Here’s my complete Yelp review here)

I am continuing to send my thoughts and prayers to all those in California and along the entire West Coast directly affected by the continuing wildfires. I pray also for all the fire fighters throughout the state and country on the front lines of these catastrophic natural disasters. Climate change is real! Do your part to decrease your carbon footprint.

(Here’s more information on how you can do your part)

The Best Time to Visit Fiji

Fijian boat ready to sail off

The Best Time to go to Fiji

Fiji is a land made of up of more than 300 tropical islands. It inhabits the South Pacific Ocean and has some of the best resorts worldwide. Fiji also offers unforgettable snorkeling / scuba adventures, great nature parks, breath taking beaches and much more. With so much land and islands to explore, choosing the best time to visit is essential to guarantee a great time. No matter the time of the year Fiji is a beautiful nation to visit and experience at least once. Here are some things to consider before booking your next vacation

1.  “Fijian Winter.” 

Many consider best time to visit Fiji is during the dry season, between the months of May and September; this is known as Fijian Winter. Since Fiji is a tropical climate, it remains warm and humid year round. The average temperature in Fiji is 77°F (25°C). During the summer months (December and January) the temperature can average above 86°F (30°C), not taking humidity into consideration. During Fijian Winter the climate is less humid and slightly cooler making it a pristine time to explore. Since this time is considered ideal for travel, you can expect more tourists and higher prices during your trip. This time is also considered winter break for many Australians and New Zealanders so expect more families during your stay. 

Some events to check out during this time: Bula Festival (July), Fiji International Jazz and Blues Festival, Fire Walking Festival (July or August), Hibiscus Festival (August), Sugar Festival (September).

2.  Cheaper Travel

November through April constitutes Fiji’s typhoon season. During this time of year, you are more likely to run into warmer days and daily storms. Although the weather during this time is not ideal, if you are looking for a travel bargain this is the time go. Many airlines and hotels are looking to fill empty spots so you are more likely to get discounts on your flight or accommodations during your stay. Also are you not only able to get more for you money during this time of the year, you are more likely able to take advantage of the less crowded, secluded beaches. There are less people visiting the many islands of Fiji during this time so it can feel almost like your own private island. 

Some events to check out during this time: New Year’s Day, Holi (February /March), Easter (March/ April). 

3. Diwali 

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is a very celebrated tradition in Fiji. With approximately half of the population of Indian descent this celebration is celebrated by both Hindi and non-Hindi.  The five day celebration is observed every year in early autumn after the conclusion of the summer harvest and coincides with the new moon. This celebration is considered one of Fiji’s major festivals and is displayed with fireworks; homes and businesses light up and fill with gatherings and course amazing food. Diwali is very festive time in Fiji and one the most important holidays to witness. 

Getting my henna for Diwali

4. Fiji Day/ Week 

This is a public holiday that celebrates the anniversary of Fiji’s independence from British colonial rule in 1970. This holiday includes a week of festivities centered on Fijian and Indian cultures that concludes on October 10th. This holiday includes celebrations expressing the countries diversity including parades, street parties, traditional dances, and singing performances. Most local cities and towns have their own unique way to remember this important day. 

Fiji has something amazing to offer everyone any time of the year. Embark on your dream Fijian vacation with myself as your Acanela Ambassador!

One Day Guide to London

London, United Kingdom is a great and well known travel destination. There is Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the famous London Bridge, left sided driving and double decker buses to intrigue any traveler to visit. London also has an underrated thriving food scene. If you are someone such as myself, you might have been to and through London on many different traveling adventures. London Heathrow airport is the second busiest airport in the world when it comes to international travel and serves as a major layover hub. Frequent travelers have probably done and have seen the expected tourist traps and are not interested in the same.  Whether you’re just passing through London for a stopover or its your final destination, sometimes it can seem overwhelming trying to decipher what to see and eat in this major cosmopolitan city. Whether your time in this large metropolis is limited or not, it helps determining and coordinating where you want to go ahead of schedule. I decided to assist anyone interested in spending 24 hours in London by providing a day-guide below. Cheerio! 

London

Morning

Crosstown doughnuts– Definitely start your day off early with some much needed vittles. This donut shop has many locations located throughout London and for good reasons. Crosstown is well known for its freshness and creative flavors. This shop prides itself in sourcing its ingredients locally so everything is super fresh. They feature vegan and non-vegan original flavor varieties as well. The doughnuts are so amazing that they usually sell out within a few hours. During one of my visits to London I learned my lesson the hard way as I traveled to three (I was determined) different locations late in the day only to discover that all of the locations were completely void of any doughnuts. That being said, start your day off right so you don’t miss out on this fried dough bliss.

Oxford St.- After stuffing your face with fried deliciousness burn those calories off with some retail exercise. Oxford St. is London’s most famous shopping street. This point of interest features miles of high and low end retail shops, along with pubs and restaurants. You could easily spend your entire day on this one street. Oxford Street is a great place to scoop up some souvenirs or just window shop if you’re not looking to spend all those pounds. It is easily accessible via the Tube system which is also a bonus. This area can get busy and filled with tourists so plan your day accordingly and start early before it gets too crowded to appreciate. 

Afternoon

Collin’s Room– You can’t go to London and not experience a traditional English tea. The Collin’s Room tea at The Berkeley Hotel features an afternoon Prêt-à-Portea, a delectable homage to the world of fashion.  I had the pleasure of enjoying an afternoon tea here with my mother during her birthday trip and its positively worth the visit. For anyone who loves food and fashion, such as myself, I recommend this afternoon tea extravaganza. This special tea features amazing sweet and savory treats inspired by the freshest designs from Fashion Week. I truly appreciated the vegetarian options and the expansive worldly tea menu.  The décor and atmosphere make it an unforgettable experience. I would definitely make reservations for this enticing memorable experience. (More information here) 

Evening

Chalk Farm, London– This area is a diverse community located on the northern end of Camden Town’s famous, expansive market. The wide array of stalls in the Stables Market sell vintage fashion, crafts, and antiques. Chalk farm road features cool vintage boutiques and cafes without the pretentious hipster feel. You can’t visit this area of London without checking out Amy Winehouse’s statue and a show at the famous Roundhouse Theater. The Roundhouse Theater is a famous performing arts center that features up and coming live music performances, circus acts and alternative theater.  When my mother and I visited London for her birthday celebration we had the opportunity to see one of my favorite artist Janelle Monae perform. I appreciated the Roundhouse theater because of its smaller, circular venue. I was able to see Ms. Monae up close and the acoustics were amazing.

Janelle Monae

The Mayfair Chippy– After the show enjoy a delicious night cap at The Mayfair Chippy. This quintessential restaurant features some of the best beer battered fish I’ve ever had in my life. It has great ambience and amazing food. The mushy peas will change anyone’s negative option about the green vegetable because they are so well seasoned and a great accompaniment to the fish and chips. I especially love the curry dipping sauce that came with my fish basket. This place is absolutely worth a visit, but make sure to place reservations at one of their two locations. Also be sure get here before closing time at 9:45pm, as everyone is trying to get a seat at the table. (See my Yelp review here)

Haddock Fish and Chips

*Bonus- If you have more than 24 hours to spend in London I highly suggest booking a day trip to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not far too from the city of London. My mother and I also had a chance to spend the day there on her birthday during our trip, which made it even more remarkable. The best way to travel there would be the train in my opinion. It’s a very scenic trip that allows you to view the plush and green hillsides of England. Just make sure that you buy the correct train ticket to the city of Salisbury from the London Waterloo station. Once you arrive in Salisbury take some time to visit this adorable quaint little town. You can also book a Stonehenge Bus tour which provides you a guided tour of the city of Salisbury on your way to Stonehenge and picks you up right outside the train station. Stonehenge itself has wonderful grounds, a visitor center and shop for you to enjoy your full day visit. 

Stonehenge
On the way to Stonehenge

5 Activities To Make your Paris Trip Extraordinary

Eifel Tower

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world! This cultural mecca is known for its amazing museums, restaurants and shopping. I first fell in love with the ‘City of Love’ when I decided to take my first solo trip there for my 30th birthday. I planned this amazing all accompanying trip that included my favorite activities. Since it was my first trip I made sure to include all the worthy tourists attractions, but I also included some other unique experiences. There was just so much to do and see! As mentioned in my previous article (see My Top 5 Solo trips) I have been coming to Paris every year for the past 6 years because it’s my favorite city. During every trip I try to include some uncommon activities to keep my spirit intrigued and wanting to return. I have listed those below so others can enjoy the magic that is Paris.

Streets of Paris
Bistro in Paris
  1. The French Open– During my first trip to Paris I came at the perfect time. I went during the last week in May for my birthday (Yes I’m a Gemini) and had the privilege to visit and experience Roland-Garros. This was my first major tennis tournament and I’m glad I took the time to plan this event into my trip. My experience at the French Open is one of the reasons I fell in love with Paris. I had a chance to see one of my idols, Serena Williams, crush her competition on the main court. (She even one the French Open that year!) Besides all day matches to watch, Roland-Garros has beautiful grounds to stroll and savor. There are also tons of cute cafés and shops in and surrounding the grounds. Roland-Garros is easily accessible from the city via public transportation; which I recommend using in Paris because it’s the best way to get around town. If you get the opportunity to visit Paris in the Spring I highly recommend incorporating the French Open into your trip.
Me at the French Open

2. A cooking class– French cooking is the epitome of cuisine. Paris hosts a number of Michelin star restaurants, although I honestly prefer the perfect corner bistro for cuisine. The most enticing part of French cuisine to me is their wonderful breads and pastries. I had the amazing opportunity to roll up my sleeves twice for two different cooking classes during my visits. The first class I signed up for through La Cuisine Paris was about French pastries and desserts. We concocted everything from macarons to pain au chocolat. The second class, by Cook N with Class, I joined during a separate visit focused on French breads. I learned how to make the classic baguette and some bomb brioche. Truly both experiences were amazing. The instructors were extremely personable and I was able to take home all the recipes we made with tons of samples. I had a blast learning about French food and was able to stuff my face at the same time. Immersing one’s self into a culinary experience brings you closer to that country’s culture. You not only are able to be a part of the food but it also becomes a part of you.

Learning how to make French baguettes

3. Versailles– France and Paris are known for its amazing historical architecture. When I visit Paris, I love to walk through the city in awe of all the old buildings and beautiful parks intertwined. The Palace of Versailles is the cherry on top of French design and composition. Versailles is located only about 30 minutes outside of Paris and it is definitely worth the trip. Plan to spend a whole day here because there is a lot to see and a lot of people who want to see it as well. The Palace of Versailles is a World Heritage Site where you can view fabulous and famous gardens, The Hall of Mirrors, The Royal Opera, regal chambers, etcetera. I had the opportunity to book a tour here using TripAdvisor that included roundtrip transportation and the entrance fee to Versailles.  I would definitely suggest booking ahead of time as well. Check out more information here. 

4. Catacombs– Paris is known as the ‘City of Light’ but who knew underneath lived a dark past filled with remains of millions of Parisians. The catacombs are a unique site and a great change of scenery to the hustle of the city. It is literally an underground maze filled with billions of bones. I encourage a visit to anyone with an inkling of an interest in history. I went a few years ago and I had a fascinating experience. I had the pleasure of a guided tour which is a must. Otherwise you are stuck wondering around confused underground. My tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and made my tour more enjoyable. The catacombs are easy to access via Metro. Once again I recommend booking your tour ahead of time otherwise the wait time can make the excursion unbearable. More information here. 

5. Champagne– This last trip to Paris I thought I would treat myself to an original cultural experience. As I stated in a previous post I fell in love with Rosé after visiting the Côte D’Azur. After popping and sipping several bottles over the years, I was intrigued to learn how to make Rosé and its bubbly cousin champagne. I went to my go-to TripAdvisor and found a tour to Champagne, France from Paris. During this all-inclusive tour I had the opportunity to visit a private vineyard, learn and visualize the process in making sparkling rose and sip on some the best champagne I’ve ever had! I also visited the Moet & Chandon mile long champagne cellar and sampled more champagne. This private tour also included a visit to the city of Champagne, one of the oldest chapels in France and also Dom Perignon’s grave site. It was truly an unforgettable trip and I recommended it to anyone visiting Paris.

Côte d’Azur Cake

Three Summers ago, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to the South of France. For those of you who don’t know, Paris, is my most favorite city in the World!! (Super cliché I know).  I never had a bad experience while visiting France so figured that I had to check out one of these most renown places for the elite and prosperous.

Glass of Rose’ in Eze, France

Nice, France and its surrounding cities are in ways indescribable. The countryside, the breathtaking views, the historic sites, the people, the yachts, all make the South of France one of the thee most sought after places to travel. Once thing that I recall about the food of the area was the fresh produce. 

Open food market in Cannes, France

While visiting Cannes, I had a chance to go an open market. I don’t want to call it your typical “farmer’s market” because this market would put any market I’ve been to in the States to shame. The food in Cannes was some to the freshest vittles I have ever put in my mouth. I mean the bread, the cheese and the PRODUCE!!. After that experience I realized why this area is called Côte d”Azur or “fruit of the sea.” Not only was seafood amazing but the literal fruits of the area are the best I’ve ever had.  I had the tiniest of strawberries from the market but they were probably the juiciest little things I’ve ever tried.

Fresh bell peppers
Fresh mushrooms

Not only is this area known for their food but also their Rosé. A glass of Rosé with fresh ice is the drink of choice when one is sitting on the promenade enjoying the wonderment of France. I had the best and most Rosé I’ve ever had in my life. I must admit that Rosé is now my drink of choice on a warm relaxing L.A. day.

After this fabulous trip I knew that I wanted to create a way to remember all the glorious experiences of Côte d’Azur. I had heard of a pink champagne cake and thought I can make it better and luxurious like my Summer trip to France. Here’s what I came up with:

Côte d’Azur Cake

Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 25 minutes
Cake cake cake…

Côte d’Azur Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
1 ½  cup plus 2 tbsp. of granulated sugar
6  large egg whites, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
½ cup Rosé or dry Moscato
¼ cup seedless raspberry preserves
Rose color gel
1 pint of strawberries, wash and dried
1 pint of blackberries, wash and dried
Vanilla Buttercream:
8  large egg whites
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 cups unsalted butter room temperature, cubed
2 tsp vanilla extract
Rose color gel
Cake cake cake…
INSTRUCTIONS
Côte d’Azur Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour three 8 or 9″ cake rounds, line bottom of pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat on med-high until pale and fluffy (5-7mins).
  4. Reduce speed and add egg whites one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla.
  5. Place raspberry preserves in a microwave safe measuring cup. Place in microwave for approximately 30 seconds until preserves have melted. Add Rosé to preserves and mix together.
  6. Alternate adding flour mixture and Rosé mixture, beginning and ending with flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of champagne) to batter in stand mixer. Make sure to fully incorporate after each addition.
  7. Add a small amount of Rose color gel using a toothpick. Mix to incorporate but try not to over mix.
  8. Spread batter evenly into prepared pans. Smooth the tops with an offset spatula.
  9. Bake for approx. 25 mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
  10. While the cakes are baking, slice strawberries cross-wise about 1/8 inch thick. Place in a small bowl and mix with tbsp. of sugar. Set aside
  11. Slice blackberries length-wise. Place in a small bowl and mix with tbsp. of sugar. Set aside
  12. When cakes are done, place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10 mins. then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
Vanilla Buttercream:
  1. Place egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk until combined.
  2. Place bowl over a hot water bath on the stove and whisk constantly until the mixture is warm to touch and no longer grainy to the touch (approx. 7-8 mins).
  3. Place bowl on your stand mixer and whisk on med-high until the meringue is stiff and cooled (the bowl is no longer warm to the touch (approx. 5-10mins)).
  4. Switch to paddle attachment. Slowly add cubed butter and mix until smooth. Add vanilla and continue to whip until smooth.
Assembly:
  1. Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Top with approximately ½ cup of frosting and spread evenly. Add strawberries on top of frosting in even layer.  Repeat with the second layer of cake and frosting. Add blackberries evenly and place last cake on top. Apply a thin coat of frosting all over the cake. Chill for 20mins.
  2. Frost and smooth the sides. Chill for 20mins.
  3. Using a toothpick, add a small amount of Rose color gel to the remaining frosting. Stir with a spatula to incorporate, or place back on the stand mixer to mix in the color.
  4. Decorate with pink rosettes on top and add a decorative border to the bottom
Devour and Enjoy!!

Top 10 Items Needed for a Fabulous Flight

Photo of Dominican Republic taken from the plane
  1. Headphones– Headphones are essential for any in-flight trip. No disrespect to airlines or flight attendants, but those free ones that get passed out do not count. I learned years ago that a good pair of headphones makes the difference between you landing to your destination comfortably and well rested or angry and sleep deprived because of that crying baby seated 2 rows behind you. Whether it’s listening to your travel playlist or perusing the hundreds of in-flight movies, headphones and traveling go hand in hand.  I invested in some over-the-ear headphones with a noise cancellation feature and I definitely recommend the same to everyone out there. Yes earbuds are popular, lightweight and pack easier but I have yet to meet a pair of ear buds that don’t fall out of my ears while I’m trying to get situated in my seat or completely drown out that extra airplane sound. I’ll take over-the-ear headphones over that less amount of space in my carry-on luggage. I highly recommend my Sony- Premium Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones.  

2. Water Bottle– We all know that airport and airline food/drinks are way overpriced. I refuse to pay for a meal in the airport unless it’s a last resort these days. The same goes for water. I always make sure I have a sturdy water bottle on hand and on board my flight. I find that water bottles are essential because a. flying is known to dehydrate you and b. I don’t trust airplane water.  Before I start my travel journey and leave for the airport, I try and intake at least 50% of my daily water need. I do this because once I have arrived at the airport and checked in I immediately fill my bottle at a fountain and get ready for my flight. I try to drink as much water as early as possible so I can relieve myself before my flight and not worry about having to get up every hour on my flight to use the bathroom. I also do not want to be concerned about not having water access on board or once I reach my travel destination and become dehydrated. I recommend Nathan and Survimate brands. 

3. Compression socks- This travel accessory is imperative for any international flight. For flights longer than 5 hours I wear my compression socks. During my pre- compression sock days I would do the necessary exercises on the plane in order to prevent venous stasis or blood clots. That was definitely a concern of mine for those extended flights but I also tired of arriving to my destination with cankles and ill-fitting shoes because of swelling. Since buying my compression socks I no longer worry about the complications of being sedentary for too long and they also keep my feet warm and stylish. Try these out. 

4. Travel slippers– These are definitely my on-flight travel secret. I discovered these luxuries a few years ago while I was in Paris getting ready to head back to the States. I was traveling in the winter and had over packed so much so that I had to wear my knee high boots on my flight. Don’t get me wrong the boots were comfortable enough to walk the cobblestone streets of Montmartre but I was not at all interested sitting at least 11 hours in them. I found these portable travel slippers with their own carrying pouch for about twenty dollars in an airport store and they were worth every penny. I remember that flight being incredibly comfortable and relaxing because of me being able to wear those slippers. I have had my pair for about 5 years now and I bring them on every flight. As soon as I get to my seat and get situated, I kick my shoes off and slide my slippers on. Those along with my socks guarantee my feet will be pleased. Here’s an option to buy.

5. Antibacterial wipes- This one speaks for itself. There are so many opportunities for germ encounters during any flight. If you think about how fast airlines shuffle people off the plane just to fill it back up, it doesn’t leave much time for thoroughly cleaning your seat and surrounding areas. On every flight, once I arrive to my seat and put my carry-on up I pull out my wipes and turn into Lil Boosie. I wipe down everything from my tray table to my seat belt with my wipes. I then bathe my hands in hand sanitizer and get cozy in my seat. This routine of mine has kept me healthy during travel for the past years. 

6. Cashmere scarf- I recently acquired a cashmere scarf after finding an amazing Black Friday deal at Macy’s. I purchased mine for 65% percent off so I could not pass it up. I have always been a fan of wearing an oversized scarf on a flight but a cashmere one gives the luxury I feeling like you got upgraded. I always wear a scarf on my flights because they are so multifunctional during travel. I have used my oversized scarf as a pillow, blanket, fashion accessory, head wrap, etcetera. I took my recent scarf purchase on my last trip to Southeast Asia and I was sold on cashmere. Here is one I recommend.

7. Eye masks– Trying to get decent sleep on any flight is quite a task, especially on a long flight. Traveling through many different times zones can make it hard to adjust your sleep cycle in order to prevent jet lag. Modern international flights have now started to use ambient lighting during different times on long flights to try and help us passengers avoid the jet lag slag. I appreciate the effort of airlines but sometimes I must take things into my own hands. When I’m flying and I’m ready to sleep an eye mask is a must. I try to trick my mind as much as possible that its night time. In order to do that I must block out as much light as possible. Eye masks also come in handy for those unpredictable hotel room lights or city lights. 

8. Carry-on pharmacy– We all know that those in meal flights can sometimes be unpredictable. If you don’t get the pleasure of flying business or first class or ordering your food ahead of time, you can be left with options that don’t necessarily agree with you. I have learned from experience that it’s always better to be prepared for the unpredictable. This includes possible food poisoning, GI upset (I’m lactose intolerant), indigestion, menstrual cramps or motion sickness. For this reason in my carry-on I keep a pouch with all my essential travel medication. This includes Tums, Pepto-Bismo tables, Simethecone tablets, Lactaid, immunity dissolvable tablets, melatonin, Ibuprofen, natural tears, etcetera. This portable pharmacy keeps me reassured that I will have a healthy and enjoyable flight.

9. Bag Bungee– When I travel internationally my go to storage solution is my roller suitcase that I can either check or carry on and also my reliable and super stylish train case from Calpak. These two items travel well but it helps knowing that when I’m darting through the airport or trying to find my AirBnB in a new city, I don’t have to worry about my train case falling off my suitcase. With my bungee I can safely secure my carry-on luggage to my suitcase when I need to transport it. It makes it so much easier to navigate through an airport. It also easily detaches and stores well in my carry-on. This concept seems so simple but I tell you it makes a huge difference when traveling.  Give it a try. 

10. Healthy snack– Last but definitely not least is a good snack. A snack has served me at one time as a meal when I had zero time to eat during my flight connection or when a flight ran out of the vegetarian option. This is why having a healthy, filling food option is everything. When I travel I always pack protein bars and trail mix. Protein is necessary to keep me filling full and not getting hunger pangs in between those in-flight meals. I also like protein bars because sometimes I can trick myself to thinking it’s a candy bar with taste without all the calories. I also prefer trail mix with nuts listed as the first ingredient with some sort of fruit and dark chocolate mixed in. I need that fiber and those antioxidants.  If I’m here in the States I usually fill up on snacks at Trader Joes. When I’m overseas I can usually find what I’m looking for at any local grocery store. 

When life gives you lemons you make a fabulous cake…

When Like Gives You Lemons Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ½  cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 ½  tsp. of baking powder
  • ½  tsp. of table salt
  • ½  cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ¾  cups of granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • ½  cup of greek yogurt 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 6 lemons (approximately ¼  cup) 
  • juice of 6 lemons (approximately ½  cup)
  • 1 ¼  cup of milk 

Glaze

  • 2 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar
  • Remainder of lemon juice (¼ cup)
  • ½ tsp of salt. 
Step by step instructions

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. 

2. Grease and flour your bundt pan

3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside

4. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy and doubled in sized, approximately 5 minutes.

5. Add eggs one at a time to the mixture. 

6. Add yogurt, vanilla extract, lemon zest and half of the lemon juice (¼ cup) 

7. Beginning and ended with flour, add flour (divided into thirds) and milk (divided into halves) to the mixture until batter is smooth and all ingredients are together

8. Transfer batter to the cake pan and smooth batter until even in the pan.

9. Hit cake pan onto the counter a few times to knock out air bubbles

10. Bake cake for approximately 45-50 minutes until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean

11. Place cake onto cake rack and poke cake all over using same toothpick or cake tester. (optional) 

12. Pour limonc”hello” slowly onto cake and allow cake to cool completely.(optional)

13. Invert cake onto cake plate or board. 

14. Pour glaze onto cake 

15. Decorate with candied lemon slices, devour and enjoy!

Candied Lemon Slices

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 1 lemon 

1. Slice lemon into 1/8 inch thin round slices, using very sharp knife and set down.

2. In a large skillet, mix together sugar and water on medium heat and bring to a boil.

3. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn heat down to medium low- low heat.

4. Add the lemon slices in a single layer and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, remember to turn over lemons once using tongs or spatula.

5. Lemons are done when they are translucent and syrup is thick and sticks to lemons. 

6. Place lemons on parchment paper and allow them to cool completely.