Authentic Italian cooking…

italian-pound-cakeIf you’ve been to Italy, you know that Italians have desserts, but they are simple and not so sweet. In fact, when I was young my Italian mother would make a basic sheet cake and only sprinkle powdered sugar on top — absolutely NO frosting! Of course, if it was a birthday, she would buy the traditional American birthday cake. Normally though, she would make just a plain cake. When she got “fancy,” she made pineapple upside down cake or strawberry short cake.

Years ago, I was in Italy and my mother said, “Let’s go visit, Silvana.” Off we went. As it was a visit, Silvana made us coffee and brought us a slice of cake that looked like this photo. My mother and I loved the cake. We asked Silvana for the recipe, it was a dry type of pound cake. Silvana said she made the cake from memory, no recipe, so it was hard for her to tell us the exact ingredients, but she tried.

Once at home, my mother and I tried to make the cake, but it was no good. Years have gone by, and I have not found a good recipe UNTIL a few months ago. An Italian friend posts different recipes on Facebook. She had a link to a website called, “An Italian in My Kitchen.”  This Blogger is from Toronto. She moved to Rome 20 years ago. She shares Italian recipes that she learned from her Italian mother/n/law. They are very good AND I think you would enjoy the stories she shares too.

On her site, she has a recipe for an “Italian Fresh Cream Lemon Cake.” It’s EXACTLY like Silvana’s cake!  Finally, it took a few years to find, but I have the recipe. I wrote a comment thanking this Blogger for making me so happy and bringing back Italian memories. She told me her daughter’s favorite cake is the “Easy Yogurt Cake,” which I will have to try next.  Thanks to Facebook for making sharing with our friends in different countries so easy!

Buon appetito!

Learning the Chinese Characters in a FUN way…

learning-chinese-charactersAre you trying to learn Chinese and you are overwhelmed with how many characters you would need to learn? While there are 50,000 characters, a Chinese friend told me that for basic reading I would only need to learn about 3,000 of them. My head was swimming in a sea of characters, only need to learn 3,000?  I had a thought that training to climb Mt. Everest might be easier.

As destiny would have it, I finally had my first introduction to Chinese characters this weekend. I stopped off at the Amazon bookstore. As I am writing a children’s picture book, I decided to do some research. I sauntered over to the children’s book section. I looked at ALL sorts of books, not many caught my attention even though some had been on the “best sellers” list. For me, the illustrations for many of the books were way too busy. What happened to simplicity, I thought?

THEN, I took a few steps to right, looked up to the top shelf and a beautifully illustrated book caught my eye called, “The Pet Dragon,” by Christoph Niemann. It was very sweet and innocent looking and who doesn’t love a story with a dragon! As I opened the book the author/illustrator wrote a message that he had been in China and learned his first Chinese characters there. Excited with what he learned, he wanted to share this with us, his result is this picture book.


learning-chinese-characters-page-3He cleverly writes his story teaching us Chinese characters by adding them into the illustrations, so we can visually remember the Chinese characters in a humorous way. Here I show you a few pages from the book, so you can better understand what I mean.

This is lovely book. I would highly recommend buying it as a gift. I could see children wanting to read it over and over as they practice writing Chinese characters. Well done, Mr. Niemann!

African animals come to life in “Beast,” by John Banovich


© John Banovich, Giants of Kilimanjaro, 2016, oil on belgian linen, 24 x 24 in.                        Limited Edition Giclee on Canvas.

My father loves Africa, he has been there over 35 times. He was especially fascinated by elephants, lions and leopards. I believe they gave him strength to persevere, fight and drive himself to success. He is a self made man, ferocious reader and watches many documentaries. In fact, as we were growing up, he’d call us in to watch, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” with Marlin Perkins. This show studied wild animals in their natural habitats, we learned the importance of conservation from Perkins’s stories.

Fast forward 35+ years and conservation efforts are stronger than ever. Years ago, my father and I came across an artist out of Montana named, “John Banovich.” We were immediately mesmerized by his larger than life paintings of African animals. Clearly, Banovich had the same passion for African animals as my father had with the ability to bring them to life. For example, take a look at this elephant painting by Banovich. It’s incredible, we can see the precision with which Banovich paints the wrinkles on the elephant’s skin, brings fierceness to his eyes, the tusks perfectly positioned with just the right color. What amazed my father and I was the “feeling” that we were facing the elephant “head on, eye to eye,” like a fight scene. He gives life to all of his paintings in this way. They are very powerful!

Banovich’s love of animals/nature runs deep. In 2007, he started the Banovich Wildscapes Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to conserve wildlife, wild places and the people who live there. Right now, he supports twelve projects in seven countries with a portion of artwork sales going to the Foundation. A few projects are saving lions in Africa, Siberian tigers in Russia Far East and brown bears in North America. On his Foundation’s website you can read specific information on each project.

In 2009, he published the book, “Beast.” This banovich-book-beastbook shares his life story and collection of paintings. It’s a beautiful book, one that should be put on a coffee table and shared with others.

Visit Banovich’s Facebook page for the latest news on his projects and events. His next event is in South Carolina. If you’d like to learn more about his work, this is your chance to meet him in person AND to support wildlife conservation!


Plantation Grille, Brays Island Plantation, SC
Guest Speaker: John Banovich, Artist/Conservationist
March 13, 2017, 3:30-5:00pm

Miracles… Lost items that are found.


Scarf when lost.

Guest Blogger:

Francesca Meffert / Ireland


My heels clicked against the pavement as I crossed the street already ¾ of my way home from campus when the first stab of panic hit, “Why don’t I feel my scarf around my neck?”

The wind howled, mocking my inattention.

Touching my neck, bare flesh greeted me and my stomach flopped as I realized the wind had surely snatched it in my scurry home.

I asked myself, “Do you want to go back for it?” “No, it wasn’t my favorite scarf and I rarely wore it anyways. Besides, if the wind took it who knows where it might be.”

I resumed my walk home, my feet scuffling a tad heavier.

Wednesday – Saturday

Cycling into campus I took the route I came the previous day and alas there was no scarf to be found.

The next day was the same….

And the next…..

and the next.


I gazed out the window as the bus prattled its way closer to campus. That morning I had cycled into college; a fact I was struggling with at this moment when deciding whether to get off on campus to collect my bike or head home. Sighing, I did also want to stop by Church at some stage to light a candle, which, if I went for that option would entail having to walk back into campus for my bike. As the scenery passed by with increasing alacrity I found myself facing a decision among 3 options:

Option 1: stop at college, get bike, go home.

Option 2: stop off a bit later, go to Church, get bike, go home.

Option 3: go home.

(It is worth noting that the route via Option 1 or 3 would take me different paths to/from college and my house).

Going with Option 2

I pressed the button and got off the bus and began my walk to Church. This is a route I had taken the last four days. As I was about to cross the street, I looked down and saw a heap of wet, dirty, grimy cloth that had clearly been exposed to the elements for a good while. My heart felt a moment of sadness for the poor thing and all of a sudden I felt myself doing a double-take, wait a second, that’s MY scarf!!

I crouched down and delicately plucked the grimy scarf from the ground and placed it in my bag, arousing stares of intrigue and distain from drivers and passerby’s alike. Standing up, I was grinning from ear to ear like a fool. It wasn’t even the fact that I had my scarf back, it hadn’t been super important to me, it was “what finding it represented,” and I couldn’t help but think:

                                            Scarf when found.

What was once lost can always be found.

Perhaps that could be true of objects, but I felt this was a gift from the universe more symbolic in nature.

Often times, we find ourselves in predicaments or situations that are stressful, hard, or challenging in some manner or another – be it in our work, relationships, life decisions or more. It is in those moments that we must ignite the best in ourselves – be it motivation, love, passion, determination, patience, hope or whatever is required to see us through it. We all have the capacity to ignite these elements within ourselves, but it’s up to us to trigger them. Finding the scarf reminded me, that although it can be difficult to imagine, “what was once lost can always be found” and we can find it in ourselves to recall our best traits to see us through.

Had I chosen Option 1 or 3, I would surely not have found my scarf or remembered this important life lesson. As my friend reminded me, everything happens for a reason.

I hope that this scarf can serve as a lesson, that you too, can find whatever it is in your heart that you are searching for, it just takes faith!

New York… SAVING “Wing On Wo & Co.,” the oldest store in Chinatown


New York’s Chinatown

I recently read a story about a young Asian woman who was saving her family’s business in New York’s Chinatown. I was moved by this story, because as a child my parents brought us (my brothers/sister) to Chicago’s Chinatown a few times a year. We would explore the different shops with excitement. At lunch my father would say, “Everyone eats with chopsticks, no exceptions!” As you know, it was hard at first, but soon we were experts. We would happily go home excited to wear our new Chinese pajamas, play with the toys we had bought and eat almond cookies. When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area one of my first stops was… YES, Chinatown.

So, I could understand how granddaughter, Mei Lun (26 years old), was inspired by passion and tradition to stop her grandparents from selling the family business (Wing On Wo & C0.) by offering to run the store as an “owner-in-training.” The store was started by her great-great-grandfather, Walter Eng, as a general store in 1890. She is fifth generation to take over the store.

Lun’s passion for her Chinese heritage runs deep. The Chinatown community has always been male dominated and now with children growing up, and not always wanting to take over the family business things are changing. In order to make an effort to bring the community together, Lun created The W.O.W Project. This is a non-profit whose mission is to discuss the future of chinatown. There is a very interesting video documentary on their website,, where they discuss the history of her family’s store and the start of The W.O.W Project.

There is more… China Residencies and The W.O.W Project are teaming up to create a new residency program between local artists and ceramic artists from Jingdezhen, China. This sounds like a really great program. They have already had a few events. As they are in their infancy, they are also in fundraising mode. You can make a donation on their website.

I am excited to see Mei Lun succeed, so New York Chinatown stays alive!

Happy Lunar New Year!