We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Bánh Mì (Vietnamese Sandwiches) - GF and Paleo Versions

by Michelle



   My first encounter with Bánh Mì was at a corner market in downtown San Jose, California.  The small store featured a tiny counter where the thinly layered sandwiches were made to order. What makes Bánh Mì special and crave-worthy is the lightly pickled vegetables that top the choice of savory filling. The sandwiches were inexpensive and it wasn't uncommon for my male work colleagues to order more than one for lunch.
   Bánh Mì can be difficult to source in my stretch of the Sonoran desert so I went about creating a recipe that I could make easily at home. Traditionally, the sandwich bun is very light in consistency and texture. When I'm too lazy to make baguettes, I buy hoagie rolls. I've been known to slice the rolls open and remove some of the inner crumb to make the bread lighter.
   The rolls in San Jose weren't toasted, but I like to toast the buns, then slather a bit of pâté across the bottom bun. Unless you absolutely despise pâté, don't skip it. The pâté adds a special flavor that you're not going to add in any other way. I've made Tartine Bakery's quick chicken liver pate, and I've also used a tasty vegetarian mushroom pâté from Trader Joe's. Layer on thin slices of protein, top with the pickled vegetables and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves or arugula. If I had to choose between the cilantro or arugula, I'd choose arugula.
  Everyone I have served this sandwich to loves it. This is a great make ahead meal and I wouldn't hesitate serving Bánh Mì buffet-style for a party. You can grill the meat a day or two ahead of time. Then all you need to do is make the pickled vegetables on the day your serving and thinly slice the cold meat. The vegetables will hold beautifully in the brine for many hours in the refrigerator. If you have leftover vegetables, they'll still be tasty the next day but they do lose a little crunch with aging.
   If you make this recipe, let me know if you love it as much as I do. Also, I'd appreciate reading about your favorite sandwich in the comments.


Bánh Mì (Vietnamese Sandwiches) - GF and Paleo Versions

Monday, December 17, 2018

Bûche de Noël

by Michelle

Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it. —Maya Angelou


Last year my sister Juliette manifested a Bûche de Noël. Yep, true story.
   We were discussing our bucket lists and Juliette shared that one of the items on her list was putting the famous dessert in her mouth one fine holiday. The classic French dessert, also commonly known as a Yule Log, is a pastry cream filled sponge cake that is fashioned to look like a tree trunk. Her revelation was a bit of a surprise but I've learned not to try to predict what will rock Juliette's world.
   It's not very often that one has the opportunity to help a person cross off a milestone goal from a bucket list. And, this gastronomy wish was within my power to fulfill and it didn't require booking a trip to Paris, although that would be lovely.
   I suddenly had a new mission in life and that mission was to make the Bûche de Noël of Juliette's dreams. It became my mantra. I annoyingly kept telling people I had to make the Bûche de Noël of Juliette's dreams. Mainly, because I thought it was funny. As these things go, I also roped other team members into the baking project, namely my daughter and her friend.

The Solstice table with the Bûche de Noël as the centerpiece.
   I am nothing if not a great researcher. The internet rabbit hole led me to a Bon Appétit article titled, How to Make a Bûche de Noël, You Crazy Person. In retrospect that pretty much sums up the endeavor.
   Making the Bûche de Noël was great theater. We waited until Juliette and her daughters arrived to complete the final assembly and decorating of the Yule log on Solstice. This caused some stress for my daughter who was in charge of these activities while I captured photos for posterity.
   In the future, if I am ever crazy enough to make a Bûche de Noël again, I will have the dessert completely finished the day before the party. It will keep well in the refrigerator, provided you have enough room.
The Solstice fire, our family's annual tradition.
   Juliette's additional request was to have the dessert as the centerpiece of our Solstice feast. Again, her wish was my command. Wouldn't it be great if all requests were always this easy? We all gazed lovingly upon the Bûche de Noël of Juliette's dreams as we joyfully ate our filet mignon dinner. The Yule Log served as a beautiful reminder to leave room for dessert.
   Thankfully, even though this famous dessert is indeed a pain to make, the flavors are incredibly delicious. The hazelnut pastry cream is a taste sensation. Even if you don't make a Yule Log, the hazelnut pastry cream would be delicious as a filling for any number of cakes, including my favorite Cowtown Chocolate Cake.

Juliette found the cute little vintage squirrel in a thrift shop.
Of course she did! I love the squirrel so much that I haven't given it back.
Bûche de Noël Chocolate Cake

Friday, November 9, 2018

Dry-Brined Roasted Turkey

by Michelle

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. William Arthur Ward

Jay, the turkey wrangler. 

In prior years we've been a big fan of wet brining the turkey, especially when we haven't had room to store the turkey in the refrigerator in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Last year I was recovering from surgery and under my doctor's orders I was restricted from lifting anything heavy. My husband doesn't enjoy cooking so I wanted to keep his contribution simple which, for me, meant that he lend his muscle to lifting the turkey whenever it needed to be moved about. I was happy to retain the turkey prep and try a new, easier technique.
   The turkey turned out beautifully last year (as you can see from the photos). And it tasted divine so I am opting for the dry brining method again this year because it is so much easier than doing a wet brine.
   The key here is that the turkey needs to be rubbed with the dry brine mixture and placed in the refrigerator for a nice long rest - as little as two days or as long as four. The turkey is kept covered until the night before roasting. The uncovering step is key because the skin dries thoroughly when the cover is removed. This is what creates the delectable crunchy exterior while the bird is roasting.
Maddie makes a robust cheese and charcuterie tray for everyone's snacking pleasure. 

My daughter, Maddie and my sister, Juliette.
The weather was so incredibly beautiful last year that we ate outside. Jay lit a fire in the fire pit and we all stayed outside late into the evening, talking, laughing, eating pumpkin pie and Linda's "famous" All American Apple Pie. We sipped George Washington Eggnog thatbelieve it or notI made two years prior. The hard eggnog was ultra smooth from long aging under refrigeration. 

La familia.
Now... without further ado.... the recipe for the roasted turkey of your dreams.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Best Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas with Red Sauce

by Michelle
"Happiness is a kitchen full of family." Unknown

My nieces frying the corn tortillas and assembling the enchiladas.
   More often than not when my extended family gets together for a meal we prepare Mexican food. Nearly three years ago, we made carnitas for my daughter, Maddie's graduation, along with shredded beef tostadoscreamy refried pinto beans, coleslawstrawberry-infused margaritas, and pineapple-ginger auga fresca. For the past two years we gathered together for festive afternoons of making tamales in early December in early preparation for our Christmas dinner. My sister Linda was known for her Feliz Navidad Fiesta Menu during the holidays, which albondigas soup and cheese enchiladas were key components. It seems as if we can never get enough of a good thing. We all love the spicy food hailing from our neighbors south of the border.

I use a combination of chiles for a more complex flavor. 
   Last month a handful of our larger group were all together again at my house the day before Thanksgiving. The day before turkey day I am energetically baking pies and prepping sides for the feast. If I'm too busy cooking the night before Thanksgiving, which is normally the case, my husband picks up pizzas and a big salad so that I can avoid making dinner. I love the fact that I can be too busy cooking tomorrow's meal to cook tonight's dinner. In my family everyone cooks, and cooks well, so I figured that I would put all that talent to good use and ask everyone to pitch in to help put a homemade dinner on the table instead of bringing-in take-out. Ask and you shall receive.
   My niece, Sonora volunteered to fry the corn tortillas and her sister, Avalon agreed to stuff the enchiladas. In a pre-planning move, I made the enchilada sauce the prior weekend along with a taqueria-style salsa. My sister, Juliette shredded the specialty Menonita cheese (made by Menonites) that she purchased just over the border in Mexico specifically for the enchiladas. Maddie arrived home a little later than expected because traffic was predictably terrible. She was thrilled to have a margarita poured for her shortly after walking in the door, plopping down her bags, and letting out a deep sigh of relief to be safely home for the holiday. No rest for the weary, I promptly tasked Maddie with making the guacamole and the Mexican crème fraîche, which always seems to be her assigned job. I was in charge of making the homemade refried pinto beans that everyone adores. As a group we can forgo the rice but we can't skip the beans. Many hands make light work and within short order we finished prepping the garnishes and made a really delicious dinner together while we chatted, sipped margaritas and laughed. This cherished time together is what memories are made of.

Ready to pop into the oven. 
Best Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas with Red Sauce

Monday, November 27, 2017

Linda's Double Chocolate Cookies

by Michelle


   I have a confession to make. Until last week, I haven't made cookies in years. So many years, in fact, I can't recall the last batch of cookies that I baked. This lapse in cookie baking is due to my daughter, Maddie. Once Maddie was old enough to bake, cookies were her thing. If our family and friends wanted cookies, Maddie happily obliged their cravings. Maddie makes excellent cakes, too. Me? I continued on with the fussier side of baking, making delicious pie crusts and triple chocolate meringues. But now that Maddie's away at college, if I want cookies, it's up to me to make them.
   I was invited recently to a photography event and the hostess asked for all the attendees to contribute to a potluck meal. I adore chocolate chip cookies, but I wanted to shake things up a bit and that's when my mind began wandering through the halls of time to recall other superb cookies from my bygone cookie baking days. It didn't take long for me to fondly recall my sister Linda baking up batches of cookies when my daughter was small and we all lived together for a brief time in 2001 before our world got permanently turned upside down after September 11th. This browniesque cookie is our favorite from that time. 
  The recipe is adapted from a Baker's chocolate recipe called Death by Chocolate Cookies. Linda changed the recipe a bit, which she always seemed to do, based upon her years spent as a pastry chef in the Santa Ynez Valley. The recipe couldn't be easier. All the kitchen equipment you need is a large glass bowl, a whisk, some measuring utensils, a couple cookie sheets and an oven and your on your way to producing an excellent batch of cookies. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.


Linda's Double Chocolate Cookies

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Creamed Baby Peas with Leeks and Bacon (Naturally Gluten-Free)

by Michelle


  This is one of my favorite holiday side dishes. I have been making it steadily since 2004 when the recipe appeared in the Thanksgiving issue of Food and Wine Magazine. Aside from the traditional holiday menus that include oven-roasted turkeys and big ol' hams, the peas are spectacular all year long with Danny's Beer Butt Chicken, and tortellini tossed with my basil pesto. The dish also pairs quite beautifully with Beef Bourguignon.
   I have modified the recipe over the years to make it even easier to prepare. The author, Grace Parisi, calls for frying most of the leeks as a garnish, which sounds like a great idea. However, much as I have tried, I cannot get the leeks to crisp properly and I dislike cleaning the stove after the frying. I now sauté the leeks and don't bother to garnish the final dish unless I already have some minced parsley on hand to shower over the top. I did flirt with the idea last year of making spiralized crispy onions to sprinkle on top of the dish, but I was too busy and directed my attention elsewhere. Such is the life of a hostess; always mentally computing what to add or discard to a recipe, to a menu, to a table setting. With or without a garnish, this simple, satisfying recipe is delicious.

You can substitute dried thyme if fresh isn't available. 
Creamed Baby Peas with Leeks and Bacon

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

El Día de los Muertos and Juliette's Tamari Pepitas

By Linda and Michelle

"After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."  —J.K. Rowling                                
El Día de los Meurtos celebration in Petaluma, California. 
 By Linda
   
November 1, 2015—I thought it only fitting that I start to tell the story of my breast cancer journey-battle on this—El Día de los Muertos—the day celebrated throughout Latin America as the day the the veils of the world thin, allowing the worlds of the living and the dead to interact for a short time. This day is thought to be the time in which one just might be able to connect with those loved ones that have now passed through this realm and on to the next. We sisters have celebrated the holiday with gusto and reverence for many years now. 
   Each year we devote a Salvation Sisters' blog post to an aspect of the holiday. My sister Juliette outdid herself this year, by creating an amazing sugar skull that was featured on the current issue of Edible Baja—a regional magazine in Southern Arizona where my sisters both reside. Although I just remembered that I am forgetting about the year that she handmade such an amazing community altar to honor our sister Maria who died of a cerebral aneurysm at the age of 31 in 1992, leaving two young daughters behind. The Red Cross asked if they could take Maria's altar on a tour of the United States as part of a program to educate the public at large just how valuable it is to be an organ donor. Our sister's body helped over 300 recipient families to have better lives with the donation of her organs, bone and tissues.

Even celebrations of the macabre need sweet treats. 
   In my 58 years on this planet, I have experienced the death and disappearance of many that I have loved dearly. My beloved grandmother Maxine, my sister Maria and my son Joshua have all departed this Earth plane for the realm of the spirit, and each has moved on to the next great adventure. In reflection I should add that I feel it is significant in my present circumstances that I have been abandoned by several lovers—traumatic events that each left me feeling bereft, scarred and alone. They had all been relationships that I was convinced would stand the test of time, and yet they did not. In contrast though, I have known great and lasting love—a life-long bond with my remaining two sisters, Juliette and Michelle, both of whom have provided me with a solid connectedness—firmly anchoring me with the living.
   As I begin to write on this holy day, I wonder if I will have departed planet Earth for the next realm by this time next year? There is really no way to know, but I have already begun in earnest to try and wrest the reigns from death, and stay here among the living for awhile longer.
   I walked downtown this afternoon for a pedicure, thinking that I would not go this year to the procession for El Día de los Muertos—too macabre even by my liberal sensibilities. For the last seven months I have thought about death a considerable amount—an inordinate amount even. Enough already, I said to myself this weekend, no more dwelling on death and dying, and yet when I turned the corner onto Kentucky Street which bisects the historic downtown of Petaluma, I was greeted with a Mexican Día de los Muertos street festival in full swing, and I had to laugh, the joke being on me.
   "Welcome to the Día de los Muertos Celebration of 2015, Linda. It's quite possible that you might be the honored ancestor at next year's festivities." I said to myself.
   I can only describe it as a very sobering experience. However I did not weep, nor did I not feel sorry for myself. Instead I did what I am sure I will be doing until I draw my last breaths, or am just too weak to put the viewfinder to my eye—I pulled out my camera and started shooting.

Linda captured these photos in 2015 in Petaluma, CA.

My daughter Maddie is proud of her Auntie Juliette for making
 the sugar skull featured on the October 2015 cover of Edible Baja Magazine.
Three skeletons and a selfie-stick at the All Souls Procession 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.
By Michelle

   Last November my sister Juliette, her daughter Sonora and I attended the All Souls Procession in Tucson like we have in year's past. Linda had been living in Tucson with my husband and me since April of 2016. After enduring both chemotherapy and radiation, and almost dying, she had regained her mobility and was getting out and about with the aid of a walker. The oncologist advised that while Linda's breast cancer was not curable, it was treatable, and that the "virgin" cancer cells might take a wollup of a beating after meeting chemotherapy for the first time. As the saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. After receiving treatment in February and March at UCSF, before moving to Tucson, Linda did rally over the summer months and steadily improved, albeit temporarily.


   In September, Linda was dealt an emotional blow when a brain MRI revealed multiple small tumors. With this gloomy news, Linda could not bring herself to attend the All Souls Procession, suddenly developing an aversion to a celebration that was once near and dear to her heart. When pressed on why she didn't want to attend, Linda snapped, "You wouldn't enjoy either if you were dying."
   Juliette replied, "That's the point, none of us know when our number is up. Día de los Muertos is about paying our respects to our loved ones that have died." They're dead. You're alive. Let's go remember them, together, while we still can. Then, that was that. There wasn't any more conversation about it. We went, Linda didn't.



  The irony is that Juliette, Sonora and I totally missed the procession. The three of us met in the late afternoon to mill around the starting point for the Procession. We wanted to see how participants were dressed and the late afternoon light afforded me the opportunity to take about a million photos without having to attach a flash to my camera. 
   The three of us eventually got hungry so we wandered around until we found a restaurant to get a bite to eat. We found a nice place to sit outdoors on a patio under a large tree that shielded us from the late afternoon sun. We ordered food to share from a food truck parked in the beer garden. One thing lead to another, one topic of conversation flowed into another, and by the time we picked ourselves up and walked to a nearby street on the parade's route, we discovered much to our chagrin (and embarrassment) that the Procession had already passed by.


Top photos, Juliette and daughter, Sonora. Bottom photo, Sonora and me.
Juliette decorated hats for herself and me to wear specifically for the Procession. 
   Not wanting the evening to end too quickly, we walked to Hotel Congress, which has been a popular destination in downtown Tucson since 1919. We were lucky, once again, to find seats on the outdoor patio under a large, beautiful tree with sprawling limbs. A talented band was playing for our entertainment, so we happily ordered a round of cocktails and effortlessly picked back up our conversation. I can't imagine the weather being nicer anywhere in the world than a desert evening in Tucson in the first few days of November. The majority of the crowd was dressed for the Procession. Faces decorated as sugar skulls illuminated the night under the dim yellow-hued lights strung above the patio and swagged across tree limbs. 
   And while I may not have time this year, due to recovering from a surgery (yes, it has been quite the year), to make sugar skulls or throw a sugar skull decorating party or make Sonoran Hotdogs or Dead Man's Party CookiesI will certainly without a doubt pay my respects to my all my loved ones, but especially to my dear sisters, Linda and Maria, whom have gone before me into the great beyond. I hope they will always feel my continuing love and devotion wherever they might be.


The scene on the outdoor patio at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson.

The hat Juliette decorated for me to wear at the Procession. 
Links:
Juliette's Sugar Skulls and Pumpkin Soup
El Día de los Muertos in Southern Arizona and Banana Salsa
El Día de los Muertos in Petaluma and Everyday Carnitas

Halloween Dead Man's Party Cookies (Traditional and Gluten-Free)

El Día de los Muertos in Tucson, Arizona: The All Souls Procession and Famous Sonoran Hot Dogs


The restaurants near the Procession route enjoy a brisk business in the late afternoon.

Juliette's Tamari Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Instant Pot® Wild Rice Chicken Stew and Adventures in Moving

by Michelle


   Although I haven't written previously about the Instant Pot®, I have fallen for the time-saving kitchen appliance just like every food blogger on the planet, or so it seems. I must admit though, I was slow to the pressure cooking party. And I would probably still be resisting the appliance if it wasn't for my sister, Linda. My steadfast mantra pre-Instant Pot® was that I didn't need one more appliance in my kitchen. I was wrong.
   Last fall during the small window of time that Linda felt well enough to start cooking againone of her life-long passionsshe volunteered to start making dinner during the work week. Although Linda was experiencing an upswing health-wise, she didn't have a lot of stamina. Linda wanted to cook and be productive but she didn't want to spend an inordinate amount of time getting dinner on the table.
   After reading many favorable reviews about the Instant Pot®, Linda ordered the 7-in-1 6-quart model and began using it on a regular basis. I was able to witness the ease of which she was able to quickly produce pot roasts, soups, beans and chili, poached chicken, shredded meats and even breakfast items such as steel cut oats. Although the Instant Pot® is a multi-use appliance, we have primarily used the pressure cooker function. Because it is an electric pressure cooker, it doesn't need monitoring while the food is cooking so it is as simple as pressing the settings and walking away, freeing up time to pursue other activities.

Ain't moving grand? Happiness is... finishing moving in.
   After two years of living in a college dorm, in August my daughter Maddie and two friends moved into their first apartment that is conveniently located near the university. The bad news for most young people is that an unfurnished apartment requires furniture, kitchen equipment and a stocked pantry, if one wants to cook, which after two years of enduring dorm food is exactly what the ladies wanted to do. Unlike most college kids, Maddie moved in to her first apartment with a fully loaded truck as if she was thirty years old.
   My family, we are the keepers of things. I hesitate to use the word hoarders. We do like to have the right tool for the right job, as our father taught us. Interesting knickknacks decorate every nook and cranny. We appreciate clothes; our closets runneth over. We cook, we bake, we barbecue. We adore thrifting and entertaining. Although let's be honest, we liked entertaining more in years past than we do now. We are artists, which requires a stock of art supplies. We craft together, making things like sugar skulls and paper flowers. As sisters we have passed on our handy ways, our decorating styles, cooking skills and our love of velvet to our children... well, at least to our daughters. To be fair, the sons are handy and like to cook (if they like velvet, they keep it to themselves).
   As we were working outdoors in August to get Maddie packed up, I remarked to my husband that I couldn't believe Maddie had enough "stuff" to fill-up a 15-foot truck from floor to ceiling. Without missing a beat my husband made an antagonistic crack about how I was successfully completing my mission to burden the next generation, that these belongings would act like an anchor tied around Maddie's waist. Noting my sour expression, he quickly turned his mouth from a frown into a smile as if an insincere facial expression would counteract the instant flare-up of ire that I was urgently trying to tamper inside myself before it boiled over into a rancorous retort. Our inside joke is that you can pretty much say anything to anyone as long as you have a smile on your face. A delayed smile is a smile given too late. Mount St. Michelle was on the verge of erupting.

My house has been a jumble of home furnishings for the better part of six months as we sorted
and distributed Linda's personal belongings and household goods across our family.  
   The conversation could have quickly escalated in to a full blown argument, but it didn't. Largely because I did not take the bait. My numerous years of circling the sun on this planet have taught me many valuable lessons, such as... moving sucks! On top of the moving drudgery, we were both feeling the wearing effects of the intense heat and humidity of a scorching summer day in the Sonoran desert. The afternoon high would reach a steamy 103 degrees. Crabbiness will naturally escalate in triple digit heat. It was simply too hot to put our withering energy into an argument, especially while in our front yard in earshot of our daughter and neighbors. We're not that kind of couple... yet.
   Although I didn't appreciate my husband's snarky comment, I couldn't necessarily in good conscience disagree with him either (much as I wanted to). I love the saying, "Keep it light enough to travel." Yet I've never managed to take the advice for myself, even when I've attempted to put it into action. My personal failure doesn't stop me from making the recommendation to others because it is still good advice. Much to her dad's chagrin, Maddie seems to be highly satisfied with her collection of possessions, a mix of new purchases as well as familial hand-me-downs and inherited items from Linda, including furniture, housewares, decorative items, kitchen equipment, and that magician of an appliance, the Instant Pot®.

Keep calm, it's moving day. 
   I have mentally taken note over the past few months that Maddie uses the Instant Pot® frequently. After cooking on a gas stove all these many years at my house, Maddie is totally bummed over having an electric stove. The apartment's stove does seem pretty lame. So much so that when I called Maddie the other night she was using the Instant Pot®'s sauté function to fry Boneless and Breaded Chicken Breasts instead of using a skillet on the stove. She said that not only does the stove take a long time to heat up, but it also doesn't get very hot. I recommended that she submit a maintenance ticket, which is, after all, the beauty of renting.
   After eating chicken upon chicken in myriads of ways for weeks on end on her limited budget, Maddie was more than ready to cook something different, so I recommended Nom Nom Paleo's Instant Pot Kalua Pig. Maddie was thrilled to cook up a big batch of the porky goodness and marveled at how easy it was to prepare (and inexpensive). While the pork was cooking unattended, Maddie did never-ending homework.
   Maddie froze leftover portions of the shredded pork in several ziplock packages for future meals. A packet can be quickly defrosted in the refrigerator overnight, or popped in cold water to defrost in about an hour, or slipped directly from the freezer into marina sauce to reheat slowly for a rustic ragu to ladle over cooked pasta. One base recipe of Kalua Pig can be taken in multiple directions, including  Mexican, Italian, Hawaiian and Southern barbecue.
   I have used the Instant Pot® so much over the past year that I decided to upgrade to the larger model, the 7-in-1 8-quart/1200W.  I'm glad I did. The extra capacity of two quarts makes it easier to cook larger cuts of meat, especially a whole chicken. Maddie and I love our Instant Pot®'s so much that they have earned permanent homes on the limited real estate of our kitchen counters.


Instant Pot® Wild Rice Chicken Stew

Friday, September 29, 2017

Portraiture in Palm Springs and Wellness Salad

by Michelle

I captured the portrait of my husband in the heat of a summer's day in Joshua Tree National Park.

   I love the adventure of a road trip. A few weeks ago my husband and I drove from Tucson to Palm Springs, a short six hour drive. The impetus for the trip was for me to attend The Portrait Masters Conference so that I could further pursue my interest in portrait photography. My husband tagged along because he considers spending a few days at a Hyatt Regency and swimming in the lovely pools a swell idea.
   I began following and learning from my photography mentor on-line nearly six years ago. When The Portrait Masters Conference was announced back at the beginning of the summer I vacillated on whether to attend. The ticket price was high enough to give me pause, and I would also need to factor in the cost for lodging, food, extracurricular activities and transportation. I got over the hump by rationalizing that the money spent on attending the event was not an expense, but rather an investment in myself. In other words, given enough time, I can talk myself into anything.
   It's been a turbulent couple of years riding shotgun with my sister on her rough and tumble journey with breast cancer. (I shared our story in Linda and the "C" Word.) After Linda's death at the end of March I was left with the realization, once again, that life is short. Incredibly short. So I said yes to Palm Springs and yes to following my interest in photography and yes to a mini-vacation with my husband. Yeses all around.

A portrait that I captured of my daughter, Maddie.
   While heading west to California we drove into a massive monsoon in the Mojave desert. People are terrified of other natural disasters, but there doesn't seem to be much of a fear factor related to monsoons. For the uninitiated, that is. But let me tell you, between the lightening strikes, the booming thunder, the gale force winds and the shear downpour of torrential rain, monsoons can cause significant damage in a minimal amount of time. While Hurricane Irma was terrorizing the East Coast, there was a mini Irma creating havoc on I-10 near Joshua Tree National Park.
   My husband and I were caught in the eye of the storm, just where we didn't want to be. Even with very low visibility, cars continued to rush past us in the left lane at 50 miles per hour as if there were no storm at all. An eighteen wheeler stalled in the right lane, which made driving even dicier as traffic narrowed from two lanes to one. Even though it wasn't a great situation, at least the stalled truck made traffic slow to stop and go traffic for many miles. Unfortunately the majority of drivers don't seem to know how to merge anymore. A few rude drivers wanted to rush around merged cars and cut in at the last minute. As Tom Robbins would say, "People of zee wurld, relax!" We made it to the hotel a little worse for the wear. That's why God created happy hour.
Into every life a little rain must fall, even while on vacation.
   The next day we visited the Palm Springs Art Museum where we particularly enjoyed the mind-bending Kinesthesia exhibit. After exposing ourselves to art (figuratively, not literally - c'mon people) we drove to the nearby Colony Palms Hotel to eat al fresco at the Purple Palm restaurant, which resides in the beautifully landscaped inner courtyard adjacent to the large rectangular pool. This is a resort where the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable and many more Hollywood film stars used to hang out back in the day. I'm glad I did my restaurant sleuthing in advance because this place is a gem.
  Initially it seemed like a good idea to eat on the covered patio but we urgently had to move indoors midway through our meal. The sky unleashed its wrath and let loose a vicious storm that came barreling over the tall peaks of the San Jacinto mountains. It rained so hard and for so long that we could not leave the restaurant after we finished our meal. I had my camera with me and I did not want to risk it getting wet while dashing to the car. Or, worse yet, falling and causing injury to myself and my camera while dashing to the car over slippery pathways. So we waited, then waited some more.

Scenes from Palm Springs (above) and a photo opportunity at the Kinesthesia exhibit (below). 
   As we sat at the bar and waited patiently for the raging storm to pass, we watched with increasing trepidation as the patio began to flood, and the water in the pool rose ever closer to escaping over the deck. The rippling water on the patio threatened to flow over the threshold into the restaurant. The monsoon was showing no signs of stopping anytime soon so I decided to while away some additional time by indulgently imbibing in an adult beverage. Although the air was not frigid, it was after all September in the Mojave desert, the pounding rain and ominous gray thunder clouds induced me to consider ordering a coffee drink even though the temperature was just below triple digits.
   Our cheery waiter, Michael offered to go off menu and make me his favorite coffee drink, the one, according to him, he frequently makes at home. Gotta love a guy that routinely makes strong coffee beverages at home. Michael delivered to me a large steaming mug filled with two shots of espresso, a full shot of Jameson Irish whisky, half shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, half shot of Kahlua and topped with frothy steamed milk. One sip and I was sold. Thank you, sir! I'd love to make one every morning henceforth, if I could, without, you know, the stigma of starting off a day with two shots of the hard stuff in my double cappuccino. But, the holidays are coming, and without a doubt I know what I'll be making on Christmas morning. Merry Christmas to me.
Sipping the "Michael Special", an off-menu adult coffee beverage at the Purple Palm.
  The photography conference was just what I needed to help me find that spark I've been searching for these past six months since Linda passed away. Including my mentor, I learned from seven of the best portrait photographers in the world over the course of the event. I networked by chatting with the trade show's vendors, introduced myself to new acquaintances and along the way, I decided what I want to do moving forward. To jump-start my plans, I came home and ordered more camera equipment. Although word on the street is that the quality of the equipment doesn't make the photographer, well... it certainly doesn't hurt the creative process either. As Oprah would say, this is what I know for sure.
   I'm building a portrait portfolio so that I can launch my business website later this year. Stay tuned for that and more announcements to come. Hopefully 2018 will look much different than 2017. I know that many people will share the same sentiment after experiencing a bummer of a year, too. Can I get an amen? In truth it's been more than a single bummer year, it's been a difficult couple of years dealing with Linda's illness and then sorting and finalizing all the subsequent "stuff" that needs to be settled postmortem. 
   Here's to all of us investing in ourselves and walking steadily and firmly towards what we really want with focus and determination. And, along the way, as I venture down this new path, I will mix up my routine and eat more salads like I enjoyed in Palm Springs. One must stay healthy to feed inspiration and to achieve big goals. The old adage is true, if you don't have your health, you have nothing. Stay well, my friends, stay well. 


Purple Palm Wellness Salad

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