Category Archives: Travel

Can This Recipe Be Saved?

Hi everyone, it’s hack time again. First up: cooking.

This weekend, DH and I struggled to fix a chicken dish that was weirdly sweet. After adding multiple ingredients, it was eventually quite good. But it got me researching solutions to some common kitchen problems you might encounter, too.


KITCHEN HACK: Adjusting a Recipe

Too Salty

  • If you can rinse off the overly salty ingredient (such as the brine on your olives), that’s an easy place to start.
  • Add a raw potato (you don’t have to cut or peel it) to a liquid dish such as soup or curry. Potatoes will soak up some of the extra salt as they cook and add starch that will further dilute the saltiness.
  • Rice or a small amount of flour are other options.

Too Spicy

  • As with saltiness, adding starch is a quick fix for an overly spicy soup or curry.

Too Sweet

This is a common result when using carrots, red peppers or other vegetables with hidden sugars.

  • Add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or a spoonful of apple cider vinegar.
  • Balance the sweet taste with more seasoning to make the dish spicier.
  • Add a fat such as olive oil or avocado.
  • Try adding tangy yogurt if it’s appropriate for your dish.
  • Add more liquid to dilute it.
  • Avoid adding salt, as it will bring out all flavors, including sweetness.

Too Sour

The best way to counter too much sourness is to add sweet, salty or savory flavors. Think of the way a salt rim balances the sweetness of a margarita, or how adding carrots rounds out the taste of a marinara sauce.

Too Bitter

Leafy greens such as kale, collard, and mustard greens can be overpoweringly bitter. Other ingredients with a bitter edge include coffee, espresso, cocoa and herbs and spices such as parsley, paprika and cayenne (red) pepper.

Bitter is the opposite of acidic or sour so adding vinegar, citrus juice or yogurt can help balance the dish.

  • Squeeze some lemon over sautéed greens.
  • In Mexican cooking, lime helps balance red spices such as chile powder which can taste bitter.
  • Add a dash of grated nutmeg. The nutty taste helps balance other flavors.




Don’t you hate those suckers?! I’ve collected a few tips for your next run-in with old furniture, fences or floorboards. It almost makes me wish I had a splinter so I could try them out. Almost.

  • Baking soda technique
  1. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder with a few drops of water until it forms a paste.
  2. Apply the paste to the splinter.
  3. Wait 10-20 minutes until the skin swells a little and the splinter pops out of the skin.
  • Use a piece of duct tape or a drop of Elmer’s Glue to remove the splinter.
  • Soak. Pour some white vinegar into a small bowl. Soak the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. Once the splinter has risen sufficiently out of the skin’s surface, it should be easy to remove with tweezers.



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My friend O suggested a post on my Do’s and Don’ts for next time. If you’re planning a trip to Sicily, here are a few post-vacation thoughts.

What I’d do again

  • Reserve Blacklane upon arrival at an unfamiliar destination. It will cost more than a taxi but the price is established and paid by credit card in advance. Benefits: 1) You won’t be driven all over the place to run up the meter. 2) You won’t have to change money at exorbitant airport rates. 3) Drivers are safe and you can request one who speaks your language. 4) The cars are cleaner and nicer than cabs.
  • Rent apartments instead of staying in hotels. Cooking (and grocery shopping) is fun and cheaper than always eating out.
  • If you plan to drive into the country, consider an apartment rental outside of the city so you can easily get in and out of town.
  • Buy tickets online in advance for popular museums and attractions.
  • Bring a good map and pocket Italian language guide.

What I’d do differently

  • Don’t plan on using Taormina as a base from which to travel to other areas unless you book a tour from town. It’s well located but too hard to navigate in and out.
  • One day is sufficient unless you really like to shop.
  • I’d spend more time in Palermo (better shopping, too).
  • I’d rent a place for a week about an hour’s drive from Siracusa and Noto. I’d rent another place for the second week an hour’s drive from Ragusa and the coast.

FOLLOW UP: Biscuits


I’m still experimenting, but so far Alton Brown’s recipe checks all the boxes.

Curious about the meaning of the word “hack”? Originating as a computer term, it “… refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency….”

The Apocalypse on $10,000 a Day

A couple of nights ago, we watched the 2012 movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The premise: an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and will wipe out everyone in 3 weeks.


What would you do? Here’s my exit strategy.

Liquidate savings, leaving just a little in case the forecast is, you know, wrong.

Fly (first class of course) to a remote tropical island with a 5-star resort. Pack tons of books, many bottles of limited edition Islay whiskey, and sunscreen. (My end-of-life scenario doesn’t include suffering from painful sunburn.)

Check into our suite, having reserved all the rooms on the floor so as not to endure  fighting couples or screaming children.

Every day:

  • Walk on the beach. No sense meeting my Maker with flabby thighs.
  • Have a 3-hour massage, with one hour spent on neck and shoulders.
  • Drink steadily but only to maintain pleasant buzz, not hangover.
  • Have dessert at lunch and dinner. Who’s judging?
  • Have sex. OK, maybe not EVERY day.

Binge-watch all 19 seasons of Midsomer Murders. Mysteries are soothing because  bad guys always get caught. Unlike life.

Be friendly but don’t waste a minute with anyone who is boring or mean.

Consume plenty of fresh papaya, mango and strawberries. End-of-days plan should  not include constipation.

See glorious sunsets.

Gorge on cheese and chocolate. Cholesterol be damned.

Snuggle up with my sweetie every night. Drift off remembering every nice thing that’s ever happened to me.

There are worse ways to go.

Photo source: Pixabay

Worst Vacation Ever?

promotion in today’s e-mail made me ponder what qualifies as my worst travel experience. Usually, these fall in the Relatively Minor Irritations category: delayed luggage, missed connections, bad food, and so on. I don’t think any of the Merely Annoying will win this contest.

Then I remembered the Wish-I-Could Forget trip to the Caribbean with my then-husband (my ultimate “wish I could forget” experience, but that’s another story). Along with our 2 year old son, we  traveled to Nassau in the Bahamas for what should have been a restful week.

A couple of nights in, we decided to have dinner at the resort and accepted their recommendation for a babysitter. After a pleasant meal, we returned to our room, paid the sitter, and checked on the baby.

He was fine, but something just felt “off”.

Turned out, the sitter had slashed through our luggage and stolen everything that looked valuable including clothing and shoes as well as cameras, extra cash etc. The hotel manager was faux-apologetic, the woman “couldn’t” be located, and any thought of a relaxing vacation was hopeless.

I’d enter the contest and provide more lurid details, but what if they offered to send me BACK to Nassau for my do-over?? No, thank you!!

However, YOU should click this link. Good luck and let me know if you win!



Sicily, Part 5 (Ciao! We’ll Be Back!)

Day 14-15

Since we have the parking garage from hell and are afraid that if we venture out of Taormina we’ll never get back in it,  we revise our plans to explore outside the city. No Noto… we’ll just have to come back to Sicily.

Getting to street level is a challenge (up/down many stairs, across hallways, a gate which inexplicably has the name Condominio San Giorgio on it) but we are intrepid. Or perhaps just desperate to get outside.

Highlights of these two days are buying fresh fish and veggies at the local market for dinner at home, the famous Greek amphitheater which is actually Roman, a lovely little park which is a calm oasis in the middle of this busy city (with interesting topiary, e.g. a reindeer – ? – ), shopping for some ceramics, lunching on fabulous squid/cuttlefish ink pasta, and the discovery of “brutti ma buoni” (ugly but good) cookies.




A perfect rainbow for our last day

Day 16-17

Leaving Taormina Lux Apartments is almost as complicated. First we have to get all our stuff to the parking garage.  Then we open the security gate and DH drives outside.  Now I have to run BACK upstairs to the condo, leave the keys on the washing machine, go back down to the basement, and exit a side door because the automatic gate has closed.

Would it not be simpler for each unit to have its own number, which would also be on the keys, which could then be left in a drop box IN the garage? Just sayin’.

We drive back to Palermo and stay in a nice hotel near the airport. Have an excellent lunch, a longish walk, and repack our bags from tomorrow’s flight to Milan.


Day 18

We fly to Milan and check in at the Principe di Savoia, where we stayed when we were newly engaged. It’s now part of the Dorchester Group and not quite as special as it used to be but still very nice.

After checking in, we take their complimentary shuttle into town, do some errands (I need another hole punched in my new Hermès belt — even with wine, pasta and pastry I have still lost weight on this trip, woo hoo!) and explore the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi, a house shared by two very rich, very eccentric brothers and crammed with Renaissance tchotchkes and lugubrious religious artifacts.

Our favorite thing is the bathtub, which looks like a baptismal font but had hot and cold running water — the latest thing in the 19th century.

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There’s also a wonderful temporary exhibit of Jacques Henri Lartigue photos.

Returning to the hotel, we meet up with two delightful women before having dinner at Michelin-starred Acanto.



“Deconstructed” (how I hate that word) cacio e pepe. Delish but prefer the classic version.


After-dinner macarons and chocolates presented in this charming box.

Day 18

Fly home.  Why can’t our airports feature gelato and other treats like those in Italy?IMG-3193.JPGIMG-3214.JPGIMG-3215.JPG

Happily, all goes smoothly, the bags arrive quickly, and we immediately start planning our next trip.

Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly but Good)

While the phrase could refer to friends, family or co-workers, in this case it’s a cookie we discovered in Sicily. Having now experimented with several recipes, I have a version to recommend.

These are very easy and would be a nice addition to the Thanksgiving menu as they are light, gluten free and delicious.


  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts  (aka filberts), about 8 ounces
  • 3/4 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar — I use Whey Low sugar substitute* Note: this yields slightly sweet cookies. If you prefer more sweetness, increase to 1 cup of sugar.
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake for about 10-12 minutes until they are fragrant, lightly toasted and the skins blister. Remove and transfer the nuts to a clean kitchen towel to cool. Then rub them together in the towel to remove the skins. Warning: this is messy!
  2. Lower the oven heat to 300 degrees F.
  3. Pulse nuts in a food processor until roughly chopped. You want some big pieces. (Alternatively, crush them in a bowl– takes longer but avoids pulverizing into dust.)
  4. Transfer nuts to a bowl and mix in the sugar and salt.
  5. Whip the egg white on high setting in a stand mixture until soft peaks form and then gradually add vanilla, continuing to whip until you get medium-firm peaks. Stir this into the hazelnut-sugar mixture.
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spoon generous-sized dollops of the “dough”, leaving 1″ of space between cookies.  They don’t spread much, if at all. Cookies can be any size you want; this amount will make about 8 large (3″) cookies or over a dozen smaller ones.
  7. Bake at 300 for 30 minutes until golden, then lower the heat to 200 and bake for another 15 minutes so they dry out and are crisp and not sticky.
  8. Cool before serving.

*A note on Whey Low. Developed for the inventor’s diabetic wife, this genius product is significantly lower in calories and glycemic index than sugar and tastes/cooks the same so no complicated calculations are needed. Only caveat: it’s pricey.

Sicily, Part 4 (The Forces Aren’t With Us)

Day 13: Surviving Taormina

We bid farewell to Sabrina and drive to our next home-from-home, Taormina, a few hours away.  This is where our best-laid-plans are totally shot to hell.


The trip starts promisingly, as we get back to Caltanisetta without getting lost. But then…. We hit a double roundy-round and Betty wants us to take one of the exits. Well, that doesn’t work. We try EVERY GODDAMN EXIT until we realize that the one correct exit is the one that is blocked off.  Needless to say, there are no signs to help and we are stuck in Caltanisetta.

DH finally has a brainstorm:  Follow a truck because surely a truck is going to be headed for the highway, right? YES! We are out of the city and see signs for the A19 highway.

New crisis: I need a rest stop and there are none.  Betty steers us to a gas station, which has a hunk of concrete blocking the door to the restroom but do I care? No, I do not! Ignoring the man outside who is yelling in Italian (which mercifully, I do not understand) I hustle out of the john and get back in the Fiat.

Needless to say, 5 minutes after we get on the A19 there is a bonafide rest area. F’ me and thanks, Betty.

OK, our new destination is the promisingly-named Taormina Lux Apartments, with an address per of #46 San Pancrazio, which we enter into the GPS. We have arranged to meet Emanuel the condo agent and are now running 1/2 hour late but all things considered that’s not too bad.

We arrive in Taormina to see that San Pancrazio is a winding thoroughfare — very busy — with nowhere to pull over but I spy #46 and hop out of the car to ring the doorbell. Nada. It’s clear that this is not the entrance so now what??

We call and text the agent multiple times as we circle around and around in the insane traffic of San Pan-Crazy-O and are finally forced to travel up to a small area by a bakery where we can pull over.  This would be fine except that a cop keeps trying to shoo us away and a woman who has stopped for ice cream wants our parking spot.

Finally we get through to Emanuel who says he will meet us there in 10 minutes. 45 minutes later he actually shows up and we follow him to the apartment parking area which turns out to be BEHIND the street. How in hell were we supposed to know this?!?! We are now molto stressed out and more than a little irritated, especially DH who has had to drive around in circles for over an hour.

The complex itself is a maze and “helpfully”, none of the units are marked, nor is the key. But the apartment has a well stocked kitchen, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a large veranda overlooking the pool with a view of the hillside and ocean. IMG-3085

It’s now getting late so we dump our stuff and go exploring for lunch accompanied by wine, which we both desperately need at this point. Sapori di Mare hits the spot.

IMG-3078Taormina has been a vacation destination for centuries and it’s easy to see why. Despite being very touristy even at this time of year, it is extremely pretty. You just have to look up above the stores and down the little alleys to catch a glimpse of its natural beauty.


FullSizeRender (28).jpgWe buy some cheese, wine and pastry at Pasticceria D’Amore for a simple dinner later and go back to collapse.

Not so fast. Trying to find our room in this apartment complex is like being trapped in an Esher drawing.

Up 3 levels. Down 4 levels. Across to one elevator.  Down a hallway. Back to the other elevator.  We can see where our patio is (pool level) but damned if we can figure out how to get to it.

But we do, and vow to take careful notes tomorrow of exactly how to  retrace our steps. Zzzzzz.