Rebuilding The Culinary Cellar


Loss comes in many shapes and forms. Today, I want to talk about loss of possessions; the kinds of things that are near and dear to one’s heart and can never be replaced. Things that shape your identity and mark treasured life moments. Things that celebrate who we are. For example, years ago I lost the itty, bitty diamond in my engagement ring. It wasn’t an expensive piece, but the love and sentiment behind it made it feel like a huge loss. The ring symbolized a most happy once in a lifetime moment; a traditional sign of love that could never be replaced. I still think about it from time to time. Sure, I got a new ring. It’s bigger and brighter, but it just isn’t the same. Yes, it is just a thing and things can be replaced, but with cherished memories attached it is hard to let go.


Another loss I want to share with you today is a big one that affected my friend Debbie and the culinary world. Debbie writes one of my favorite blogs, The Culinary Cellar. I had the privilege of visiting Debbie when William was starting his Navy career at Great Lakes, IL. While he was in boot camp I was sitting at Debbie’s kitchen table enjoying the warmest hospitality and most delicious baklava pastry.


However, the biggest treat is waiting for me in Debbie’s basement. I get a tour of her famous culinary cellar. As I descend the stairs my eyes fall on numerous shelves bearing the weight of nearly 4000 cookbooks. In front of me is a massive old-time library card catalog filled with thousands of hand-written recipes collected since Debbie was 12. This is a lifetime of memories showcasing her love of cooking and generations of award winning talents.

Image result for culinary cellar

The variety of books is like none I have ever seen. There are rare and antique volumes. There are obviously much-loved books dog-eared and stained. There are souvenir books from all over the world documenting memories of family vacations and travels. Some are autographed by famous chefs and most have hand-written notes lovingly penned into the margins giving advice about a recipe. Each and every book has a story beyond its pages. Each and every one is treasured and so loved that she shares it with the world through her blog. She is a generous soul.


Now imagine the devastation when in the middle of the night during a violent storm a town retention pond fails and pours 7 feet of water and a ton of mud into Debbie’s cellar wiping out just about everything. Nine tons of cookbook debris were lifted up and dropped into a dumpster just a couple of weeks ago. Imagine opening that door above to this: 19990436_10102505366467335_4001791307728415727_n

A lifetime of memories and a valued collection washed away in an instant. How does one recover from such a physical,  emotional and shocking loss?


Well, if you are a part of the Debbie Vanni family, you just do. Talk about super human strength. The rebuilding of the culinary cellar is already in progress. Support from family and friends and strangers far and wide has Debbie re-grouping and cutting her losses. She is no Debbie Downer! Truly an inspration. I look forward to visiting again some day.


To read more of Debbie’s story check out her blog here The Culinary Cellar

thank you to Debbie for sharing theses photos with me








The Miracle of Roasting

IMG_2443Tis the season of comfort and joy, but if one is grieving over the loss of a child it feels like anything but. Time to dig deep. Time to remember the reason for the season.  Let’s push the source of our greatest sorrow aside for a just a bit and celebrate our greatest joy. Our children. Trust me on this one. You are stronger than you think.

There is nothing more joyful than the birth of a child. As a physician assistant I delivered quite a few babies. It was a miracle every time and the glorious experience never got old.  I hoped to be a mom one day myself. It was “the job” I looked most forward to.

I remember every detail of the birth of my children like it was yesterday. Secretly, I prayed for a girl and wow did I deliver! My miracle is perfectly beautiful and loves me like no other. Two and half years later I am blessed with William. Let the fun begin. So many treasured memories to wrap myself up in; warm and fuzzy all over.

Christmas in San Diego

My most precious gifts. Christmas in San Diego.

Caitlin is the daughter that dreams are made of. She is my greatest gift and always will be. She is my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Something I never thought I could do after William died. Without ever knowing she handed me the “shovel” so I could dig deep. It takes a while, but the time will come. The strength to dig deep is inside of each and every one of us. Find a reason to emerge from that dark hole. Ask for help if you can’t see the light.

While the parent is supposed to protect the child somewhere along the way our boundaries get blurred and roles get reversed. Truthfully, Caitlin and I have exchanged very few words about William’s death. Maybe there are no words for the death of a young son and brother. But healing begins with a few words. “Mom, we will find happiness again, I promise”.  Much like her brother, my daughter is strong and confident and determined. She follows through on her promise with a little help from a guy named Sam.


Next to her birth, Caitlin’s wedding is one of the most joyful experiences of my life. I did not know I could feel that kind of comfort in my heart again. The year leading up to the big day is filled with priceless moments, laughter and I’d be lying if I didn’t say a few tears. But I let it go. I open my heart to the possibility….that I can feel joy again and I do. You can, too. It’s a very real miracle.

Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower

Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower

In my cooking world there is nothing more miraculous than the transformation taken on by raw vegetables when roasted. How anyone can bite into a raw mushroom, broccoli floret or chunk of cauliflower and enjoy it is beyond me. But take those same vegetables, roast them up and I am in veggie side-dish heaven. My dear Caitlin taught me the virtues of roasted cauliflower (I love that this apple didn’t fall far from the cooking tree), so this one is for her. I love her more than I can say. She is my greatest gift this Christmas season.

Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower

1 head Cauliflower
3 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
½ tsp Kosher Salt
¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Non-pareil Capers, drained, rinsed
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
¼ cup Golden Raisins
2 Tbsp Pine Nuts, toasted

Heat oven 450F. Cut cauliflower into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place in a large baking pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss around. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, turning twice, until tender and golden. Meanwhile, warm the remaining olive oil and capers over medium heat. In a large serving bowl, toss cauliflower, warm caper oil, lemon juice, raisins, and pine nuts. Season with additional salt, pepper and lemon juice, if needed. Serves 6.

Helpful Tips: Cauliflower can also be separated into florets instead of slicing.