The Best of 2020 – Yes. There Was SOME Good

This Best of 2020 blog was started in January, then I had a bout of depression, and then we decided to move in February and now, while I have a few quiet minutes I am finishing it. Enjoy and apologies for the tardiness.

Fuck 2020. Yes. We’ve all said it. The entire year was a complete shit show of monumental proportions. There were many disappointments, hardships, and losses of all kinds. Even though they suck, hardships allow for growth in my experience. We all learned to rethink our priorities in several areas. Learning who and what I can, and should, live without was liberating in a way. I eliminated toxic people, situations, and yes, even some foods that I found I could and should live without. My mental and physical health became more of a priority. I normally love to shop in person, but I learned to be a better online shopper and I tried produce delivery services to avoid going into the grocery store as frequently (the delivery services were hit or miss, so I still ended up in the store). I was outraged on behalf of my friends in the small business community when they were held to crippling standards that the big businesses here in Vegas were not expected to follow as stringently. Supporting locally owned businesses became even more of an imperative for our family. I wept for and with friends for many reasons. We all did.

2020 Had it All…NOT!

There was a lot missing in 2020. Celebrations. Dinner Parties. Trips and vacations of all kinds. And even though I was annoyed by virtually ALL of it, I found myself willingly and gracefully falling into the dreaded “new normal” – a phrase I despise BTW – of COVID dictated frameworks. Checklist before I leave the house – phone, purse, mask – CHECK! Who knew a mask could become a fashion accessory? One more place to wear sequins, glitter, and rhinestones! Who knew Stephen King’s The Stand would resonate so profoundly with me every time someone sneezed or coughed in my general vicinity?

2020 was not a year of eating dangerously. It was not a year of new restaurants tried. And yet, 2020 did yield some surprisingly happy things. It had its charms in new and unusual ways. Many rediscovered the joy of takeout and learned about food delivery services (and their usury practices and fees).  Some of us learned to cook new things at home. Hello, Sourdough anyone? Many of us pushed beyond our normal kitchen/culinary comfort zones in 2020. I know I did. I am not usually a “joiner”, but I joined a cookbook club and made some new “e-friends” who are VASTLY different than I. Being involved with this community renewed my passion for feeding those in need.

With all the trials and tribulations of 2020, here is my list of the Best of 2020:

Please Send Noodles – My Cookbook Club

Helmed by James Beard Award Winner Kim Foster, this book club is unlike any other I have belonged to before. Every other week I join a Zoom meeting with anyone else who is interested. We choose a cookbook, and for a month or so, cook from it learning new techniques, recipes, and more about ourselves. Cookbook authors have joined us for private cooking classes and Q & A sessions that were informative and fun. We also do a once a month “community cook” where we band together to feed those less fortunate than ourselves. This group was a balm to my ragged soul in 2020. I thank dear friend Gemini for inviting me, and I thank each active member for contributing and helping me see more of myself. Cook-along Events

When the pandemic forced our local restaurants to close their doors, Jolene Mannina got creative as only she can do! Working with locally owned restaurants, she created limited edition cooking classes with the chefs. Instead of straight up take out, you picked up a pre-measured and prepped box of ingredients, and at a specified time, logged into FB and cooked along with the chef. BRILLIANT! A private cooking class with a local chef? SIGN ME UP! I was able to enjoy some of my fave dishes, like James Trees’ cacio e pepe. I learned his tricks to make it at home, and support locally as well. As much as I enjoyed all the meals cooked with the chefs, Nina Manchev from Forte Tapas is the best teacher on camera IMHO. Restaurants are now open again with limited seating, but Secret Burger is still doing amazing things. Click the link to find out more about upcoming events. Out of towners – this is your ticket to eating like a local…just sayin’.

Quarantine Kitchen with Nancy

Jolene’s cooking events encourage me to stretch my skill set a bit and I started doing online cooking with and for my sister Nancy. About once a month we select a recipe that she wants to learn how to make and I cook it LIVE on Facebook. This is one of the best of 2020 because it allowed me to stay more connected to my sister and out of town friends and I was able to do it through my love language of food. You can see all of the Quarantine Kitchen Videos on my YouTube Channel. While you’re there, take a sec and subscribe so you never miss a video class! If you want to know when the next one will be, be sure to “like” Good for Spooning on Facebook. It’s been a minute since we cooked together and it’s gonna be an even longer minute because I am moving and remodeling a kitchen (more on that soon).

My Sourdough Bread Adventures

From my previous blog you know that I learned to work with sourdough, and it truly is one of the best things from 2020. It’s not just the gorgeous boules that I have been turning out. I’ve branched into English Muffins and baguettes. I do love carbs and this is just a new way for me to love them.

2018 – a Year of Loss and Love

2018 sucked. It just sucked. There was a LOT of loss. Loss of loved ones, heroes, icons, and precious items, but no weight, sadly.

There was also a LOT of love in 2018. I attended four weddings in four different parts of the country. The Hubs was the officiant at his very first wedding. My niece had a baby girl making me a Great Aunt three times over. And there were hugs, and tears, and hellos, and goodbyes. Through it all there was food, glorious food. Food to celebrate and food to drown sorrows or heal a broken heart. This my friends, is the list of the best things I ate in 2018. I had to weed out a few things that were awesome, like Maryland crab cakes IN Maryland. Many of these things made the list not just because they tasted great, but because of the memories attached to the enjoyment of or finding of the dish. I hope you enjoy this look back at my 2018 food year in review.

The Top 10 for 2018

Starting off with the locals, here they are…

Esther’s Kitchen

Local Chef James Trees, owner of Esther’s Kitchen, gave me two of my favorite bites of 2018. The Crispy Fried Cauliflower that I shared with The Hubs (he honestly didn’t get much of it) was better than any other version I have ever had. I am not sure if it was the capers or the anchovies or the texture, or the perfect combo of all of those, but I need to get back in there and eat this again!

fried cauliflower

Crispy Fried Cauliflower at Esther’s Kitchen

I thought pal Chef Johnny Church made the best porchetta (he made it for my Surprise 50th Birthday Party), but I was wrong (Sorry Johnny). The Porchetta SandWISH* made the list not only because it was delish, but because I split it with high school buddy Bob Bucci. The Porchetta is also available on the dinner menu as a main, but the pictured dish is only on the lunch menu.


The Best sandWISH I ate all year!

Sparrow + Wolf

On the ever changing menu at Sparrow + Wolf, you never know what you are going to find. Your fave may be taken off the menu to make room for something else that’s fabulous. I did learn from pal, Chef and Owner Brian Howard that they tried to take one of last year’s faves off the menu and there was a near riot. This was one of the nightly specials when I took Sister Nancy to dine there. Her words about this dish were, “I want this for breakfast every day for the rest of my life”. And she’s not wrong. It’s like the best French Toast you’ve ever had topped with the most decadent thing on the planet, and just so you don’t feel guilty, here’s a little fruit.

Foie Gras

Honey Toast with Foie Gras and Blueberries


Carnevino was one of the things we lost this year. It’s final meal service was July 21st and we were happily able to enjoy it with friends Al & Sue Mancini, Eric Gladstone and new friend Jason Harris. I had eaten at Carnevino before, and they have made this list before but I had never had the six month aged beef. Al called ahead and reserved a piece of this amazing beef for us. What a way to go! You can see all of the pics of that meal here.

Dry aged beef

180 day dry aged Prime NY Strip at Carnevino

Two From Vermont

Attending those four weddings in 2018 allowed me to try out some new places. Hen of the Wood in Burlington, Vermont was one of those places. Everything was exceptional and I really should have ordered this dish a second time. Yes, it was that good. Due to a seasonal and ever changing menu, you may not see this dish. Rest assured there will be something fabulous.

Hen of the Wood

Mushroom Toast at Hen of the Wood

The Bierhaus at the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont provided me with this perfect burger. The cattle are raised on the property and the beef is for the sole use of the Von Trapp family of restaurants on the property. The flavor is unique to that place as no other cattle can eat exactly what these grass fed cattle can. Think of the properties that terroir gives to wine and it’s kinda the same thing. Not anywhere in the same league as the steak above, but this was THE single best burger I had all year.

Farm raised beef

The best burger I ate all year!

Family Meal, Frederick Maryland

Attending Nephew Jeremy’s wedding took us to Frederick, Maryland and we toured several breweries and ate some fab food. Fried Chicken almost always makes my “best of” list in one form or fashion. For 2018 it was Bryan Voltaggio’s Fried Chicken at Family Meal. It made the list for several reasons:

  1. It was fucking delicious!
  2. We visited Rockwell Brewery and when we asked for a menu they pointed to the boring looking building in the parking lot and told us they could order from there and have it delivered. I declined. Face palm… I didn’t realize it was Bryan Voltaggio’s joint, so I was forced to return.
  3. It was served in a Revol Chicken Dish – one of my absolute favorite pieces from their collection (I have three small ones that were gifted to me). Fried Chicken served on a $60 plate? Yeah, it’s that kind of chicken!
  4. I ordered a side of Pimento Cheese Mac & Cheese and shared it with my two fave guys – The Hubs and The Son.

Family Meal

Bryan Voltaggio’s Fried Chicken

Conference Food

I often travel with The Hubs for his conferences because there are some fun locations. This year we attended three conferences and two locations made this list for 2018.

This rainbow of ciders from Schilling Cider House in Seattle was one of the best drinks of 2018! We went with friends and each of us ordered a flight of 6 and there were very few repeats because the variety was seemingly endless. Barrel aged, multi-fruit, and everything from sweet to ultra dry made the decision making process VERY difficult.

Rainbow of Ciders

A rainbow of Ciders from Schilling in Seattle

Orlando is…well, Orlando. We were at Universal Studios Resort and there was this. And it was so good I had to go back and order it a second time just to make sure that I wasn’t wrong. The first time I ate it I was so hungry that I thought maybe it was just mediocre. It was equally delicious the second time around. At Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, a kitschy themed restaurant in the tourist area, you can get these tater tot nachos – “totchos” – and they were loaded with toppings and flavor. I have to find a way to recreate them here because…damn.

Tater tot Nachos?

Totchos with green chile, queso and fried pork belly

And finally…from my kitchen

I love to cook and I hate to waste food, but sometimes “leftovers” aren’t what I want. I made this one day with freshly poached eggs and everything else was a leftover from something else. Jamon de Serrano crisped up in the pan with parmigiana reggiano and asparagus made for a great way to clear out the fridge and fill up my belly. Perfect leftovers? Perhaps. A little Hollandaise wouldn’t have sucked on this dish.

poached eggs

The one dish from my kitchen that made the list

I hope you have enjoyed this look back at 2018. I am ready to put all of that behind me and move on to creating and enjoying more food memories with my nearest and dearest. Wishing you all a tasty 2019.

*In case you are new here – I always write sandWISH instead of the correct word.

Eating & Drinking in 2017 – The Best Things

Once again, I had another year of NOT “eating dangerously”. While we had a lot of travel, even on those trips there were few earth shattering spoonfuls. I found myself eating tried and true favorites while traveling in the USA, and eating a bunch of new things while in Europe. So after eating my way through the year, here are my favorites. Some made the list because of the memories created at the meal and other made the list simply on flavor alone. All of these are in Las Vegas, unless otherwise noted. In no particular order…

The Shellfish Tower at Bouchon

I have had these before and they are all delicious, but what made this one so special is that this was Mom’s first experience with one. I loved the look on her face when the waiters brought it to the table as part of my birthday dinner at Bouchon. Her jaw literally dropped and she was so excited! This one made the list just for the sheer enjoyment it brought my Mom while she was eating it..

Shellfish tower at Bouchon at the Venetian

Fried Chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House – New Orleans

If you have been following along at ALL, you know that I am a fried chicken junkie. If I was on death row, fried chicken would be on the short list of what I’d be eating for my final meal. After waiting in a line that stretched down the sidewalk for about 30 minutes, we were seated and treated to some of the best fried chicken. If you go to Willie Mae’s, bring cash – no cards accepted.

You don’t get much better than homestyle cooking and this fried chicken is right on target.

Beef Cheek & Bone Marrow Dumplings – Sparrow & Wolf

It’s no secret that I love pasta in all its shapes and forms, from linguini to all the stuffed shapes. This dish was somewhere between a Chinese dumpling and a ravioli and absolutely delicious! It was so good it made me rethink my position on foams. Sparrow & Wolf recently turned over their entire menu and this, sadly, is no longer available. Watch for a new dumpling incarnation and for this dish to pop up as a special every now and then. (Photo Credit Sabin Orr, from the Sparrow & Wolf website)

At Sparrow & Wolf – photo credit to Sabin Orr from the S&W website

Foie Gras Gateau at Bouchon

This tasted exactly as good as it looks. Eating it was almost criminal because it was a shame to ruin the presentation. Somewhere between sweet and savory, this gateau hit all the right notes…and it’s foie gras. Need I say more?

Foie Gras Gateau at Bouchon, just as tasty as it was pretty.

Mispelchen at Naïv – Frankfurt, Germany

On one of the many stops of our European cruise, Frankfurt became one of our faves, simply because we had the chance to sit and chat with locals at a local bar. After enjoying craft beers and delicious food at Naïv, waitress and new pal Norman (no, not a typo), treated us to this lush concoction. It’s Calvados brandy with a specific type of local canned apricot. You chew the apricot and then sip the brandy, and swallow both together. It was like spring and fall had a dance in your mouth!

At Naïv in Frankfurt – seriously one of the most surprising things all year.

Bloody Caesar at Rock Creek  – Seattle

Brunch is arguably the best meal EVER. This Caesar made brunch at Rock Creek a great start to a fantastic day of bar and brewery hopping. A close second for this trip would be the Blood Orange Stout at Outlander Brewery and Pub.

It was a serving of vegetables coupled with a shrimp & oyster cocktail. How’s that for a “good morning”?

Crawfish Boil – My House

Each month a group of friends gets together at my house and cooks together. We set a theme and go for the gusto! In June we decided on Cajun. I ordered some crawfish from a dear chef friend and they were flown in special just for us. What made this one of the best things I ate all year was the fun we had in the preparation of the meal. All hands were on deck for both the prep and the eating. A great time was had by all!

During our “Cooking with Gemini” series, a Cajun crawfish boil was the theme in June.

Cold Spicy Noodles – Momofuku

Several local food writers, who shall remain nameless, have been giving Momofuku a rough time lately and I really don’t give a shit what they have to say. When I like something, I like it. This dish makes my list for several reasons. While eating it, it’s both icy cold and wicked spicy. There are multiple textures and so much going on that you just can’t stop eating it! Better still, I enjoyed it with friend Zack while we ate and drank our way around the strip while our spouses attended a conference.

Cold Spicy Noodles at Momofuku at the Cosmopolitan

Caviar Service – Uniworld River Princess

After my own private sabering lesson (see the video here), Chef Daniel treated us to this beauty to enjoy with our champagne. Yes, I’ve had caviar before, but rarely so beautifully plated and never as a complete surprise! I don’t know about you, but I always feel like I am special when I am eating caviar.

After the sabering lesson, Chef Daniel treated us to caviar complete with accompaniments and fruit. aboard the Uniworld River Princess

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