Vallarta Market


Vallarta Supermarkets is a chain of 44 stores in southern and central California, specializing in Mexican and Latin American food products.

Since I was planning on making tamales, I decided to do all of my shopping at my local Vallarta market. Key ingredients that I needed were Maseca (corn flour), dried corn husks and pork lard. These were easy and plentiful to find at this ethnic market though not what you might readily see at your average grocery store.


I also needed to purchase poblano chiles, jalapenos, white onions and tomatillos. These items were also plentiful and beautiful in the produce section. Other interesting items of note in produce were cactus, chayote squash, a variety of chile peppers both fresh and dried, tropical fruit including mangos and papaya, and banana leaves, fresh chesnuts and taro root.


Vallarta has a butcher section that includes some of your standard fare but also includes a beef heart, liver and kidney mix, a mutton mix, smoked pork chops, fresh chicken gizzards and beef lips! There is a seafood section and many canned and packaged goods that are equally interesting and not what you find at your local supermarket. Hence the reason to seek out ethnic markets, both big and small in your local area. They are fascinating worlds of not only foodie wonder, but of another culture. I cannot get enough!

Getting Enough Sleep

I was visiting with a friend recently who is from Shanghai, China. When I mentioned that I didn’t feel that I was getting enough sleep, she recommended Ginseng Tea from Korea. She promised it would do wonders.


How Much Sleep Do We Need?

In reality, there is no magic number of hours of sleep we need and it varies by person. Some people need 9 hours of sleep per day while others can get by with 6. A general guideline for older adults is between 7 and 8 hours of quality sleep per day. As people get older though, their sleep satisfaction often declines.

On doing a bit of research, I learned that sleep satisfaction for older adults mirrors our general health. And sleep is particularly affected for those with conditions related to the heart such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. As someone who inherited hypertension in my mid-40’s, that makes sense.

Sleep trends have shown that American adults get less sleep now than they did 40-50 years ago. In the 1960’s – 70’s, the average adult got 8-8.5 hours of sleep per night. Today adults average 7-7.5 hours of sleep per night, or less.


As we get older, other issues also interfere with our sleep. Aches and pains associated with aging – sore back, aching knee – frustrate our sleep. And we also tend to wake up more during the night, which is why older adults often nap during the day.

And here’s the kicker: for older women, there’s menopause. After we’ve sacrificed sleep up to this point to raise our kids and work at our jobs, now when we actually can sleep a bit more, menopause causes women’s sleep patterns to go haywire. Rates of insomnia and apnea for women during this period go through the roof. As a perimenopausal woman, this is another piece to the puzzle.

What We Can Do

In addition to trying my friend’s Korean Ginseng Tea recommendation, there are other things we can do to improve our sleep. Breathing exercises, yoga and creating a good sleep environment are natural remedies to addressing chronic sleep issues. As adequate sleep affects our overall health and wellness, I will be trying all of these natural remedies to offset the progressive sleep issues that come with aging. And although I’m not yet needing a nap during the day, when that day comes I will embrace it!

Character Counts

A few years ago, my husband mentioned a radio program that he came across and enjoyed listening to. The speaker was Michael Josephson, the Founder of The Josephson Institute. In my husband’s brief description, he used the words “character” and “values.” That was enough for me to take a closer look.


“Ethics. Everywhere. All the time.” This is what greets you when you enter their website. WOW. “Youth ethics. Sports ethics. Business ethics. Public Service ethics. Policing ethics.” And, “We’re working to create a world where decisions and behavior are guided by ethics.”

HOW REFRESHING. When our news is dominated almost completely by a focus on the bad acts of people and tragedies, here is a focus on individual moral principles leading to the greater good. I’m interested.

The Josephson Institute is a non-profit organization that conducts educational programs for public officials, school administrators, military and police officers, journalists, senior corporate and non-profit executives, judges and lawyers. Their programs focus on business ethics, public administration, policing, character education and sportsmanship.

Character Counts

As a mother, I was particularly interested in their programs for youth. Character Counts is their national program, taught in thousands of schools and affecting millions of children. It is based on a framework of basic values called “The Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.” I wish my children had this program in their school. Although we try to teach these values at home, emphasis from outside is immeasurably beneficial.


Center For Sport’s Ethics

The Josephson Institute’s Center for Sports Ethics developed and teaches a program for teachers, coaches and parents to ensure a positive experience for kids in sports. It is made up of 16 sportsmanship principles that they encourage sports program to adhere to, including the values of integrity, perseverance, sacrifice, respect and responsibility. This is another program I wish my children had been exposed to. Those lessons learned through sports seems more important than the sports activities themselves.


I am grateful that I came across the work being done by Michael Josephson and the Josephson Institute. I subscribe to their weekly newsletter via email, “What Will Matter.” This week’s topic: “The Truth About Trust and Lies,”  with the first line, “Honesty may not always pay, but lying always costs.” Yes. Thank you. I can’t wait to read it.

Galleria Market


Los Angeles has the second largest Korean population outside of Korea. It makes sense that it also has some amazing Korean supermarkets. Galleria Market, located in Northridge, is one of the best I’ve come across.

Food Court

The first thing you notice when you enter Galleria Market is the Food Court. Different stalls entice you with their fare: sushi, tonkatsu, Korean barbecue, bulgogi, kalbi and other Korean specialties. Everything looks and smells delicious.


The Bakery 

French-inspired bakery, Tous Les Jours entices shoppers with beautifully baked and packaged patisseries and breads. They also have a selection of stunning cakes.








Korean Grocery Items

This large market is full of typical Korean grocery items including many versions of Kim Chee and pastes (Gochujang), sliced meats and fresh, mostly whole fish. There are many choices within the aisles of rice, noodles, snacks and produce.







Prepared Foods

A specialty in Korean cuisine are the prepared foods. Most Korean markets have a section dedicated to vegetables and salads that are prepared fresh and purchased self-serve and by the pound. From Jap Chae (Korean Glass Noodle Salad) to many pickled vegetables to small fermented fish, this Korean salad bar is as colorful as it is interesting.







Korean Culture and Food

Korean food is not as universally known as are many other cuisines in the United States, but the flavor profiles are bold and unique within the Asian culture. With a plethora of Korean restaurants in Los Angeles as well as a thriving population here, the opportunities to learn more about and experience Korean culture and cuisine abound.

Mixing Up The Exercise Routine

As we get older, it is highly recommended that as active adults we vary our exercise routine. Although we may have favored running or biking, skiing or tennis in our younger years, over time the wear and tear on our body parts encourages us to mix it up to make the best of what we have moving forward.

For me, after many years of running and while training for my first (and only) marathon, I found that I had a moderate wear-and-tear injury to my right knee. Formally known as osteoarthritis, but more commonly understood by me as a deterioration of my meniscus due to poor alignment (who knew?), I really had no choice but to modify my exercise regime.

Physical Therapy


Attending appointments with my physical therapist 2 times per week, I learned to strengthen the muscles around my compromised knee, adjust my poor knee alignment and work on my balance. I now do these exercises on my own at home, 3 days per week.


This was my exercise of choice before my injury and it continues to be after my injury. However, I cannot rely solely on this. I have reduced my use of the treadmill for my cardio training to less than 50% of my weekly routine.

Stationary Bike

I purchased a stationary bike after getting serious about my knee injury. The truth is, if I ignore the knee, I will end up with a knee replacement. I am too young for that. So an offset to the treadmill is a stationary bike. I prefer the recumbent style and I am able to get a similar workout as I would on the treadmill but with less stress on my knee.



I recently started taking a Pilates class twice each week. Pilates is excellent in improving core strength, which I sorely need. I found a studio nearby and work with an apprentice trainer for a reduced hourly fee. This works a completely different set of skills and muscles than my other exercises and improves my posture and presence in every moment. I love it!


One or two days each week I trade my indoor equipment for outdoor. I absolutely love hiking and being in nature and I exercise while hiking trails in my local mountains. It feels like there is absolutely no work involved and it can be a great social activity when I hike with friends or family.



Another addition to my work out regimen in the recent past has been yoga. I have taken classes at a local studio that I like and I also have several home yoga videos for beginners that I have yet to try. I like the peaceful, stretching movements of yoga and the bits of meditation. The benefits I receive from yoga last long after I leave a class. I plan to work yoga back into my weekly routine not only for the exercise benefits but also for the peace of mind I receive from it.

Just For Fun

Occasionally I also play tennis, take long neighborhood walks or walks in my local park, downhill ski and attempt to play golf! All of these activities complement my regular routine and not only help me balance taking care of my body, but are a lot of fun. Raquetball? Basketball? Zumba? The list of possibilities is endless. I hope to add more interesting and active choices to my routine in the coming year.

Winter Foodie Tour of NYC

NYC. Foodie Tour. Winter. YUM.


For some reason, I have not been to New York City very often and I’m not sure why. But when I had the opportunity to take a short weeklong trip during the winter, I jumped on the Big Apple. For one main purpose. TO EAT.

Katz’s NY Deli

As most Americans know, NYC has some of the best restaurants in the country. And if you’re a foodie like me, you’ve got to get there and try some. The trouble was – which ones? One place we could not miss was Katz’s NY Deli. Famed to have the best pastrami in town, we were not disappointed. The meat was rich, fatty, salty and the rye bread was firm but started to disintegrate almost immediately. No time to waste! The decor looks like it hasn’t changed much since it’s founding in 1888 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is all part of the charm. A MUST.

Minetta Tavern

Dinner our first night was at Minetta Tavern, just a few blocks from the apartment we rented through Airbnb. A hip oldy, worldy style restaurant, Minetta was packed, loud and fun. From classic martinis to roasted bone marrow to their signature black label burger with carmelized onions, every bite was indulgent, rich and deeply satisfying. A memorable meal in an interior so dark, no pictures survived!


A different dining experience that was part snack, part meal was our charcuterie platter at EATALY. An emporium of all things Italian – produce, pantry items, bakery, butcher and cheesemonger – to gifts, wines and restaurants, EATALY is an upscale Italian food lover’s paradise. Be prepared for the crowds!











We had another truly memorable dinner at Babbo – Mario Batali’s rustic yet refined, much beloved Italian Enoteca. Seated at a beautiful booth with a view of the center of the restaurant, the dishes were familiar, yet with unique twists using seasonal and local ingredients that made them their own. We had the grilled octopus antipasti, which is perhaps the best octopus preparation I have ever tasted, and the pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Although the wine service was a little pretentious, everything about the food and atmosphere was superb.


Non-Food Entertainment and Shake Shack

Although it sounds like it, I promise we did not eat the entire duration we were in NYC (although we tried)! We walked through as many neighborhoods as we could, though the snow made it a little more slow going. We saw a Broadway Play (“Book of Mormon”), went to the Metropolitan Museum (a first!), went to a Jazz show, did a little shopping at the Strand Bookstore, ABC Carpet and Home, Fishs Eddy, Henri Bendel and others. In between we stopped for a bite at the infamous burger joint, Shake Shack – waiting no less than an hour, in the winter, for a burger. It was pretty good – but coming from the land of In-n-Out, we’re pretty hard to impress!


9-11 Memorial

A very, very meaningful excursion, totally un-food-related that made our whole trip was a visit to the 9-11 Memorial. We stumbled upon it while it was still under construction, but we were fortunate enough to see a portion of the museum and the beautiful monuments of the two towers.










It had begun to snow while we were there, and the snow resembled ash – a surreal experience while wandering around the footprints of Tower 1 and Tower 2. We were so moved by the beautiful, haunting statements to the tragedies that took place there not so long ago and to the many victims and heroes honored by name.

















More Foodie Mentions

Some additional honorable foodie mentions on this trip included April Bloomfield’s, The Spotted Pig – a wonderful British gastropub that was perfect for a post-theater late-night eat. Our favorite bite from the whole week we had here – her famous deviled eggs. Doughnut Plant was a fun stop for unusual and square-filled donuts. And many food emporiums made our list, including The Plaza, Zabar’s, Citronella, Chelsea Market, Russ & Daughters, Grand Central Market and our favorite of all time – Dean & Deluca. We visited Dean & Deluca in SoHo no less than every other day and I still could not get enough of it.


This place had my name written all over it and if I could have figured out a way to hide and spend the night there, I would have. REALLY.


Every section and every case was spectacular. It took seemingly hours to narrow down what to take home on each visit. One of our favorite memories of this trip to NYC was a Dean & Deluca picnic we had in our tiny apartment, watching the snow fall outside and inside watching an important (to my hubby) British rugby match. Another meal to remember!


There were more meals, snacks, adventures and sights that were too numerous to mention. One meal I can’t believe I almost forgot to relay was a lunch at the highly acclaimed seafood restaurant, Le Bernadin. Everything about this meal was impeccable – the freshness of the ingredients, the modern and sleek decor, the potential of seeing Eric Ripert emerge from the kitchen! I must say though, the experience was a little austere for us. Less relaxing and more formal than we prefer. But wonderful in it’s own way, nonetheless.


I don’t really know how to summarize NYC. As a west coaster, a Californian – it’s a different world. But NYC does not disappoint. It’s a place unto it’s own. It waits for no one. It takes no BS. And I love it. I don’t think I could ever pass as a New Yorker, but I love to visit. Hopefully for longer periods in the future and at different times of the year. I LOVE NYC.


Apple Crisp

I have made this delicious Apple Crisp more than any other dessert I know. And last Thanksgiving, I realized it was the perfect addition to our meal – seasonal, loved by all, and best of all – EASY.


5 large apples of your choice (I like Granny Smith or another tart variety)

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t fresh ground nutmeg

1/2 c water

1 T fresh lemon juice

1 c brown sugar

3/4 c flour

1/2 c butter, cup into small cubes

Peel and slice the apples into a buttered pie plate or 9” square baking pan. Sprinkle with the spices. Pour lemon juice and water over the apples. In a bowl, mix sugar and flour, then work in the butter to make a crumbly mixture. Spread over the fruit. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 1 hour, until the fruit is tender and the crust is lightly brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream for an added treat. Tastes great at warm or at room temperature, or warmed up the next day.


Note: this can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Ideally, keep the components separate in ziplock bags (peeled apples, crumble mixture) and assemble before baking.

Mixing Up Thanksgiving

I like to change things up. OFTEN. Thanksgiving is no different.  Here’s an account of an unusual Thanksgiving I had a few years ago with friends.


Because people go in so many directions over Thanksgiving, I decided one year to have friends over for a casual Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving. To keep it simple, I cooked the turkeys spatchcock-style (flat with the backbone removed) and served all the food buffet style. Here is Carl’s (Raelene’s significant other) take on the meal.

“Thanksgiving dinner presents an interesting challenge for a cook.  How to make a meal conform with tradition and still be distinctive.  So when we had Thanksgiving dinner at Lauren’s house last night, all be it four days before the official holiday, I was interested to see how she handled the dilemma.  I am one of those people who thinks that Thanksgiving without turkey and stuffing isn’t Thanksgiving and I wasn’t disappointed.

Lauren presented a magnificent turkey.  It was a deep golden brown and somehow she had browned the entire turkey.  No white spots even under the wings and legs.  This was obviously no “set and forget” production. When a turkey looks that good, your eyes send a message to the brain and the brain tells the taste buds, “This turkey tastes great and don’t report otherwise.”

The second major test is the moistness and again Lauren scored a 10.  A dry turkey never elicits open criticism, but a background of observations outside of the cooks’ earshot like:

“It was a “little dry!” or “It could have been a little moister!”  Everyone feels compelled to comment. Part of the tradition.  You can judge a turkey’s dryness by the consumption of gravy.  But as I mentioned, Lauren’s turkey was moist and tender, even the breast slices that are the litmus test of dryness.


The dressing was delicious. First of all it was moist and firm, not dry and crumbly. I know that many diners like the dry and crumbly, which they rectify with an ample covering of gravy.

I never use gravy for one simple reason.  The turkey and dressing (and mashed potatoes for that matter) have subtle flavors and using a gravy, usually giblet based, overpowers the flavors and the entire meal tastes the same. The better the gravy is the worse the problem.  You might as well shovel the turkey, the stuffing and the potatoes and pour gravy into a blender and serve them up as a stew.

I don’t have a clue what Lauren used in her dressing, but it was the highlight of the meal. No single ingredient overpowered the others and every bite seemed to have a slightly different taste. I like that!

The food was served “buffet style” which is great.  I make a quick sampling of everything and then circle around for my final selections.  When Thanksgiving is sit down, I seem to lose control of what ends up on my plate.  Anyway, making several trips to the trough is the best way I know to complement the chef.  In this instance, I even found myself grazing on tidbits long after the dinner was finished.  If that isn’t a complement, I don’t know what is!”


Well, thanks Carl! It was certainly fun and different. This year I have decided to try something new again. A wonderful new gourmet catering restaurant has opened in our area and their food is outstanding. I am going to “order” Thanksgiving from them. So, rather than spend the better part of a week planning, shopping, prepping, shopping again, cooking, cooking and more cooking …. I am going to try to enjoy Thanksgiving this year the way my family enjoys it. Just show up at the table and relax most of the day! This will be a challenge for me but an experiment also. Will I enjoy myself or desperately miss the cooking grind? Will the food be as good as when it is homemade? Will anyone notice?

I promise to let you know how it turns out!

Thanksgiving Travel

Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year. The Wednesday before the holiday is the single most traveled day of the year, followed by the Sunday after as the second busiest travel day of the year. It is estimated that over 40 million people will travel by either road or plane over this holiday weekend. Glad I’m not one of them!

If you are traveling this Thanksgiving weekend, here are some tips to make things go more smoothly:

When going through airport security, speed up the process by wearing shoes that you can easily slip off and carrying all of your loose items in a small bag. This will also help you not leave anything behind.


Travel light if you can and use a carry on bag. If you’re concerned about your liquids and gels, transfer them into smaller containers and place saran wrap over the top of the bottles before you put on the lid. No spills!


Bring your own empty water bottle and fill it at a water fountain after passing through security. That will save you spending $5 on a water bottle and keep you hydrated.


Rolling up your clothes saves a lot of space in your bag. Get as much in there as you can. Use disposable shower caps from your hotels to wrap your shoes and keep them away from your clothes.


Bring your own EVERYTHING: food, entertainment, reading materials and everything you can think of so you can avoid paying 5x their normal cost at the airport. Store them cleverly on your electronic device – from guidebooks to audio books, games to movies to maps.


Get to the airport early. Get on the road early. And leave some extra time. Outside of that – put on your headphones and enjoy the ride.

Thanksgiving Potato Gratin

A dish that my family “expects” every Thanksgiving is this Potato Gratin. What makes it uniquely delicious is that is uses chicken broth instead of cream. Now we wouldn’t have it any other way!


3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (about 1/8 to 1/4”)

1/2 tsp salt, or more if desired

1/8 + tsp freshly ground nutmeg

8 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded

14 oz chicken broth

2 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Gently toss potatoes with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Layer one-third of the potatoes in the dish. Sprinkle with one-third of the cheese. Repeat layers two more times. Cover the potatoes with the chicken broth. Dot with butter (optional). Bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Bake one hour until the top is golden and crusty. Serves 8.

To make ahead: assemble and par bake – the first 15 minutes and another 15 to 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate. Bake the remainder of the cooking time before serving, checking and adding any additional time as need to heat through.

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