Thinking about Napa. It’s so much more than just a place to drink wine. One of the best things I learned over 20 years ago when I opened my first restaurant was that Napa is not just a place to drink wine.  It’s much, much, more. With my first restaurant I had to learn about wine lists and how to build them with my customer in mind – not just what I liked to drink.  I’ve been drinking wine since college (not always the best wines – trust me!!). In the beginning there was a budget to pay attention to.  Building the wine list had me looking at wines in a whole new way and I realized that I didn’t know much about them other than what I liked: a dry white, a dry ‘big’ red, and I hated jam.  I still always say that you should never chew your…

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La Dolce Vita with a Negroni cocktail recipe: gin, Campari, Vermouth and a twist of Orange peel. Even if you’ve only been following me for a little while, you know that I love anything Italian and I’ve been very fortunate to travel to many different parts of that magical country.  Although, I must admit that I favor Tuscany for its food and wine. During my visits, I have met some wonderful friends and made the most incredible food memories. Once, I spent several days with some friends in the tiny town of Savigno, Italy where I learned how to make pasta. To be a true pasta master takes enormous dedication and ‘time on task’ or practice – practice – practice.  There is no shortcut for experience. Maybe it should come as no surprise that I’ve also collected some great recipes and cooking ideas during my travels there. I love all…

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What I’ve learned about sophisticated living – and how I’m taking it to the next level in 2018. A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We only get one ticket to the big dance.  Make it count!”  I get that. I’m all for enjoying life. There are a lot of ways that you can live, why not do it while leading an exciting and flavorful life? The big question is, “how?” If you’ve been following my blog or my videos on YouTube, you know that this question is the very heart of what I call sophisticated living. There’s a very fine line between just living and living fabulously. – and I choose fabulously.  It’s certainly more than spending a ton of money – you definitely do not have to and just the spending does NOT make the difference. It’s an attitude – yes – but it’s also a state…

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Tipping guidelines for keeping up with etiquette while traveling. There are general travel tipping guidelines, but during the holidays it’s even more important to remember to thank those with whom you interact and accept their services. Check out my videos on the subject of tipping: one on general tipping etiquette and another on tipping for travel. When you’re traveling it all starts right at the airport with the skycap. Think of tipping $1-2 per bag for curbside check-in unless they are doing additional work for you – maybe you need extra assistance from curbside to the desk for a special request. In those cases, then a flat $20 for an “all in” tip is appropriate. For tipping for hotel maids and housekeeping, typically the tip should be $3 to 5 per night of your stay. It varies due to the hotel I’m staying in or how much mess I’ve made. …

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Tips help make your trip more enjoyable – in more ways than one! I have done quite a bit of traveling in my lifetime and I’ve picked up tips and tricks along the way. The big one for all international travel these days is to scan your passport, airline tickets, driver’s license, and itinerary and keep the images on iCloud or Dropbox (don’t forget to upload the app to your phone). That’s one of the nifty things about technology these days – full access to just about anything from just about anywhere. Take advantage of that convenience on your next trip. Here’s another important one for international travel. I always use ATMs to get local currency (e.g., Euros) and always bring at least one credit card that doesn’t charge exchange fees. I don’t use the currency converters in airports and hotels anymore –  I save a small fortune by cutting…

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You’ll flip when you see how easy it is. Anyone who knows me knows that I love all types of cuisine. But Italian cooking – that’s my absolute go-to favorite. Many of my favorite restaurants are Italian – in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Sfixo in Beverly Hills is still – hands down – my favorite local Italian. It’s really fabulous if you’re a fan of dishes that come from northern Italy. Many people think that all Italian food is basically the same – pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.  But, there are real variations all along the entire country – traditional Italian cooking is strongly region-based. In northern Italy, you’ll find an emphasis on rich cream sauces, polenta and stuffed meats, Southern Italians embrace the Mediterranean diet with tomato sauces and lots of sea food with everything in between. I travel to Italy as often as possible – at…

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Yes, there is such thing as proper manners for tipping! A friend told me a story about going out to a nice restaurant with a small group of eight people who were traveling together in Hawaii. It was one of those boutique restaurants that literally dot Lahaina on the island of Maui. There was lots of ambiance, great food, and – according to my friend – really excellent service. My friend said that they had such a great time largely due to their server who had terrific suggestions from a menu that was filled with dishes that were a little unfamiliar. After a wonderful dinner they got their bill, paid it, and left. Out in the parking lot, my friend suddenly realized that they forgot to include a tip. A few of her friends struck an, “Oh well” attitude and were ready just to leave. But my friend – being…

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Lucky you if you’re a LA Local: “Exotic” Beverly Hills’ is just a drive away! I love to vacation in exotic places. But who says “exotic” has to be far faraway? I’ve been living in Beverly Hills for more than twenty years. I’ve owned restaurants here, raised a family, made all kinds of friends, and I’ve learned so many things. Like anywhere else though I suppose, it’s easy to take your own backyard for granted. But I don’t like to take anything for granted. I’m constantly looking for places in my own neighborhood to eat and be entertained. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to do more exploring locally – even to places that are very well known to me and my friends. I’ve mapped out of a few favorite places around Beverly Hills that are so fun, I think they definitely qualify as part of the “local exotic” scene.…

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Bring stories home about the wine you love, #Napa #Winechat I love wine from all over the world, but Napa is closest to my heart. Well, living in California is part of the reason, but back when I owned my restaurants, I visited there with friends and family as often as I could. I’ve collected so many wonderful memories from there. You don’t have to go all the way to Napa to snag a beautiful bottle of cab. Go to your favorite store – I recommend one that specializes in wine like Wally’s Wine and Spirits in Beverly Hills, CA – and ask for a tour of the store’s favorite Napa selections. Listen to all of the great stories; every good vineyard has one. If only bottles could speak, right? But in a way, they do! You wouldn’t believe how many great conversation starters there are in wine. I think…

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America’s Best Pumpkin Patches For many of us Halloween means carving pumpkins.  But the problem starts with where do you find the absolute BEST, most perfect pumpkin ever to showcase your carving talents?  Here are my 7 best suggestions across the country to help you find the pumpkin of your dreams. Didier Farms, Lincolnshire, IL. You will find not only pumpkins at this pumpkin farm but also snacks and activities for the whole family.  This farm is just outside of Chicago and they host an annual Pumpkinfest with hayrides, kettle corn and tons of other fun stuff to do. Tanaka Farms, Irvine, CA. This is 30 acres of pumpkin paradise!  You actually choose your pumpkin while it’s still on the vine!  Just for fun, they have a “pumpkin cannon” on the weekends! Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm, Snohomish, WA. Besides a 30 acre pumpkin patch (with over 50 (!) kinds…

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I’m going to confess something here, (for those that know me it’s not that big of a secret), I absolutely love pasta in all its’ forms.  I will eat it hot, cold, with or without sauce – I’m shameless when it comes to this particular carb.  But, I never actually attempted to make it at home.  I always assumed (we all know what we get when we assume anything) that it was a complicated process even though I’d been assured many times by my chef friends that it was really a very simple one. So, when I was planning one of my Relationship Recipe events, I tapped an Italian friend, one of my experts who loves to teach people to cook, to give the group a lesson on pasta making.  He was delighted with the prospect and the event was a spectacular success.  We all learned that if we used…

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Different people plan their trips differently.  Some love to just “wing it” and decide what they will do and where they will sleep once they get to a destination. Sometimes they don’t even plan a destination past their original stopping place.  I am definitely not one of those people. I cannot go away without making sure all of my “ducks are in a row.”  I have to have my flights and any other transportation I might need completely planned and ticketed long before I ever leave home which includes any travel between cities either by train, car, or any other method.  I have to know exactly where I am sleeping each night and what that hotel/B&B/resort looks like and which category of room I have reserved and confirmed.  I do a little research about where I am going so that I don’t miss any “must see” places or restaurants I…

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