Coffee from Vietnam Brews Hope

Occasionally, I’ll drop in to the thrift store to hunt for treasures, such as an overlooked vintage Bauer or McCoy pottery.  But, this time I came across a display of coffee from Vietnam.  It wasn’t too surprising, since Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world, after Brazil. But, what I didn’t know was the partnership between the coffee farmers in Vietnam and The Salvation Army.   If you haven’t already heard of this coffee,  it’s a good story.

Pleiku, which is located in central Vietnam, is largely covered with coffee plantations.  The local people live in small villages wedged between the plantations, and through years of isolation, these communities have developed their own language and culture. In an effort to help these poor communities,  The Salvation Army started a partnership with the Pleiku coffee network in 2009 with the purchase of 44,000 pounds of beans. It’s been going strong ever since.

In general, the world loves Arabica coffee beans, but what is largely grown in Vietnam is Robusta, which has a harsher, stronger taste. Its higher caffeine content (double that of Arabica) also makes it slightly more bitter.

Cafe La V _coffee_love_and_relish_blog

The Salvation Army hired a San Francisco coffee company to come up with the right blend:  75% Robusta from Vietnam and 25%  Arabica from Guatemala. If you’re wondering what this blend tastes like, think Café Du Monde without the chicory.  What you’ll find in The Salvation Army stores is called Cafe La V.  The brown foil bag features a big map of its country of origin. I love the saying on the back, which reads, “FRESH HOT HOPE.”


While Robusta is generally regarded as inferior to Arabica, it’s still good coffee.   The slightly bitter, earthy flavor of the Robusta is balanced with the more delicate sweet flavor of the Arabica.

Try preparing the coffee Vietnamese-style by adding one to four tablespoons of rich and gooey sweetened condemned milk to your cup.  Knowing that the proceeds from the purchase of this coffee assists local farmers and various projects in Vietnam makes each sip a sweet “feel good” experience.

A bright salad for spring

As soon as the weather turns warmer, I’m dreaming of a farmers market-fresh celebration on my plate. A bright, spring salad is a perfect way to celebrate.  It can be as simple as tender greens tossed with vinaigrette, or add more interest and flavor by mixing in seasonal treats like peas, asparagus, and radishes.

What makes this springtime salad so colorful is the red cabbage slaw.  The acidity adds a bright, fresh flavor and the ingredients offer a fresh, crunchy texture.  The recipe for the slaw is below.  It yields enough for a week and keeps well in an airtight container.

Combine together:

mixed baby greens

sliced red onions

fresh mango


red cabbage-apple-jicama slaw (see recipe below)


Dressing:  squeeze of half lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper

Red Cabbage-Apple-Jicama Slaw

2 cups of sliced red cabbage

1/2 granny smith apple julienned

1/2 jicama julienned

4 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 jalapeño seeded and chopped

1/2 cup cilantro chopped

1 tsp celery seed

1.5 tsp salt

1.5 tsp sugar

Mix it. Taste it.  Make adjustments, as needed to your liking.  Seal tight and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.




Burgundy tasting with Clive Coates in Las Vegas

Clive Coates, MW (Master of Wine), one of the world’s leading wine authorities and also known for his books about Burgundy wines, led a Burgundy tasting in Las Vegas hosted by Wirtz Beverage Nevada.  Held inside Wirtz’s Alchemy Room, a cutting edge beverage education and development lab, the tasting featured a flight of red and white wines by Albert Bichot and Louis Jadot.

I was honored to be in the same room with this well-known British author and lecturer, who is so respected around the world.  Coates published THE VINE, an award-winning independent fine wine magazine from 1984 to 2005. Read by oenophiles the world over, THE VINE received numerous awards, including a special commendation for its “considerable contribution to the knowledge and understanding of wine” from the Wine Guild of Great Britain. Coates, who holds a lifetime of distinguished activity in the field, has been recognized by the French government, which awarded him the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole. He has also been honored with a “Rame d’Honneur” by Le Verre et L’Assiette, the Ruffino/Cyril Ray Memorial Prize for his writings on Italian wine, and the title of “Wine Writer of the Year” for 1998/1999 in the Champagne Lanson awards.


In Burgundy’s 138-mile span from Chablis to the southern limit of Beaujolais, the climate and soils vary greatly.  But, what all the subregions have in common is fidelity to the two main grapes of the Burgundy region -Chardonnay and Pinot Noir- and hands-on approach in the vineyard and cellar.

John Smith, a fine and rare wine expert at Wirtz Beverage is also a long-standing member of The Chevaliers du Tastevin, the most exclusive wine society in the world.  He spent a lot of time in Burgundy during the same time Coates would be visiting properties to write his reviews.

“I find that he [Coates] encapsulates the people and their life with great accuracy,” says Smith.   “He has the singular ability to translate the passion of the vignerons over multiple generations. His writing has a gentle elegance that emphasizes the life and passion of a small, yet extremely diverse lifestyle. More importantly when he taste wines, he comments in such a way as to bring the wine to life.”

It is Smith’s hope that through this tasting, we learned that unlike many winemaking regions of the world, nowhere else has the passion for the terroir and the wines produced. Certainly, Coates, who resides in Burgundy, brought this famed region directly to us that day.   He presented a magnificent combination of history, science, anecdotes and judgments, mixed in with the occasional phrase he likes to use: “a jolly good wine.” Lucky for us, he referred to some of these wines as such:



Louis Jadot Chablis 2012

Louis Jadot Santenay, Clos de Malte Blanc 2012

Louis Jadot Mersault 2012

Louis Jadot Chassage Montrachet, Morgeot Blanc 2012




Bourgogne Pinot Noir Secret de Famille 2012

Albert Bichot Savigny-les-Beaune 2012

Albert Bichot Beaune Clos de l’Ermitage 2012

Pommard Clos de Ursulines, Domaine du Pavillon 2012

Gevry-Chambertin Les Murots, Domaine du Clos Frantin 2012


Hoppin’ good time at Great Vegas Festival of Beer

I was happy to be part of Nevada’s largest craft beer event, Motley Brews’ Great Vegas Festival of Beer, which celebrated its fifth anniversary with more than 6,000 festival-goers filling the streets of Downtown Las Vegas in April, 2015.

Craft beer fans and newbies, like myself, grabbed a pretzel necklace (I call it a “snacklace”) and indulged in an endless flow of more than 400 iconic craft brews served by over 100 breweries while indulging in craft beer-inspired dishes by some of Las Vegas’ top chefs.

pretzel necklace
A must-have: The “snacklace” to get you through the beer event.


“This festival is a celebration of craft beer, great food and even better people,” said Brian Chapin, founder of Motley Brews. “Las Vegas has been such a great supporter of our events over the past five years, and it’s because this city welcomes us with open arms thatwe are able to return year after year with a bigger and better event.”

Brasserie Saint James
Brews offered by Brasserie Saint James.


In honor of the celebration, Motley Brews and CraftHaus Brewery created a specialty fifth anniversary beer, dubbed “Motley in the Haus,” which was an Xtra Pale Ale brewed with five different hop varietals. Alongside the anniversary beer, kegs were tapped by breweries from near and far, including Old School Brewing Co., Hop Nuts Brewing Co., Tonopah Brewing Co., Alpine Beer Co., Rough Draft, The Bruery, Banger Brewing Co., Deschutes Brewery, Watsach, Green Flash, Big Dog’s, Joseph James Brewing and many more.

One of my favorites, and a brewery to watch, is Brasseries Saint James from Reno. Using local ingredients and water from the artesian well below their historic building, the brewery’s success has quickly fermented, as Brasserie Saint James marked its second anniversary last fall with a Great American Beer Festival gold medal in the saison category and top honors as the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year.


Certainly, it was a good time for a lot of folks that day.  A portion of the proceeds from the event went to the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation and Nevada Craft Brewers Association. Here’s to another round for putting on a great event and making such an impact in the craft beer movement!


Brunch for a large bunch: Shirred eggs

Preparing brunch for a large group can be daunting at times.  However, I’ve found that shirred eggs are an excellent brunch dish because they’re easy to prepare.  Plus, with the host of ingredients available to put inside, the dish is extremely versatile.

The French have a similar preparation called “en cocotte,” in which eggs are placed in a small dish and baked inside a water bath.  Although shirred eggs also are baked in small dishes called ramekins, most recipes call for them to be baked directly in the oven, not inside a water bath.  I take it a step further by baking them in a muffin pan, which allows me to have 12 eggs done and ready to serve at once.

You can vary the doneness of the eggs by adjusting the baking time.  Begin checking them after 10 minutes for soft-set eggs with runny yolks. Thick-sliced sourdough toast makes a perfect accompaniment, along with seasonal fresh fruit.



1. Grease the bottom and sides of a 12-muffin pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray

2. Add milk to just cover the bottom of each cup

(A little side note on the reason why we add milk –  the oldest known reference to shirred eggs was published in the late 19th century defined “shirr” as “to poach eggs in cream instead of water.”

3. Crack one egg into each cup

4. Top with grated Parmesan cheese

5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper

6. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes

7. Use a knife to score around the edges of the egg. Remove each egg carefully with a spoon and serve on a platter with your favorite garnish

Optional:  After step 2, you can add pre-cooked ingredients to customize the recipe, such as crumbled bacon, chopped ham, sausage, sauteed mushrooms, onions, asparagus, peppers, and raw spinach leaves.

Consider how quickly you can prepare shirred eggs and just how much easier it has become to feed a large group.   In fact, encourage your guests to join in to customize their own shirred eggs. Who wouldn’t want a little help in the kitchen?

Stirring with vintage swizzle sticks

In the world of vintage bar accessories, amid colorful glassware and shakers in sparkling chrome, swizzle sticks were also highly regarded.  I recently came upon a collection of vintage stir sticks from the 1960s and 1970s. Discovering this mismatched collection of drink stirrers was like finding a party in a box.

But first a little history.  The original swizzle stick was actually a 19th century West Indian invention. A skinny little branch, frayed on one end, was rotated in a glass to mix a drink. But it wasn’t until 1935 when Jay Swindler, a chemical engineer, patented a version of it just after Prohibition ended. He designed the stick with a point on one end for retrieving sunken olives and cherries, and a flat, paddle-like top to display advertising.

Custom stir sticks for Godo Shusei, a Japanese manufacturer of sake and shochu (white spirits)


From the 1930s through the 1950s, swizzle sticks came in a variety of styles-from simple and unadorned, to glittery and playful. Most sticks during this era were made of glass. Manufacturers customized the swizzles by imprinting hotel and bar names on the glass. In some cases the logo was screened on a piece of paper, which was then inserted into a tube before the end was sealed – kind of like a message in a bottle!

Hotel stir sticks collected from cocktail lounges and restaurants

Then during the 1940s and 1950s, plastic production increased, and many businesses, such as nightclubs, airlines, and liquor companies had a custom signature swizzle. These were considered souvenirs and taking them home was encouraged.  Essentially, they could be used again, serving as reminders of a great trip or night on the town.  In this case, collected and stored ever so carefully, to receive the spotlight again 50 years later.

Stock 84 Italian brandy
In-flight airline swivel sticks


Chicken pot pie made easy

chicken pot pie mixture love and relish    chickne pot pie _love and relish

Chicken pot pie is just one of those comfort foods that I find hard to resist.  Moist chicken meat and vegetables bathed in a rich sauce, then tucked in every so nicely under a buttery, flakey top. While it may seem a little tedious to make, it’s actually not – at least when it comes to my recipe.

So the key here is to get several individual-size ramekins.  Not the shallow ones – the deep ones (5″high x 3″) for the hearty appetite!  This chicken pot pie is a no-fail recipe. Perfect for cooler weather, but in our household, it’s welcomed throughout the year.  I serve with it with a spinach and arugula salad.

5 servings – 5 ramekins

1 rotisserie chicken (already cooked, store bought or cooked at home) remove all meat from bones and set aside.

3 cans 14 oz chicken broth

2 cubes chicken boullion

3/4 cup all purpose flour

2 packages frozen puff pastry

1 12 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables (peas, corn, carrots, green beans)

2 small yellow onions, chopped

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1.5 cubes butter

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

egg wash (1 beaten egg mixed with 1 tbsp water)

sea salt and pepper

Directions:  Thaw puff pastry at room temperature.  Preheat oven to 375.  Melt butter in pan and add onions.  Cook on medium for 15 minutes until onions are translucent.  In a separate saucepan, heat chicken broth and bouillon cubes.  Add flour to onion/butter mixture and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add hot chicken broth to the flour mixture, stir until cooked thoroughly.  It will start to thicken. Then add chicken, frozen vegetables, parsley, salt and pepper.  Heat over medium while mixing all ingredients together.  Pour into 5 individual ramekins.  Apply egg wash to rim of ramekins.  Roll out puff pastry and cut a circle approximately 1/2 inch larger than rim size.  Place a puff pastry circle on each ramekin and pinch down sides.  Brush egg wash on top of pastry.  Poke a few vent holes, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place in over for 45 minutes.  Keep an eye on the puff pastry.  If it starts to darken before 45 minutes, place foil on top to prevent burning.  Serve hot.

Crowing for more Rooster Boy granola

I recently met Sonia El-Nawal, chef and owner of Rooster Boy granola at Downtown Summerlin’s Farmers Market in Las Vegas. Her granola is truly addicting, and best part? No added sugar.  She sweetens her granola with agave and coconut oil only.  Rooster Boy Granola comes in several varieties – all delicious – but my favorite is the original formula, which boasts power-packed, hearty ingredients like oatmeal, quinoa, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, shredded coconut and a variety of cranberries, golden raisins and currents.  Rooster Boy Granola can be enjoyed for breakfast, as a nutritious snack, or healthy alternative to traditional cereal.

Marisa_finetti_Love_and_relish_Sonia El-Nawal


It’s no surprise that Sonia’s granola is so yummy.   She is no stranger in the kitchen.  Before she embarked on her granola line,  she has debuted her vision, creativity and culinary skills at some of the most beloved and recognized restaurants, like Nobu, Lafayette, Masa’s, JoJo’s … the list goes on.  As if that wasn’t enough, she retreated to Paris to enhance her culinary skills by doing a “stage” at Fauchon with Pierre Hermee for six months. Soon after, Sonia opened a popular diner in Belgium where her truly NYC authentic bagels and American favorites delighted the local.  After a four-year act in Brussels, Sonia returned to the states and in 1996, as Pastry chef at Nobu, her originative desserts garnered rave acclaim.

Although she is well known for her sensuous yet cozy desserts, she also has a devoted following as a private chef with her catering company. Her early on cultivated passion for Mid Eastern and Armenian cuisine results in delectable tastes of pure love.  You can taste it in her her granola.

Sweet Powerhouse: Japanese purple potatoes


It’s not too often when you’ll find these Japanese (Okinawan) purple potatoes at the local grocery store.  You’re better off finding them at a Farmers Market.   While the sand-colored exterior of these delicious gems are covered with rough scars and abnormal bumps, once cut in half, the rich deep purple hue is absolutely inviting. The antioxidant known as anthocyanin is the pigment responsible for the brilliant purple color of the flesh. It is the same pigment that gives blueberries their color except that the Okinawan sweet potato actually has 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries.  And the taste? Sweet, smooth and rich.   It’s a perfect low-calorie snack that is also high in fiber. Prepare it in just about any way: fry, bake, boil, steam or microwave.

Zucchini pizza, yes!

It’s so simple to make, and I guarantee you’ll be running out of these slices quickly.


4 zucchini (mix up zucchini and yellow squash for variety)
Heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced
Olive Oil
Mozzarella Cheese
Parmesean Cheese
Optional: crushed red pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and slice zucchini length-wise. Lightly coat the bottom of baking tray with olive oil. Arrange zucchini slices on tray. Sprinkle cheese over zucchini. Place tomato slices on top of zucchini. Sprinkle with more cheese on top of tomatoes and zucchini slices. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with oil oil. Cook in oven for approximately 20 minutes or until cheese starts to bubble and turn golden brown. Serve hot and watch them disappear.