Cheeze, Pleeze: The pleasures of a monthly cheese subscription

Cheesy goodness at my front door? Yes, please!

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My six-month relationship with a fellow gourmand went south a while ago but, as always, I keep the good parts–and the Cheesemonger’s Picks of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese in NYC is very, very good. Exquisite, in fact.

For $75 per month I get four heavenly cheeses delivered to my home on the second Thursday of the month. I then procure wines from Vino!, my favorite wine shop, where their wonderful wine experts take a gander at the Murray’s recommendations and help me select bottles that will delight my picky taste buds without breaking my delicate budget.

Place the cheeses on a board, add some toasted nuts, charcuterie, fruit, crackers, bread, olives, jam, and whatever else I have on hand, and voila! We’ve got a tasty way to share an evening with friends.


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My fiancee Tom and I have made a ritual of trying the cheeses. I enter with the wrapped wedges and rounds on a board while Tom sings a “Pomp and Circumstance”-style march. Then, one by one, we read aloud the description of each cheese before tasting it. This month’s guest, a neighbor and new friend, did not appreciate this portion of the evening, but did it stop me? Ha!

Reading about the cheeses, for her, was like taking one’s medicine, or having to eat all the peas on your plate before getting dessert. Nerd that I am, I love learning about each cheese–how it’s made, where it comes from, what flavors to expect and seek as I roll the morsel about on my tongue.

With each cheese we taste, we sip one the  paired wine. This leaves us with several bottle of opened wine to drink within the next few days–darn it!

This month’s cheeses were all yummy. The stilton was creamy and peppery, and paired beautifully with a rose brut. We didn’t have port, which was also recommended, but it would have tasted superb–any sweet wine would do, in fact.

The comte, which I absolutely love, was smooth and nutty.

The Moliterno al Tartufo was rich and surprisingly non-grainy for a pecorino, and the layer of truffle paste sent my taste buds right over the top.

Cabernet sauvignon–the 2014 Cadareta, a Columbia Valley wine–provided the perfect al Tartufo accompaniment: elegant and with a clean finish, not jammy or loaded with tannins as Washington cabernets can be.

But the winner of this month’s tasting was the Vermont Creamery Cremont, so buttery soft that I couldn’t remove the entire round from its plastic case. I lifted out creamy wedges to serve, instead. Fluffy and mild, the cremont had us coming back for extra servings. I had to stop myself from using a spoon.

To accompany our cheese-feast, I served sliced ham from local Ramstead Ranch, the juiciest and most tender ham I have ever tasted; Italian dry salame; crackers; fig jam; local apples; toasted walnuts, and white beans in truffle oil. Let’s eat!

Speaking of which, I’m off to the fridge for a tasty lunch of cremont. Spoon in hand.


How I reclaimed the pleasure of sleep

Is there any greater pleasure than a deep, restful, full night’s sleep? For much of my life, I thrived on nine hours. However, on occasion I’ve suffered from insomnia, usually because of some stressful situation I was in.
A few months ago, though, I was feeling happy and excited about life. I had a new novel debuting soon and an offer for a film option, and I was in San Francisco to cover an artificial intelligence conference for a client. My freelance business was booming, I had a Venice Carnivale trip coming up, all was right with the world.
Except that I suddenly lost my ability to sleep through the night.
I’d fall asleep just fine, but awaken after 4 or 5 hours and not be able to get back to sleep for several hours–if at all. This went on for two months, every night.
It was awful. I slogged through each day. I tried meditation, therapy, seeing a doctor (who wanted to prescribe an antidepressant–no thanks!–and then suggested a beta blocker–nope!). I tried exercising more, drinking more water, not eating before bed, establishing a bedtime routine, not drinking alcohol, banishing electronic devices from my bedroom, everything I could think of. I was not only on a mission: I was DESPERATE.
Nothing worked. I had to push myself through each day, my brain struggling to form each word I wrote. On client calls, I kept as quiet as possible, worried that if I spoke, I’d sound drunk or, worse, unintelligent.

A gut-wrenching discovery

Then I began work on an article for Micron about the human microbiome. I’m a technology writer, so the focus of the article was on artificial intelligence’s ability to analyze the trillions of microbes living in our gut. A human could never do this; it would take lifetimes.
I was fascinated by what I learned. Did you know that the microbiome manufactures all kinds of substances that keep our bodies and brains healthy and functioning? The composition of your microbiome can determine your weight, your sex drive, your moods. Do you have depression? Anxiety? It could be your microbiome causing this. Wow!!!
As part of my research–and out of curiosity–I signed up to have my microbiome analyzed. Several companies do this, but I chose uBiome because of the recommendation of another Micron contractor, whom I interviewed for this story. It cost me $89. As it turned out, it was worth every penny. (No, I don’t get a kickback from uBiome for this article, although maybe I should, ha!)
When the results hit my inbox a few weeks later, I learned a lot of things about my gut. Some were not surprising: I have a lot of microbes that keep body weight down–although I’ve put on 20 pounds over the last several years, I am still fairly slender, and always have been, I have a lot of microbes that support the immune system–I rarely get sick, and when I do, I’m able to kick it fairly quickly.
But I also discovered that I was deficient in the microbes that support restful sleep–the ones that make a substance called GABA, which calms the brain. GABA-deficient people can also have anxiety, which I have experienced but which my basically sunny disposition mostly keeps in check.

Time for a microbiome tune-up

What could I do to increase the GABA-making microbes? My gut was lacking in the flora typically found in fermented foods such as yogurt. It was almost as though I’d taken an antibiotic. I had almost NONE of these microbes. Weird.
The way to kick my GABA-producing microbes into gear, the analysis said, was to increase my fiber intake dramatically. One suggestion was to take a one-to-one mixture of inulin, a plant-based fiber, and oligofructose. I found one online: Prebiotin, for about $30, and ordered it. I’m so glad I did: It has changed my life. (Again, I don’t get paid for this!)
I stir a 4g scoop of this colorless, flavorless, textureless powder into every cup of my morning coffee. I started with one scoop per day, and increased to two per day. I could do three per day or even four, but instead I’ve also increased the amount of fiber in my diet. I did deal with flatulence and, on the first days, some bloating and pressure in my bowels (I hope this isn’t TMI), but very quickly I began to see positive results.
About two months into this new regiment, I am sleeping through the night almost every single night. Yes, when I feel anxious about something I do tend to lose sleep, but even then I’m sleeping six hours, not four or even three. When I awaken in the night and can’t go back to sleep right away, I meditate until I fall asleep again. This usually takes about 20 minutes.
During the day, I feel as spry and chipper as a spring lamb. My mind works! My body has so much energy! And I feel happier every day, grateful for every night that I’ve slept well, my spirits lifted after a pleasurable night of deep, luxurious slumber featuring delightful, vivid dreams.

Venice Carnivale, Here We Come! and Other Exquisite Pleasures

Is there any more delicious anticipation than that of the impending journey, or the one just begun? Laying out the clothes, shopping for tiny toiletries, fitting everything like a puzzle pieces into the bag, turning down the heat and locking the door one last time, whispering, “good-bye” not only to my house but to my life with all its contempt-worthy familiarities, laundry, cleaning, work, budgets, for crying out loud, it’s all boring me to tears just to think of it so I won’t as I sit in my charming AirBnB apartment in Venice, Italy, and anticipate the flavors and wonders to come when we join our group for Carnivale.

The pleasure of having a good friend pick you up and drive you to the airport goes without saying. Michael schlepped my bags over the berms of snow and ice between my house and the curb and into his car, then whisked me away for a pre-launch libation which, at 11 o’clock on Saturday morning, was more difficult than it might sound ln sleepy downtown Spokane, Washington, where I ended up to my surprise 11 years ago and still find myself living to even greater astonishment.

We knocked back a pint and headed for the Spokane International Airport, from where, *wink wink* no international flights actually depart. But the TSA agents are friendly which is more than I can say of almost anywhere else and there were no lines at the counter or security, enabling me to move from Michael’s car to the airport bar in ten minutes flat. See? Spokane isn’t so bad, after all.

I was super excited about this trip, as you can see, in my exquisite Anton’s Creations coat made by hand by Maggie Anton of San Francisco, CA, which I bought at at an art fair in Spokane last summer and paid in monthly installments until she sent it to me last November. It’s perfect for Carnivale, don’t you think? (And no, I don’t get a kickback from this endorsement.)

I enjoy every aspect of traveling. Missed connections, lost luggage, traffic jams–nothing plusses me, which is more than I can say for real life. Fortunately, everything went smoothly on this trip, and I was even able to get enough shut-eye on the 10 1/2-hour flight from San Francisco, where I met up with my travel partner, Amy, a long-time friend, fellow author, and executive coach whose decorative mask dangling from her daypack boasted “Carnivale” to all who had eyes to see.

One thing I already love about traveling with Amy: she is supremely organized. I tend to delay certain aspects of the trip–OK, almost all of them–until the last minute, which has resulted in some less-than-thrilling moments at the door to my AirBnb trying to find the lockbox and frantically calling my host, etc. But Amy had everything arranged from our water taxi (!!) to the AirBnB entry code.

Our water taxi awaited, driven by Davide who accepted our bags, took down the address of our destination, and sped us through the dark waters from the Marco Polo Airport to the city of Venice. A water taxi is every bit as thrilling as it sounds, its enclosed cabin protecting us from the chill night wind and the window wrapping our cushioned seat even overhead affording us views of the Medieval stone buildings and even the interiors of private spaces with their stunning painted ceilings.

After a tiny bit of confusion and lugging our bags up and down sets of stairs we found our apartment, entered, and immediately went out again for refreshment, walking up and down the narrow stone warrens and peering into windows until we found a place just lively enough but not too crowded for our tastes, one with a Trip Advisor 2017 banner on its door. We had to wait for a table but no worries: the affectionate host kept our glasses filled with a delightfully balanced and delicately-effervescent prosecco on the house while we bade our time on wooden stools sipping and chatting about artistic temperaments (mine) and how to tame them (one of Amy’s specialties).

Because we were jet-lagged and could feel a good night’s sleep coming on, we steered clear of the many delactable-sounding pasta dishes on the menu and opted for snacks, instead:

Yummy, sweet fresh oysters;

Sardines “saor,” which must mean “sour”; these were coated in delectable sweet pickled onions that tasted like the jars of herring in cream sauce that Husband Number 2 loved at the grocery store;

And “Cod Three Ways,” meaning in tomato sauce, in a barely-discernible anchovy sauce, and, the piece de resistance, whipped with cream and dolloped on a square of smooth, pudding-rich white polenta.

We declined the fabulous-looking desserts in the restaurant’s case so our dreamy-eyed waiter brought to us, instead, little glasses of limoncello and orange-raisin biscotti. And so ended our first night in Venezia, a memorable start to what is certain to be a pleasure cruise like no other. Come and join me here for Venice Carnivale 2019!

Portugal’s best-kept secret

I’d expected rough. Coarse. Peasant.

Portuguese food is the fare of fishermen: cod, potatoes, and spicy linguica sausage, right?

Well, yes. And no.

Three days into my visit to Portugal, I’ve had giant chunks of fried cod with gills attached and spread like wings, the chewy flesh and mound of mashed potatoes resting in a puddle of butter redolent of rosemary–the dish’s only saving grace besides the price, at 12 euros proving that you do, indeed, get what you pay for.

I’ve chawed “veal” reminiscent of pot roast served in a rustic sauce with boiled potatoes and a coarse and hearty house-made wine.

But also, in Portugal, I’ve tasted sublimity. The delicate oxtail ravioli at Cozinha (Co-ZIN-ya) da Clara at the Quinta de la Rosa wine hotel in Pinhao (Pin-YAO) offered three delicate pillows of tender, juicy shredded beef in a light cream sauce with two button shiitake mushrooms that served as a perfect, chewy, umami counterpoint.

Ever since tasting the ravioli at L’Osteria del Forno in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood a trillion years ago–its pastry melting on the tongue and filling me with ecstasy–I’ve tried in vain to replicate that tender nirvana in the kitchen. In restaurants, I’ve ordered, my mouth optimistically watering, only to bite down on al dente–hardly the texture for ravioli, IMO.

This creamy, ethereal pasta felt like a cloud in my mouth, and the flavors of sweet cream, fragrant basil oil, and savory meat made me wish I could dine on its deliciousness all day.

More delights awaited my palate in the Vintage House Hotel restaurant, however, where a pricey menu had sent most of my entourage to the bar for finger food. I ventured forth in pursuit of the acclaimed cauliflower soup, and never looked back.

A thing of beauty, right? And what you see here is much, much less than what you get.

Yes, this delectable dish has a fork-tender shrimp that pops with flavor.

Yes, it has a divine broth and crispy crumbs of bread that somehow hold their crunch even while swimming in cream–deconstructed toasted croutons.

But under that shrimp is a sweet, tender little mound of cauliflower shredded into grains and cooked until, upon contact with the tongue, it melts away, leaving you wanting another spoonful, and another.

Scraping the bottom of the too-shallow dish, I felt tempted to lick the bowl. Or the chef.

A more blissful soup has never been had. And it was fashioned, mind you, from the lowly cauliflower, among the most humble of vegetables or, indeed, foods.

But I imagine that the fishers of Portugal, a humble group, themselves, have had plenty of practice at making culinary silk purses from sow’s ears.

The ability to do so is what separates professionals from amateurs–and makes the gourmet delights of Portugal, along with its handsome men and beautiful women, perhaps among its best-kept secrets.

The pleasure is all mine. And yours.

I’m a pleasure junkie. Most everything I do is designed to get those endorphins flowing, be it a walk in the sun along the Spokane River, a trip to Paris (yes, another one!), a wine tasting, an evening by the fire with a great book, a Saturday morning in the local movie theater watching a Metropolitan Opera simulcast, or even managing my freelance writing business. If it feels good, do it!

Welcome to my new blog, Hedonista. Here, I’ll take you with me on my pleasure cruise, telling you what’s to like in my pursuits–and what isn’t. “You’re an open book,” my mama used to say, and that’s more true now than ever before. I believe in stating the unvarnished truth, so buckle up! The sailing gets choppy sometimes, but our journey will never be dull.

To begin our wild ride, I’d like to share some of my favorite experiences over the last few years. From Burning Man 2010 to seven trips to Paris to riding a camel to the Great Pyramid at Giza to dancing under the stars to live music in my own backyard, surrounded by friends, I’ve had a wonderful, hedonistic, pleasure-filled life so far–and it’s getting better every day. I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and sample the world’s bounty with me!


We’ll start with Burning Man 2010, and the Million Bunny March. I was there from the very beginning to the very end, and when I came back, I was a different person: more open and loving because of the gift economy, and more able to deal with life’s hardships because desert. I rode in a topless women’s bicycle ride, rode art cars and danced all night every night, and did lots of other things I can’t talk about because what happens at Burning Man… Suffice to say that, in this photo, my Fun Meter is off the charts–and it stayed there for 10 amazing days and nights!

Here are some other pix from Burning Man: