Food & Recipes Italy (Venice) Reviews of Books/Music/Films

During COVID-19, Take Your Tastebuds to Venice

My daughter ordered this from Amazon to try some new recipes from Venice, also known as La Serenissima. The region may be under lockdown, but our fascination with all things Venice isn’t.

“A Table in Venice” by Skye McAlpine Takes You There

Last week, my daughter ordered this beautiful cookbook, A Table in Venice: Recipes from My Home, by Skye McAlpine from Amazon. Its 287 pages showcase 100 recipes from Venice and the greater lagoon.

Yes, the region may be under lockdown, but our fascination with all things Venice isn’t.

The book’s preface titled “My Venetian Pantry” (her first must-have staple is amaretto biscuits) precedes six chapters such as “Sweet Breakfast Recipes,” “Recipes for a Venetian Aperitivo,” and “Fish and Game from the Venetian Lagoon.” Each recipe is accompanied by down-to-earth commentary to guide you through replicating some of Venice’s most renowned local specialties.

In “Vegetable Recipes from the Rialto Market,” British author Skye McAlpine, @skyemcalpine, describes the frank personal service you’ll experience if you visit the iconic market.

For example, she writes on page 69…

“No vendor at the market will let you take a bag of artichoke hearts home without pressing into your hands a bunch of fresh parsley to fry in the pan with them.” Expect this gesture to be accompanied with detailed instructions for how to best prepare the produce as well.

McAlpine also keeps it real.

A resident of Venice since the age of six, she suggests substitutions when needed. If a recipe calls for a certain type of radicchio that’s unique to the Veneto but hard to find elsewhere, she lets you know.

She writes on page 103, “If you can’t get hold of Tardivo radicchio, which can sometimes be tricky to source outside of Italy, then red chicory works well instead. It has a slightly different texture but a lovely, bitter flavor.”

Photo: Pixabay

Of course, the book sizzles with fabulous photography; however, it’s clear that the dishes are the star of the show. A photograph of “Gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and crab” on page 138, for example, shows the dish plopped on a plate without much overt styling.

The result? It’s not the cutlery, the plants in the background, or the vintage china you’ll want to stare at. Instead, like the towering campanile in Piazza San Marco, the Venetian foods dominate the table setting.

Thanks for reading! Tried any new recipes while you practice social distancing? I’ll follow up this post soon with a report on our experiences with some of McAlpine’s recipes. Become a follower to catch that post. Take care!

Food & Recipes

Robert Redford would never be pie

John Mathew Smith; [CC BY-SA (

How I discovered Robert Redford Dessert. Finally.



Lemon-baked Tilapia with Mango Chutney

Seasoned Wild Rice Garnished with Parsley

Dinner Roll White

Tossed Greens

Ranch Italian Lemon-Poppyseed Choose One

Robert Redford Dessert


My eyes lingered over the last line on the menu planned for Tuesday, January 7 at the Presbyterian Village, a retirement community located about a mile from my parents’ house. My daughter and I had picked up the menus to take to my parents who were planning to order a few meals for delivery.

“Robert Redford Dessert,” I said aloud.

“What’s Robert Redford Dessert?” my daughter asked.

“I don’t know, but it sounds delicious,” I said.  “I’m guessing it’s creamy, dreamy, and sweet,” I added.

This would be a good time to issue a disclaimer:

If you were born after, say 1990, you probably don’t know who Robert Redford is. Poor you. Redford is an actor and director with classic good looks, more than seventy movies to his name, and classic good looks. That’s all you need to know for now.

My daughter laughed because she fully appreciates my full appreciation for Robert Redford. I’ve made sure of that.

If there’s one thing we must teach our children it is this: Robert Redford.

True, thanks to her father she also appreciates Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, and The Dead Milkmen, but thanks to me, Robert Redford holds a special place in her heart — and on the menu of the Presbyterian Village.

Still, I wondered, how do I — of all people — not know what Robert Redford Dessert is? I suddenly doubted my self-worth. I swerved into my parents’ driveway. I pictured myself perusing the meal options with my parents before googling “Robert Redford Dessert” once we got inside.

We got inside.

I thrust the menus at my mom and reached for my phone.

I googled Robert Redford Dessert. The first result: Better than Robert Redford Dessert.

I scoffed. Better than Robert Redford Dessert?

Who do these people think they are?  

Don’t they know that Robert Redford cannot be improved upon? Obviously, these lost souls have drifted far and I’ll have nothing to do with them. I scrolled down the page.

The next result: Next Best Thing to Robert Redford Dessert.

I scoffed again, but not as much.  After all, at least these wayward souls acknowledge that their dessert — whatever that is — isn’t as good as the actual Robert Redford Dessert — whatever it is. I continued to scroll.

The next result: Robert Redford Dessert (My Way).

Okay, I can get behind that one, I thought. But I still want to find the original recipe and by original recipe, I’m not talking about this guy:

Oil painting by: Norman Rockwell (Public Domain)

Nope. I’m talking about this guy:

Pastel portrait by: Robert Pérez Palou [CC BY (

I kept scrolling. The next result: another ill-fated Next-Best-Thing-to-Robert Redford recipe. But this one was a PIE.  I laughed. Robert Redford and pie? Right. Robert Redford would never be a pie.

I paused… or would he?  Have I totally missed the mark on what Bob is all about?

What if I’ve been thinking he’s whipped topping and creamy French silk when all along he’s been pie?

Naaaahhhh. Keep scrolling, I told myself.

The next result: another twisted Better than Robert Redford Dessert.

Away from me, Satan! I kept scrolling.

The next result: Robert Redford Dessert Recipe.

I sighed. Finally. The one true Robert Redford Dessert recipe and possible key to the universe.

I read from the website:

  • ½ c. butter, softened (of course)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour (you had me at butter)
  • 1 c. pecans (well, this makes me skeptical, but okay)
  • 8 ozs. cream cheese, softened (yes)
  • 1 c. powdered sugar (double yes)
  • (1) 10-oz. container frozen whipped topping, thawed (yes yes yes)
  • 2 c. prepared chocolate pudding (even better)
  • 2 c. prepared vanilla pudding (kind of a let-down, but whatever)
  • Chopped pecans and grated chocolate for garnish (as if he needs a garnish!)

The recipe directed to combine the first three ingredients to make a crust that bakes at 350 degrees. The rest are folded together and eventually layered into the cooled crust. The garnishes garnish. And voila! It’s Robert Redford in a pan, I thought.

Another website told me the dessert became popular in the ‘70s when Redford’s career was in full throttle. Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. At potlucks, women could prepare the popular dessert and tell everyone they were bringing Robert Redford.

I skimmed the ingredients again. They were dreamy. Creamy. Silky. Smooth. Suave. Rugged. Weathered. Sophisticated. Creative. Classic. Yep, that’s Robert Redford Dessert.

All these years and I never knew such a decadent dish existed.

I returned to the kitchen table where my parents were making their meal selections. Neither of them mentioned anything about the Robert Redford Dessert.

I found that curious because when I was about eleven, they obviously understood the importance of teaching the next generation about Robert Redford. After all, they took me with them to the theater to see All the President’s Men, starring you-know-who along with Dustin Hoffman.

I sat down with my parents at the kitchen table. I leaned forward where the menus were arranged. One for my dad. One for my mom.

A feeling of gratitude washed over me.

“Thank you for taking me to see All the President’s Men,” I told them.

My mother looked up from the menus. “What are you talking about?”

“Thank you for taking me to see All the President’s Men. Thank you for teaching me about Robert Redford.”

She wrinkled her brow. “Okayyyyy,” she said, dragging out the second syllable.

I prompted her. “The dessert. Did you see the dessert? Robert Redford Dessert? On Tuesday. The eighth? I appreciate him. And now Katherine appreciates him. You did your part. And now I’ve done mine. Y’know, teaching the next generation?”

Her eyes locked on mine a little too long… and then she turned to my dad, who was checking off their selections for the next week.

“Just circle the pork chop entrée for me,” she said quietly.

I dropped off their menus at the Presbyterian Village later that afternoon.

Photo: Sundance Catalog

It’s true. I had never heard of  Robert Redford Dessert until a few weeks ago. For being his biggest fan, I found that shocking and just had to tell you about it. Have you ever heard of Robert Redford Dessert? Do tell. Or click here to read about another celebrity experience.




South Africa

Why staying one night anywhere is never enough: Knysna, South Africa


Knysna wanted to tell us a story, but there simply wasn’t time.

The Knysna Lagoon | Photo: Pixabay

We were nearly ready to leave when the winds began howling at 34 South, the seafood eatery where we had dined on oysters, beef, beer, and cheesecake. Raindrops swiped against the plate glass windows. A gust of wind rocked the rafters. The bartender looked up from his pour. A squall blustered through Knysna, “the jewel of the Garden Route” in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Locking arms, my daughter and I left the restaurant and headed out, hunch-shouldered, toward our waiting minivan that had been rented for our two-week tour of South Africa’s Garden Route.

Pushed by violent gusts of wind, bistro chairs scooted across the wide concrete sidewalks of The Waterfront of Knysna Quays. One flipped and careened across our path. We shrieked. Maritime flags above us whipped and ripped in the straight-line winds.

We found our van and climbed inside, allowing the wind to heave the doors closed. Rain poured and pounded against the roof and windshield.

Our host headed back to Leisure Island, an idyllic residential suburb surrounded by an estuary. We crossed the causeway and looked forward to the warmth of our hotel, Cuningham’s Island Guesthouse, one of many quaint lodges nestled along the isle’s manicured avenues.

The estuary that surrounds Leisure Island in Knysna. | Photo: M. Yung

We climbed out of our minivan, splashing on the asphalt driveway. Lifting our jeans above our ankles, we bounded down the complex’s brick-lined paths through water four inches deep.

Once near our respective rooms, our party—my in-laws, husband, our daughter, son, and our professional hunter who had planned this portion of the journey as a prelude to an Eastern Cape safari—escaped the rain, retreating to our rooms without the customary pleasantries. On a calm night, we would have discussed the next day’s plans and determined a time to leave in the morning. However, not tonight.

The next morning we would breakfast on eggs, sausages, and tomatoes, and then emerge from the cocoon of Leisure Island.

We would travel the tidy streets of Knysna and notice the affluence of well-maintained homes surrounded by emerald green lawns.

Moments later, we would pass impoverished townships and notice women sorting through piles of clothing on dirt streets that stretched into the distance.

Township in Knysna | Photo: M. Yung

We would wonder at the disparity. We would question the two extremes.

We spent too little time in Knysna back in 2011. One night anywhere is never enough. This beautiful city wanted to tell us a story—but there simply wasn’t time.

The next evening, we would be in Tsitsikamma, further east on our Garden Route tour. The forecast called for more rain and blustery cold, common for the winter month of June.

I visited South Africa in 2012 and now wish I had written more then about my experiences there. This post is my first attempt to record some details of what I remember. Follow my blog for more stories from this trip.