“And the Winner is …” – by Debbie Ambrous

Two gondoliers rowed into the fast lane with challenges and recipes for your votes in the last post – “Dueling Gondoliers”.  Chris Castaldi’s lemony seafood pasta and Jim’s famous homemade pizza were out there for your consideration and for your own personal cook-off.  The votes are counted with no insider influence.  Drumroll please! And the winner is: Chris Castaldi 

If Chris escapes the lions in Florence, he should be cooking in New York again soon.  Sunglasses are a nice touch, remaining incognito.


I wish I could send him on an all-expense-paid trip to Italy, and he does also! Thanks to Chris for going with the flow on his gondola and allowing us to share his delicious dish! Chris will receive a free copy of  Product Details Comments/Reviews are welcomed on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Goodreads.

Jim expected a consolation prize, so I whipped up this scrumptious recipe I found on Lynn McBride’s website: Southern Fried French  One of the readers shared her Louisiana French great-grandmother’s recipe for “Oh-So-Good “ Pie.  Believe me, it is – Oh, so Goood! Make it yourself, and you will agree. The pie disappeared before I had time to shoot the picture of the whole dessert.

On a pedestal and worthy of a Venetian dessert trolly.

2 deep-dish pie shells
5 eggs                                                2 cups sugar
5 Tbsp. vinegar                                   4 Tbsp. Butter (soften at room temp)
1/4 Tsp. cinnamon and allspice or cloves            1 Tbsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup golden raisins                         1 cup chopped pecans

Divide egg yolks from whites into two medium-large bowls. Beat egg whites until fluffy.  Mix yolks, sugar, vinegar, butter and spices.  Add raisins and chopped pecans, and mix well. Fold whites into mixture until blended. Pour evenly into two deep-dish pie shells. Protect edges with foil or pastry ring. Bake in preheated oven as you would a pecan pie approximately 375 degrees for 10 minutes and 325 degrees for 20 minutes.  Watch closely.  When done (firm and golden brown) remove from oven and cool completely.  Serve with whipped cream on top.

We will walk off the calories now in Venice and Florence.

Street scene in Florence


Our hotel was on San Marco square, and we had “A Room with a View.”


Keep walking, or no more desserts. No gondola rides today.









Venetian hand-blown glass was for sale in a shop below our hotel room.  Oh, maybe just a quick stop.  Just click French Market. for MORE SHOPPING!



We had lunch at the Restaurant Terrazza Danieli for a special meal and enjoyed some of the best seafood I have ever tasted.  The rooms were too expensive for my budget, but sometimes I wish I had blown the budget and stayed there.  Do you have some of the same regrets?

The seagull wanted an invitation to lunch. Isn’t this a dreamy view?

This is one of my favorite pictures. I’m ready to join the lady and find a nearby quiet spot to read in the sunshine, wearing my hat of course. Just for a visit and then back to France!

Click on “French Window Art” or on the France – Pictures and Storytelling page to see more of France.  Could I possibly be a budding artiste?

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“Dueling Gondoliers” – by Debbie Ambrous

Pack your bags.  Find your passport.  I’m tired of hanging around the house and doing the same old routine stuff.  I wish I could head to the airport and fly away to an exciting destination.  Since that just isn’t happening for the moment, I’m reliving a trip to Venice and Florence, Italy with recipes and pictures. 


We have two recipes in competition.  Chef Jim, the hometown contender is offering  pizza for your taste buds.

ALABAMA JIM’S WORLD-FAMOUS HOME-MADE PIZZA (Fans in Europe, Asia and the Country of Miami) 

I asked Jim about a picture to go with his recipe, and he said: “They know what a pizza looks like!” Sorry, no picture this time. And to think that I used to wait anxiously for his letters to arrive in the mail when we dated!!

On the Italian in-law side of the family we have Shellfish Trio with Lemon Sauce entered by Chris Castaldi, the New York contender.  Your vote is requested to determine the winner.  “Chris, I must warn you that the hometown advantage is heavy.  Rumors are circulating already that Jim is the winner.  He is soliciting votes with promises of extra helpings of his so-called best of the cook-off along with dessert. He expects me to strap on an apron to cook the dessert.  I recommend that you should round up numerous New York supporters if you expect to win!

Shellfish Trio with Lemon Sauce

1 pound of pasta (penne rigate, farfale)
1/2 pound of shrimp
1/2 pound of crabmeat (any type of crab)
1/2 pound of scallops (bay or sea; bay is preferable for serving family style)
1/4 cup of shallots
2 cloves of minced garlic
1/3 cup of dry white wine
1 cup of chicken stock (more if needed)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Heaping teaspoon of lemon zest
Butter or olive oil for sautéing

1-Lightly season shrimp and scallops with salt and pepper
2-In a medium to large sized sauté pan, over medium to medium- high heat, melt butter or use olive oil and sear scallops till cooked through. Bay scallops should take only 1 minute per side.
2- When cooked through, pour scallops and their liquid and place in a mixing bowl.
3-In same sauté pan, with a little butter sauté crabmeat for only 1-2 mins to bring to temperature, pour crab and their juices into same mixing bowl as scallops.
4-Same pan; use some butter or olive oil. Cook shrimp for 1-2 mins per side. Pour shrimp and juices into mixing bowl
5-Same pan, add tablespoon of olive oil or butter, and sauté shallots till slightly softened. Add garlic, sauté only 1 min, and do not let garlic burn. Stir constantly.
6-Add 1/3 cup of white wine. Reduce for 1 -2 mins.
7-Add 1 cup of chicken stock. Scrape any bits from bottom of pan, incorporate into sauce.
8-Turn heat to low and cover.
9 -Drop pasta into boiling salted water. When pasta is almost done, then add all seafood with their juices into saucepan. Add lemon zest. Add heavy cream. Stir.
10-Drain pasta well, pour into saucepan. Mix well. Taste for seasoning. Add salt or pepper if needed. If not enough sauce, add chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time till sauce barely covers bottom of pan when stirred.

Enjoy! Sprinkle Pecorino Romano. Garnish with parsley. (we chose lemons instead)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have dueling gondoliers for the Alabama–New York Cook-off!  May the best gondolier win!

Alabama Jim is weighing down his gondola heavily with assumptions of winning the cook-off. He is saying, “Ya’ll send your votes for the handsome Chef with the Senor Frog orange sweatshirt! Alabama Jim is the best!”


I’m off on a memory lane journey to Italy while you two men mess around in the kitchen.  Don’t forget to wash the dishes and leave everything spic and span!


Chris, our New York gondolier, turned his back on claims that he is a light-weight contender. His “I Love NY” shirt says it all! He is rowing to the finish line with confidence. Debbie says, “VOTE FOR CHRIS! He loves my graphic art work.”


Look for the winner of the Alabama-New York Cook-off in my next post along with more pictures of Italy. Send your vote for the best of the gondoliers down in the “Reply” section at bottom of the page.



If you are wondering why France isn’t on focus this time, I can only say that even the folks in France go on holiday to Italy!

Would you like to win a FREE copy of  “A French Opportunity”?  Just click on over to GOOD READS and enter for a free copy!  If you have read the book, I would welcome a review on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel or Good Reads.  Thank you for your support!

Did you notice?  I have a new feature on the website.  Shopping!!  Click over to the French Market and just look around. That’s what I always tell Jim, “I’m just looking.” Frances Mayes the author of “Under the Tuscan Sun” is featured in the last aisle with an Italian cookbook on offer and her wonderful book “A Year in the World”.

All photography is property of Debbie Ambrous.  Enjoy a few adventures of Italy in “A French Opportunity”   Just click below.

A French Opportunity

“Everything is Normal” – by Debbie Ambrous

For an entire week Jim has been acting normally, taking out the garbage and making deposits at the bank, not mixing the two operations to the shock of our lady banker or the ATM.  He did his normal shopping at the grocery outlet and cooked fantastic meals for me. (Have you noticed that more and more men have taken on the role of cooking for the family? We women must unite and regain our kitchens!)  Pay no attention to those words in the brackets.  They are only meant as reverse psychology to keep Jim in the kitchen.

The lovely hand-painted tile was purchased at www.ElsnerTile.com

I questioned Jim about his normal behavior, and he seemed to think that I would be peachy keen about this Operation Ordinary of his.  I explained that I didn’t have any of his outside of the box comments and eyebrow raising behavior to share on my blog, and now I would be stuck with writing on my own about another subject.

That brings me to the antique fireplace mantel, the other subject.  Several months ago I was in the backroom of a furniture consignment place in Miami, and I saw the edge of a well-worn piece protruding from behind some other furniture.  The saleslady told me it was a fireplace mantel from Southwest France.  My desire grew like Jacque’s Beanstalk, of course!  A few problems were of the same proportion.  The fireplace mantel was WIDE!  It would entirely cover my small living room wall. I didn’t offer my credit card on the spot.  Yet, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I thought since my brother has a cabinet shop that he could just use one of his saws, slice it down the middle and put it back together again.  Some carpenter’s daughter I am!  I knew my brother would wonder why I wanted the old thing and ask why he couldn’t just build something new for me, but I would overcome this somehow.  With my friend Cathi’s help I got the fireplace mantel, and it traveled with us to Alabama when we moved from Coconut Grove, Florida.  Thanks again, Cathi!

Upscale Furniture Consignment Gallery


The huge mantel lived in my hallway for a long time as a reminder of my folly.  My brother and Jim’s nephew would only look with pained expressions at the mantel like cosmetic surgeons would view the task of turning me into Angelina Jolie.  Finally, one of my brother’s employees took on the task of changing my South-of-France mantel to South-of-Alabama size.  He took the mantel completely apart.  I would have had a heart attack if I had been around to see the process, but then again he didn’t go with the chainsaw approach.  No scars show from the operation.  I’m thankful to Dr. Skip for his skilled craftsmanship!  I was ready to write his check and realized I only knew him as Skip.  I asked and learned that he has a French surname.  He said, “Yes, Ma’am” and explained his French family ties.  I should have known!  I wanted a picture of the bashful craftsman by my fireplace, but we never found the time.  Then again there could be another reason; when I approached with my camera Jim did yell, “Run, Skip, RUN!”


Skip used a section of the fireplace mantel to build a wine glass rack. Voila!

Jim is watching a show on classical music on PBS.  I think I should get the thermometer and check his temperature!  This normality flu could be serious and detrimental to my blog.

Thanks to all of you for your helpful suggestions and your warm encouragement before my speaking engagement in Birmingham, Alabama.  I am very grateful to the Alliance Française of Birmingham for the invitation and especially for making me feel at home.  After some initial nervousness, I felt comfortable and may even live to stand before another group.  Jim must have been so enthralled with my speaking that he forgot to take my picture.  A couple of the members in Birmingham are graciously sending pictures to me, and I will share them later.

Take a stroll through the gardens at Chateau de Hautefort. You can look inside my book.  Just click below.

A French Opportunity