Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Scrooges Aren't Sexy

You know how they say everyone has a gift to offer? YOU are a gift! Thanks to all for being part of an amazing adventure this year. I thought I had lost everything and gained more than I could ever imagine.


Red ribbon courtesy of Pastease. Yes, a pasty on my arm! They're not just for boobs. What else did you expect from Sex and the Beach? :-)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Romancing Italy at Via Verdi

A taste of rustic Italian cooking in Miami and some #vicequeenkitchen musings on tomatoes, mushrooms, octopus, olives, hazelnuts ... are you hungry yet? Read more.

No woman in her right mind would refuse a taste of white truffle from a handsome Italian. Photo courtesy of Via Verdi on Instagram.

When I first walked into Via Verdi earlier this month I felt like I had stepped into a little corner of Italy. I'm not quite sure what it is: maybe it's the covered courtyard or the cozy bottega filled with bottles of wine and boxes of pannetone. Of this I am sure, though: the soul of Italy is definitely in the food.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015
The lentils that started it all.

I first learned about Via Verdi when I stopped at their exhibitor's booth during the Seed Food and Wine Festival. The cold lentil salad was delicious; however, I told the gentleman behind the booth that it needed maybe a pinch more of salt. Little did I know that I was speaking to one of the restaurant's chefs! He looked at me wide-eyed in disbelief but I'm pretty sure there was no Italian family curse hurled at me; instead buon presentimento clicked and the food writer was invited to dinner.

Good vibes, indeed. Vicequeenkitchen never refuses a dinner invitation from good looking Italian men. Never.

Restaurateurs Nicola (the chef I met at Seed) and his brother Fabrizio (who is also a chef) come from the Piemonte region of Italy. They opened Via Verdi about two years ago and have a regular following of locals, including homesick Italians. I'd be homesick, too, if I were Italian and ate food like this back home.

Octopus with chickpea purée and tomato basil.

"Are you sure we're not in some Italian fishing village?" I asked my sweetheart, who dined with me that night. I gushed further: "You can taste the sea!" Visions of cliffs studded with pastel-colored houses stacked above a deep, blue Mediterranean sea crossed my mind. My palate traveled far -- very far -- from busy Biscayne Boulevard in the MiMo District.

The grilled octopus was so tender and smooth that it melted in my mouth faster than it took for me to talk about how long it takes to cook. Grilling after boiling added a smoky flavor to the subtle briny flavor of the ocean. In all my culinary adventures searching for the best octopus (and often refusing to order it if it even looked rubbery), this one hooked me at first bite. I could eat this everyday. For a pescetarian, this is heaven.

I must be on to something. Fabrizio told me he often makes the same dish at home.


You can tell a lot about a restaurant by its tomatoes. A tomato that is treated as an afterthought is insulting to this versatile queen of fruits. A watery, flavorless tomato is a poor excuse for a real tomato.

A bad tomato is like bad sex: I'll pass. No thanks. A good tomato is the object of desire in a food porn fantasy. A great tomato makes that fantasy come alive as flavors burst in your mouth. A spectacular tomato should capture all your senses and leave you craving -- what else? -- more tomatoes.

At Via Verdi, all my tomatoes were spectacular. I imagined a minion working in the kitchen delicately and very diligently dicing and mincing tomatoes all day long -- tomatoes so delicious that I had to stop and put my fork down on the plate and say: "Dude."

Little cherry tomatoes came to my palate in various forms, including as a garnish salad for the above mentioned Polipo Ala Griglia, which was served in a light, lemony basil vinaigrette.

Assagi left to right: Ceci, Tartufe, Polenta and Panzerotti

But even before we had our octopus antipasti, we enjoyed a few assagi -- small tasting plates like tapas to whet the appetite along with a classic Italian cocktail, an Aperol spritz. Here, homemade sun-dried tomatoes graced the Ceci -- a chickpea mousse served with Sardinian carasau bread, which is more like a wafer thin cracker. Other appetizers included Polenta sticks with a truffle parmesan sauce that was so good, it made my guy say "mmm" in a way that I only ever hear in private. A few "mmm's" were uttered in unison as we ate together.

The Tartufe -- a provolone-stuffed olive with a panko and squid ink crust -- is what I would call the Italian equivalent of a fried pickle. Made to look like a black truffle, the olive, which is fried fresh in the coating, packs big flavor and is the perfect savory accompaniment for a cocktail. I'd hate to call such a sophisticated morsel prosaic bar food, but it's definitely a delicious nibble that'd go great with a martini.

The Panzerotti seriously made me want to reinvent the arepa or anything else made to fry from dough. Fabrizio explained that they use less yeast and that the dough is cooled to rise for a longer time than other doughs. The result is a very light dough filled with melted mozzarella and dipped, you guessed it, in a thick, homemade marinara sauce that pays homage to her highness the tomato.

Fabrizio confirmed that I wasn't the only one obsessed with tomato purity. I mentioned that a tomato dipping sauce should never, ever taste like ground herbs in ketchup. It should taste like tomato, damn it, which is exactly what this particular marinara was -- nothing more, nothing less. One whiff or oregano or garlic powder and I'm turned off. All other sauces -- arrabbiata, puttanesca and so on, build upon that base of tomato-ness that is the foundation of so many dishes in so many cuisines.

The assaggi menu -- order 5 for $23 -- is a great sampler for a light supper or happy hour fare.


Top: pasta with wild mushrooms. Bottom: branzino with Ligurian olives.

For the primi course we tried two different pastas, homemade and cooked perfectly al dente. I made an exception to my pescetarian diet and tried the braised beef agnolotti, which had a rich, concentrated beef flavor that any meat lover would enjoy. The raviolis were light in texture. So were the tagliolini, which shined with hearty flavor of finely chopped mushrooms and more of that exquisite truffle parmesan sauce, which in this case, clung to the noodles. It's this dish that spoiled me to the cucina rustica feeling at the restaurant: Italian comfort food at its best.

For the secondi course, the pescetarian in me was once again transported back to Italy. The grilled branzino with salmoriglio sauce and broccolini, like the octopus, is something I'd eat every day. The  Taggiasca olives in the sauce hail from Liguria where they live in a barrel of silky olive oil until sliced and paired with -- you guessed it again -- more of those heavenly tomatoes. The tender sea bass had just a bit of crispy skin and danced on my palate with an earthy olive oil flavor that complimented but never overpowered the fish. Suddenly, I was wearing a peasant dress in Northern Italy, picking olives under the sun. Can you tell I love olives as much as I love tomatoes?

Even the broccolini had an important supporting role in this dish; it was just perfectly crunchy with a hint of spice from it being tossed with peperoncino, although there were no peppers on the plate. No sad, soggy or overcooked vegetable here.

A typical Northern Italian dessert: bunet Piemontese.

If we both had just had fallen in love with this little taste of Italy, we fell a little harder with dessert. Interestingly, the appearance of chocolate made us forget how full we were from this wonderful repast we'd just shared. So to finish, the bunet of caramel, amaretto and chocolate was heady with the scent of hazelnut and as delicious as one of those interminable kisses by the sea in romantic Italian films.

Eat this dessert in moderation, but love abundantly, il mio cuore.

Via Verdi Cucina Rustica is open every day for lunch and dinner as well as brunch on Sundays. Local diners needn't fly to Italy for a sensual feast and on Monday, diners get 50% off select menu items. That's molto bene in any language. For more information, visit Via Verdi Cucina Rustica.

Disclosure: For this dinner, we were guests of Via Verdi. The article was unsolicited. All opinions my own, as always.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wrapping Gifts

By yours truly.

My friend asked me to help him wrap presents for his daughter while he's out of town. I did it mindfully -- every cut, every crease, every fold -- peacefully and with a lot of love, anticipating the child's joy. I took my time.

I thought about this preposterous notion of holiday stress, which robs many adults of joy. Wouldn't it be better if we just gave ourselves the gift of time? Thanksgiving dinners that take days to prepare are swallowed in minutes. Gifts that are painstakingly wrapped take seconds to unwrap. The paper is torn apart swiftly, thrown away and then suddenly, it's over.

When we gift, do we take time to think of the receiver of the gift? When we receive, do we take time to think of the giver? Do we think of everything that must happen for that communion, that meeting of my gift in your hands, to actually happen?

It's kind of a big deal. A miracle, really. And it all disappears into the big black hole of pressure we've invented that has nothing to do with Christmas.

Wouldn't it be better to have a holiday without so much -- oh, what should I call it? -- all this "muchness" that dampens the very spirit of that which we're trying to celebrate?

To let time expand instead of spiraling into a tight wad of stress -- that would be a great gift for all. So, I'm not going to wish anyone a happy holiday. I'm going to wish everyone a mindful holiday.

As I wrapped each gift, I thought about my inner child -- that adorable toddler with diapers bunched up under her pajamas, standing next to the Christmas tree with a mischievous smile and eyes beaming delight. There'll be no more Christmases for my family: no more mom, dad in the nursing home unable to tell the difference between one day and another and me, alone.

And then I thought about a gift I unwrap every day: dawn. And the blessing of an even greater gift, the present I unwrap every breathing moment of my life: the love my parents and I shared.

You can't put a ribbon around that love, yet it is binding and freeing all the same.

I can't wrap or unwrap my other human family, either, nor do I want to, because they are gifts that give every day: my sweetheart, my friends, the people in my professional life and YOU.

I am blessed.

Every cut, every crease, every fold -- how are you wrapping the gift of your own life each day?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Early Thanksgiving in Miami for Veggie Lovers

Vicequeenkitchen's Thanksgiving came one week early. This year's second annual Seed Conscious Plant-Based Food and Wine Festival left me full and wanting more. If you go nuts over nibbles like cacao almonds, eat carrots like Bugs Bunny or snack on arugula like candy, join me as I recall my favorite moments.

SeedFW15 Veggie Burger Battle
Thanksgiving noms for me. I could eat a delicious veggie burger every day.

Leave it to me to attend a food festival one week before Thanksgiving. And in 2015 -- about a year since I stopped eating anything with fur or feathers -- the only turkey I'm going to like is the one who earns the presidential pardon.

If Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude, then I had no problem nourishing my body with a cornucopia of vegetarian goodness just before the holiday; in less than a year of consciously enjoying a plant-based diet, I lost nearly 80 pounds. And for this, I’m very grateful!

The festival, which humbly planted a seed last year under a single tent in Midtown, sprouted and grew into a multi-day series of events, featuring a first-ever Veggie Burger Battle, which I attended, along with a day-long fair at Mana Wynwood.

So, dear readers, since I'm the kind of crazy foodie who can spend ten minutes describing the taste of one of those sweet tango apples that are in season right now – I actually did this the other day – I’ll offer you a sampler platter of #vicequeenkitchen favorites instead to whet your appetite.


The chic but casual evening outdoors at the Eden Roc made for a vibrant affair. There were so many restaurants vying for top plant-based burger, I couldn't even try them all as I had to pace myself. If you had ever wanted to take a crash course in becoming a veggie burger connoisseur, this was it.

Guests had a chance to vote for their favorites in a people's choice competition. A panel of judges cast their votes as well. The panel included an old blog buddy who turned his love of burgers into a little empire: the Miami legend himself, Burger Beast!

At first, I sought the burger that tasted most like an original all-beef patty. But all of the culinary interpretations were so good, it was hard to choose.

SeedFW15 Veggie Burger Battle
Chef Daudi MClean of 2 Good Veggie Kitchen, based in Los Angeles, put on quite a show while he grilled up my favorite with vegan bacon.

SeedFW15 Veggie Burger Battle
And here's why Chef MClean's was a #vicequeenkitchen winner: caramelized onion, melted vegan cheddar,  a perfect texture to the burger and crispy, warm bread. Plus, my tummy could feel the secret ingredient: just love and joy. Who am I kidding? All the burgers had the secret ingredient.

SeedFW15 Veggie Burger Battle
The people's choice winner: Green Bar and Kitchen from Fort Lauderdale.  I also loved the crunchy and spice pickled green beans. At first, I thought they were cornichons. I asked them to hurry up and open a second restaurant in Miami. Their pumpkin soup is something else.

SeedFW15 Veggie Burger Battle
No puede ser! Miami's Pincho Factory wowed the Cuban in me with its black bean burger sandwiched inside a perfectly crispy tostón (fried plantain). Mi gente, a tostón is something so easy, but not everyone gets it right. They did.

SeedFW15 Veggie Burger Battle
Chef Todd Erickson of Haven Kitchen + Lounge won the judge's choice. I didn't get to try it, but now I've got a good excuse to pay a visit to this chic South Beach establishment.

More photos on Flickr.


I thought two hours was enough to cover this event. Boy, was I wrong. Dozens of vendors featured not only food but also health, wellness, books and even gardening booths. Guests speakers took to two different stages. Next year, I'm making a day of it.

Not only did the festival celebrate South Florida's farm to table movement, it also highlighted entrepreneurs on the vanguard of Miami's healthy cuisine options. I met several mom-and-pop entrepreneurs who've made the leap from "I'm cooking this at home because I can't find it anywhere else," to "now I'm selling this at Whole Foods." Eating local by locals never tasted so good. Eating local by locals who use local ingredients? Even better.

I'm sure every single person manning a booth in the cavernous space of Mana Wynwood worked very hard. But when I asked for a smile -- if it wasn't already there -- I got one. And that's the feeling I walked away with: people are just happier when they eat consciously.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015
The first dish and smile of many food rounds: chef Assia Dahrouch of Miami's Lemoni Café with a light and fresh quinoa tabouli.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015
I just love these guys, who are based out of Broward. Heck, even if you eat meat, you'll still love their meat-free sausages and dairy-free cheeses, which are serious morsels of yummy. I can't wait for Whole Foods or Fresh Market to start stocking up on Atlas Meat Free deli products.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015
What's nicer than a London expat making you a Bombay Sapphire and tonic? Bespoke tonic made from scratch with heavenly botanical elixirs made of bergamot, fennel and more. I didn't see any wine at the festival, but this libation was perfectly refreshing. Put Gary Hayward on my list of favorite traveling bartenders.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015
I first tried Miami-based Chef Christy's raw sweet treats at a friend's vegan potluck. Mark my words: you won't miss anything cooked when you stick one of these addictive, mouth-watering bites in your mouth. Put them on your shopping list.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015
Mr. Green Dean of the vegetable farm in Homestead. I wasn't kidding about snacking on arugula. Another festival guest and I were sampling the locally grown greens like kids at a candy store, including the sorrel. Fancy that: greens that actually taste like something. Put it on my plate! I've actually ordered from their weekly offerings. Folks, there is absolutely nothing better for your kitchen than calling up a farmer and asking: "What've you got this week?"

More photos on Flickr.


My friend and food blogger extraordinaire Stephanie Quilao of @farmtofabulous, who covers many food-related topics including the San Francisco healthy eats and green living scene, told me over the phone that she'd wish the bay area had a similar festival. "How's that possible?" I asked. "Isn't California the mecca for healthy eating?"

My theory: maybe it's because healthy eating has become so second nature over on the west coast that a festival isn't even necessary to raise awareness about plant-based living. But maybe it also means that Miami's doing right by its fruits and veggies, too.


I cook like mad and love to share my passion about food. Follow the #vicequeenkitchen tag.

DISCLOSURE I attended the festival events on a press pass. All opinions my own, as always.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Weekend of New in Miami

Culture was alive this weekend in Miami -- combining something old with something new for a fresh mix of cultural entertainment.

New World Symphony PULSE
The New World Symphony transformed into a lounge setting during PULSE.

The New World Symphony and The New Tropic delighted Miami's young crowds this weekend with two vibrant events back to back on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Although the two organizations are unrelated, you'd think they almost did it on purpose.

The old saying "what's old is new again" couldn't have been more appropriate this weekend.

The New World Symphony put on quite a show with orchestra musicians performing alongside South Florida institutions Spam All Stars and DJ Le Spam, known for improvising electronic elements and turntables with latin, funk, hip hop and dub.

The New Tropic Miami, a media and events organization that brings curious locals together, organized an interactive event at the historic Alfred I. Dupont Building in Downtown Miami as part of the launch of its new neighborhood guide. New Tropic called the event "Epcot for Miami" and it truly was -- with local food, drinks, music and organizations representing a variety of interests, from opera to science to grassroots organizations.


New World Symphony PULSE
Standing room on the ground floor at PULSE, up close to the orchestra.

I'll never say South Beach has a hold exclusively on sleazy nightlife again. And when I say sleazy, that includes ridiculously snooty and over-priced night clubs, too. New World Symphony put the kibosh on that one, for sure, with PULSE, which wasn't exactly your grandma's night at the orchestra. Consider this: it starts way after the senior early bird dinner special. Doors open at 9 P.M. House lights and last calls don't happen until after midnight. The symphony turns into a nightclub of sorts, with areas for dancing and plenty of cash bars to get your drink on.

They've been doing this for six years and if Friday's event was any indication, they're doing it right. The event was packed and that's a good thing, as it targets a younger generations of supporters through Friends of the New World Symphony and makes this an affordable night out on the town in South Beach. Forty dollars gets you in -- compare that to the cost of clubbing -- all with a touch of class.

Although PULSE offers a set program of music, it's nothing like a traditional, stuffy classical music concert. The boundary between performer and audience is blurred, making the performance friendlier and more intimate: ground floor seats are retracted for dancing and the space behind the main stage is opened for lounge-style seating in comfortable, cushioned bleachers. If you switched the soundtrack, you'd think you were at a civilized punk rock concert with a mosh pit -- minus hurling bodies, of course.

People stand, sit, mingle, socialize and come and go throughout the entire circular concert hall, which boasts enormous walls, shaped like sails, where behind-the-scenes video wizards project larger-than-life images. Even the orchestra musicians were part of this stimulating audiovisual experience; they wore glow-in-the-dark wristbands that changed colors in synchrony with the performance's lighting design.

New World Symphony PULSE
Stage lifts behind the orchestra spotlight soloists and small ensembles.

New World Symphony PULSE
Spam All Stars with DJ Le Spam in the background.

The program consisted of two DJ sets and musical performances as well as the world premiere of Ibakan, which The New World Symphony commissioned from alumnus Sam Hyken, co-founder of Miami's Nu Deco Ensemble. Hyken wrote the piece for five orchestra instrumentalists, DJ Le Spam and the Spam Allstars.

With its haunting melodies and driving percussion, Ibakan alludes to Afro-Cuban influences. The word means "constant" in Yoruba and features a canto for Obatala, a deity in the Yoruba religion, as well as a section in which each member of Spam All Stars improvised a solo with an Afro-Cuban groove.

For more information about PULSE and other programs, visit The New World Symphony.  More photos from Pulse: Late Night at the New World Symphony


Miami Land
A gilded sign for a new golden age of Miami at the Alfred I. Dupont Building.

No sooner did doors open, crowds formed a long line and kept trickling in throughout the night -- a surprising turnout because the whole city was in wash-out mode with a deluge of rain. That's a coup for Miami. No one ever goes out in the rain.

Miami Land took place in Downtown Miami's beautifully restored 1939 architectural gem, The Alfred I. Dupont building, originally a bank. This event celebrated a different kind of classic -- the city itself, which was founded nearby in 1896 with a population of 300 -- less than the number of people who attended Miami Land.

Simply put, Miami Land was an energizing way to spend an evening in which -- God forbid! -- you might actually have fun while learning something, free of charge. Florida Grand Opera featured a soprano performing with a local ensemble. The old bank's vault turned into a gallery with two video streams -- one projecting vintage footage and the other displaying slides about Miami's future.

Miami Land
Florida Grand Opera's soprano performed with local musicians.

Miami Land
Yours truly contributed #miamischlep to the ideation board.

Miami Land
Front page of the Miami Metropolis, 1913 on display in a swipe screen.

Among the interactive activities: New Tropic invited guests to post their ideas on blank 4 x 6 cards in a section of the space turned into a giant community ideation board. Moonlighter, a local company that encourages creative collaboration and personal manufacturing, let guests carve their own Miami signs out of cardboard in a maker faire booth. O Poetry, which was stationed next to a booth promoting the Miami Science Barge, asked guests to write short poems about art and science. Museum-style digital displays let guests swipe screens with slides about Vizcaya's farming history, the estate's underhanded accounting during the Prohibition era and more historical trivia.

No Miami-inspired event would be complete without food and drink reflecting the city's culture diversity. Nibbles included Venezuelan cheese pastries (tequeños) and tropical fruit samples of jackfruit and dragon fruit. Cocktails included a tasty saison brew from Biscayne Brewing Company, straight from Doral (yes, Doral) and New Tropic's own recipe in a spiced rum and coconut water libation. To top it all off, 3:05 Cafesito served Miami's most iconic beverage -- Cuban coffee -- which left a delicious scent trail.

Miami Land
Miami runs ... and runs on 3:05 Cafesito, the city's official coffee break.

Miami Land
Naomi Ross of #DiversityMiami was among several groups showcasing their causes.

Miami Land
Rebekah Monson, co-founder of The New Tropic, loves Miami!

Not everyone who attended was a New Tropic reader, but that's OK, because it's more than just an online media outlet -- it's also this -- a gathering of curious locals. One guy, a transplant from Mexico wasn't aware that a newsy magazine was associated with the event, but he did tell me where to get the most authentic tacos in Miami. See? Curiosity. Connection.

For me, it was refreshing to see folks gather to celebrate something about a city that often receives negative attention in comparison to older and bigger metropolitan hubs of the U.S. But warts and all, why cares about other cities? We're doing our thing down here in Miami Land and true to the New Tropic's motto: "live like you live here" -- not somewhere else. Be present.

Friday night at The New World Symphony and Saturday night with The New Tropic proved the city is as unique and fresh as ever in the cultural sphere. I'll take my old with the new anytime.

For more information about New Tropic events, visit The New Tropic. More photos from Miami Land.

Disclaimer: I used to write for The New World Symphony and currently write for The New Tropic. I love them both and so should you!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Palmetto Bay: A Peaceful Retreat from Mad Miami

Canoeing Off Deering Point
My kinda morning commute. Deering Point in Palmetto Bay.

Because I love backyard traveling ...

Why are we more attached to all that's crazy hectic about routine life in Miami -- the traffic, the delays, the rudeness -- instead of being drawn to the magnificent nature that blankets some parts of the city? Is it because we prefer the familiar comforts of drama? Nature isn't crazy, hectic or rude -- it aint got time for that! Instead, it has all the time in the world to just be.

I recently had the chance to stay at a friend's house in Palmetto Bay, a city in southeast Miami-Dade skirted by Biscayne Bay and lush Old Cutler Road, shaded for dozens of miles by enormous banyans and oak trees. After a spell in South Beach, Palmetto Bay seemed like a peaceful sanctuary, far from the busyness and jarring energy of urban life.

Peacock Crossing the Road
This was about all the traffic I encountered during morning walks.

Although I often dream of traveling around the world, I don't have to dream to be an explorer in my own backyard. Here are a few places I discovered while exploring on foot, some which, ironically, were the homes of famous world travelers.


Chinese bridge at Charles Deering Estate
Chinese Bridge at the Deering Estate.

The most well-known historic site in Palmetto Bay is The Deering Estate, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The estate was once the home of Charles Deering, a wealthy businessman and art collector, whose brother, James Deering, built the famous Vizcaya estate further north along Miami's shore line.

The estate, which I had visited a few times before my most recent sojourn in Palmetto Bay -- is well-known for its cultural significance. But it's the undeveloped environment surrounding the estate that has cast many a spell on me. A few years ago, I took sunrise yoga classes at the estate's visitor's center. We practiced in a room with glass walls separating us from the Pine Rockland preserve outside. The experience was magical.

It's no surprise the area is also where archeologists excavated the Cutler Fossil Site, where they found ancient animal and human bones as well as human artifacts.

Last month, when I ambled about the perimeter of the preserve with my friend's daughter, I told her that watching the sun rise through the mist of the forest felt primeval. "What's primeval?" she asked. The observation turned into a a vocabulary lesson for the eight-year old girl. And then I really thought about it: the word "primeval" connotes everything I love about this place: prime, primeval: a land of firsts, of beginnings, of nature untainted by man.

I feel this way for any neighborhood that respects its trees. They speak to me.

Well hello morning glory!
Morning glory vine on the trail.

One Sunday morning, I discovered a paved pedestrian trail just north of the Deering Estate from which all manner of joggers and cyclists emerged. The trail is parallel to Old Cutler Road and while you can still hear cars rushing by, the scenery is natural and feels completely removed from civilization. This area is also a nature preserve -- part hardwood hammock, part mangrove and all coastal environment -- with Cutler Creek running below the bridge.

That day I just happened to bump into the director of the Deering Estate, who was taking photographs of an endangered plant species. She told me the bridge wasn't supposed to be so colorful, but that those who had restored it thought it should be. Deering built the bridge in 1918 to cross the creek on the way to his home. The Chinese theme reminded him of his role as a Navy officer in Asia.


Thalatta Estate
The main house at Thalatta Estate.

When I first set eyes on the coral-colored mansion off Old Cutler Road, I thought it was a private residence off-limits to the public. Little did I know that it was one of five historic bay front homes that dot Miami's coastline which is also the location for neighboring Deering Estate as well as The Kampong, The Barnacle and Vizcaya further north.

One morning, the gate was open and I entered the lush, tropical entrance of the estate. I thought I was crashing a party -- or rather -- the preparation for a wedding party. No one said a word because I wasn't trespassing. I was walking, in fact, inside a public park.

Thalatta Estate
The lawn seemed endless at Thalatta Estate.

Thalatta Estate is an exquisitely preserved 1925 Mediterranean Revival home with an expansive lawn that stretches out to Biscayne Bay. The Connett family built the home that features unobstructed views of the water. The name Thalatta is a Latin variation of the Greek "thalassa," which means "the sea." In 2005, the City of Palmetto Bay acquired the land to prevent further development. I'm glad they did.

For more information, visit The Thalatta Estate.


Shore Fishing at Deering Point
My kinda relaxation. Shore fishing on Biscayne Bay at Deering Point.

This small park is part of the Deering Estate and sits in between the Deering Estate and Thalatta Estate along the C-100 drainage canal. Deering Point is a great spot to launch a canoe or kayak.  Although there isn't much here, it's a great spot to enjoy a view of the bay among some native plants and catch sight of some herons, egrets and other birds.

At Palmetto Bay, my eyes saw a different kind of beautiful. See more photos on Flickr.

Friday, November 06, 2015

South Beach Gets Smart About Sex with Sexposé

That's me just wondering: if they sold this at IKEA, foyer or family room? Photo by yours truly.

In all my years of writing about South Beach, I never once imagined that I’d be sauntering up to the World Erotic Art Museum, a quirky treasure trove of naughty art that displays everything (and I mean everything) from a giant golden phallus to delicate figurines enclosed in glass cases -- to attend an educational event.

Imagine grandma’s tchotchkes and then take a closer look: “why grandma, what BIG tchotchkes you have!”

It’s in this fun and inspired space that Meli Blundell Osorio, founder of Night School, hosted the first annual Sexposé evening of sex talk this past October. Imagine that! Getting all dolled up in cocktail attire not to have sex but to talk about it in a space that pays tribute to sex. It's better than a Dolphins game; come here and you might even score.

Throw in a little sip, a little nosh – and you've got yourself a great way to spend a Saturday evening in South Beach with sophisticated folks, or as Night School puts it: “curious night owls.”

Night School seeks to “offer classes and events that foster curiosity and build community for the intellectually adventurous in Miami.” In a city where adventure often involves speeding to a vapid party in a Lamborghini followed by a morning-after walk of shame, Night School promises to cure boredom for the jaded.

Getting night schooled with a few laughs thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps I speak for myself, but I’m sure the other guests at Sexposé were thrilled with the evening’s program. Presenters regaled the audience with topics ranging from sex and marketing, to myths and facts about Jewish sex to straight talk from a sex worker – with interludes featuring Cock Ring 101 and spoken word poetry.

Many eager hands were raised during the question and answer sessions what with so many juices flowing from such intellectual stimulation. Hilarious emcee Shaka Brown kept us on schedule but I almost wish we could have had a sleep over! The craving for discussion lingered … and it’s no wonder.


MsKitty Black, Sarah Epstein and Zoey Chen (l-r), speakers at Sexposé.

University of Miami marketing professor Zoey Chen started the evening with a talk about sexual imagery and marketing. Looking back at ads from the 70s, she showed us the progression of gender representation in modern advertising – with women increasingly taking the foreground in positions of sexual power. Her thesis centered on the idea that sex doesn’t just sell, but that consumers sell sex, too, in the products they choose to buy.

Take that Miami: a passing mention to your penchant for living beyond your means to seduce the opposite sex was the topic of academic discussion. I’m not sure that I agree that men are the only ones who buy into status symbols to get sex; women also spend thousands on fake boobs and butt implants to attract men. That being said, there’s one thing we all probably get: stimulating the sex drive decreases the drive for food, although it doesn't explain Burger King's 7-incher ad.


Virginia Jimenez of Spark Your Mind took to the stage in between talks to read her poem Thumping Hearts in a sultry and sensual voice. My favorite line was “loving more and less fearing,” which was all about surrendering to love after resisting it with fear. Her candor was refreshing.

Meli Blundell Osorio and Virginia Jimenez.

Sarah Epstein, a Yeshiva student turned sex educator, debunked many myths about the sex lives of Jews in her talk “How Jews Do the Deed.” Oy vay! Now we can sleep at night when we're done screwing knowing that orthodox Jews don’t, in fact, use a sheet with a hole in it to copulate.

Sex is a little more personal than that according to Epstein. It’s not about “hey, we got penis in vag and we’re done,” she quipped. Jews view sex as a way for couples to connect. After all, the Hebrew word “to know,” applies to sex. You know this. Everyone calls it carnal knowledge.

Although men wrote the Talmud – and this is a question I would have asked: how the heck would they know about a woman’s sexual satisfaction? – the same text says that a Jewish man must sign a contract that obligates him to provide his wife with food, shelter and sexual satisfaction. It gets better: a woman can divorce a man if he doesn’t perform his sexual duties.

Judaism prohibits pre-marital sex – no chuppah no schtuppah – but it does encourage intercourse for married couples if done according to the book, of course.

Epstein left us with this final tip: kosher isn't just for the kitchen. You can also get your kosher on with sex toys – and no, I’m not suggesting you use a Hebrew National Hot Dog as a hot beef injection. Who knew? A rabbi runs an online adult shop where modesty and pleasure seem to make holy bedfellows. Read more at BeBetter2Gether.

Sex and Jews, folks. Here's the lesson for us gentiles: it's more than just matzoh balls. Read an article by Epstein over at Jewrotica.

All this gabbing about sex toys and orthodox Jews had a perfect segue. One of the event sponsors, Perfect Fit Brand, spoke next about cock rings and gave us this mighty bit of trivia: “It’s one of the oldest sex toys. The only thing older than a cock ring is a dildo.” Jewish nookie was still on my mind. "Really? It's old as Methuselah?"

He then alluded to the gifting of this sexual enhancement tool as “a different exchange of rings,” at which point I imagined a bride fitting her groom with a cock ring at the altar: “with this ring I thee wed.”

Any educational event where you can wear a black leather corset is good in my book. Pictured here: MsKitty Black.

The evening was dominated, er, pardon the pun, by professional dominatrix and former escort MsKitty Black in her talk “So You Want to Be a Sex Worker?”

Black has extensive experience in BDSM, fetish, leather and kink, but it was her recounting of the challenges sex workers face that I found interesting from a sociological perspective. “The closer you are to the street, the greater the risks,” she said. “But the Internet has changed all that.”

Marginalized people do it more for the hustle, but escort work is different. “You can be more choosy,” she explained.

After the talk, I had a chance to speak with Black. In her line of work, she claimed, she has great power: “Guys don’t even have to touch you, but they still pay you.”

It’s still never easy. She has to do all her marketing in a business that for her is also very spiritual. It isn’t just about wham-bam-thank-you-mam sex; she’s also a life coach of sorts when she channels a goddess of sacred sexuality. “It’s about intimacy. I give them what they think they want.”

The next Sexposé takes place in 2016. It’s too bad we have to wait this long to keep abreast of such titillating subjects. Who wouldn’t want to spend a Saturday night talking about sex? It’s the best kind of foreplay.

And I won’t tell you what I did after Sexposé, but let’s just say that sexy black dress I wore? I didn’t wear it for long.

For more information, visit Night School.

All photos by Andrea Máté unless otherwise specified.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

So I Moved To a Buddhist Temple ...

My favorite part of the mantra is the silence between the words #tatt

If you had told me ten years ago, when I started this blog, that I'd be living and working in a Buddhist temple in Miami Beach, I'd have told you to lay off the crack.

But the truth is -- in spite of the whacky subject range of this blog -- I am deep down, a woman who has always been deeply drawn to spirituality -- a pull that has gotten stronger as I've grown older in human years.


There’s a scene in Wayne Dyer's movie The Shift in which we learn that the groundskeeper is actually the owner of the resort where a wealthy guest makes his spiritual shift by opening his heart to charity. The man who has it all doesn’t understand why the owner of the resort works so humbly.

“Somebody’s still got to take care of the roses,” he says.

I’ve been living like a gypsy most of the year, recovering from the arduous role of caregiver, which is a role I'll never regret embracing.

I had lost everything. Or so I thought.

The journey has been an enlightening one – to say the least -- and blessed with many angels who have helped me along the way.

The first leg of the journey has ended now to unfold into a new adventure.

Yesterday was my first day on the job as the keeper of a temple. A Buddhist temple, no less. How I got here is not as important now as the fact that I’ve gotten to where I needed to go and to where I knew I was going -- all the time with resolute blind faith -- even if I didn't know the exact address of my destination.

I’m not here to become a Buddhist. This is simply a job. Oh, what am I thinking? Of course it’s more than a job. It’s here where one chapter ends and a new one begins. It’s here where I can take care of a sacred space that will carry me through to the completion of my book. It's here where an angel has had faith in me and blessed me with a chance to follow my heart's mission on this earth. It’s here where I write from a space of honor, putting as much reverence into dusting the Buddha as I do in each word of my book.

It’s no coincidence this job begins the same week as my birthday. And there were signs. Remember the story I wrote about Humpty Dumpty Buddha?

And as if this weren’t enough abundance, dear readers, guess what? Three times a week, I cook for those who come to pray. I cook with love for those who devote much of their lives to charity. This makes #vicequeenkitchen happy, for nourishment of the tummy is just as important as feeding the soul. How cosmically yummy is that?

Because somebody’s gotta take care of the roses. And somebody’s gotta make the curry.

And somebody’s clearly taking care of Maria, too.

Someday I’ll write: "I had gained everything. And I was right."

I'll be sharing some thoughts inspired by this journey here and socially on twitter and instagram, under the hashtag #tatt (Today at the Temple).

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

New Tropic: The Land of Water and Honey

Yours truly drinking water from the Well of Ancient Mysteries in Brickell.

My wordsmith adventures continue over at The New Tropic, where I've penned two articles -- since you last read about the now famous Miami schlep -- that move away from the topic of transit and are dear to my nature girl heart.

In October, I wrote a story about Ishmael Bermudez, discoverer and keeper of an ancient well located in the heart of metropolitan Brickell. After interviewing Bermudez, who begged me to tell his "truth," the well seemed more like an oracle than an archeological curiosity: are we killing ourselves by not caring for the environment? Read more at The Well of Ancient Mysteries.

Bees are dying, too, but luckily there are still enough to pollinate about ⅓ of the plants that make up our diet or feed the animals we eat. And plus, there's always that delicious honey. Blame it on the almonds: an intense investigation ensued when I heard a beekeeper say that California depended on Miami's bees -- all stemming from my obvious question: "Why would California want anything from Miami?"

Many of your South Florida neighbors go gaga about bees. You should, too. I certainly did, which is why I sent my editor a Russian novel instead of a feature ... which she very wisely abridged. Read more at Who's Saving Miami's Bees?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sexo y la Playa: Because Everything Sounds Sexier in Spanish

Hotel Chelsea Miami Beach Florida
Photo by @antjjphotog.

Last Sunday, I gathered with friends at the chic Hotel Chelsea on Washington Avenue to celebrate Sex and the Beach's 10th anniversary. The location couldn't have been more appropriate, right in the heart of South Beach, where it all started.

The art deco boutique hotel serves up drinks in an updated and elegant lobby bar, which was perfect for this intimate gathering. Outside, a cozy patio is set with tables and couches for food service from Alex's Kitchen at Chelsea.

South Beach Hotel Chelsea
The lobby bar at Hotel Chelsea was already decked out for Halloween.

It's here we enjoyed some tasty libations with Martin Miller's Gin, the cocktail I created with Robert V. Burr in 2011 as a "trade up" to the old classic Sex on the Beach.

To this day, I still have to remind people whenever they ask about my blog that it's called Sex and the Beach, not on the beach. There's a big difference between the preposition on and the conjunction and  -- the former is a state of mind; the latter involves sand in the orifices, which can get quite itchy.

Born on the sultry shores of Miami Beach, of course, the cocktail sounds more exotic en Español. Under the Florida sun, beautiful bodies tan in the white-sand beaches of an alluring, glossy town -- never mind the darker, gritty underbelly of this urban beach, which keeps it raw and real: just how I like it.

And so inspired by the blog that was, in turn, inspired by this city, we created a cocktail with unexpected zing: muddled jalapeño and ginger beer offset the sweetness of peach nectar. The botanicals in the gin make for a drink that's as good to smell as it is to sip.

Sex and the Beach Martin Miller Gin cocktails
The bar manager at Hotel Chelsea did a fantastic job of modifying a single-serve highball recipe to self-pour in a glass keg.

Tempted? While in South Beach, ask your bartenders for an elegant Sexo y La Playa. Let them know the soon-to-be-world-famous cocktail garnered rave reviews at its public debut from a distinguished panel of experts hanging out at the fabulous Hotel Chelsea. If they look at you all funny, ask them to tweet @vicequeenmaria for the recipe or send them to the Martin Miller Gin vault.

(Whatever you do, while in South Beach, please drink like a local. I beg you. Kindly refrain from ordering those fish bowl cocktails served in Ocean Drive cafés with two Corona beers standing neck down in some tacky mockery of the classic Margarita. I'm pretty sure a kitten dies somewhere each time one of those monstrosities is consumed.)

But I digress. Back to the party.

As classic 80s music played in the background, we chatted and savored fresh sushi rolls from Fung Ku, which delivered my favorite: spicy tuna. If you've been following my #vicequeenkitchen tag in the social networks, you know how particular -- and particularly bananas -- I am about food. Fung Ku's sushi -- how do I explain this without sounding pervy? -- was tight and crisp in texture as I rolled each morsel in my mouth. We love this, because there's nothing sadder than something limp and soggy in your mouth.

We also licked our lips while devouring two gorgeous cakes from It's A Bundt. The frosting alone gave me dirty thoughts and (shhh!) I stuck a finger in it when no one was looking. The bundt may have a hole in it, but it sure was full of love. Yeah, that's it. Our favorite love hole comes surrounded by something moist and tasty. Dig in!

Fung Ku Sushi, Martin Miller Gin, Itsabundt Cake Miami Beach
The spread.

Sex and the Beach Blog 10th Anniversary Party
Soul of Miami, another long-time Miami website, stopped by to say hello.

Itsabundt Bundt Cake Miami
Clearly, I skipped cake eating etiquette 101 at charm school.

Good grief, I wanted to write about my shindig and all I think about is the food. Because it's always about sex or stuff that's more interesting than sex, namely, food.

Sex and food, folks. That's all she wrote. And then some.

I really didn't want to celebrate anything at all, but I thought, what the heck? A decade is kind of a big deal. I could never have imagined the doors that this blog would open or the joy I would experience from meeting so many amazing folks along the path.

And all this because one day, back in October 2005, I decided to write about how convenient it would be to have a pap smear while getting your vaj waxed. (I still think it's a good idea.)

Damn. I guess that alone was worth a toast. Here's to another ten!

Created with flickr slideshow.

The businesses mentioned in this post happily supported this event by providing goods and services, for which we are very grateful! All opinions my own, as always.