Monday, August 31, 2009

Best friends forever!

Is anyone more cherished than a best friend?

Mary Olsen Kelly and I met 25 years ago at a life-changing motivational seminar when we were assigned to each other as "Perfect Partners." Our task as a team was to set outrageous individual goals for ourselves and then do "whatever it takes" to achieve those goals in only three weeks. The stakes were high--failure was not an option! With daily phone check-ins we kept each other on track and accountable in achieving those goals "no matter what."

Mary's naturally ebullient energy and enthusiasm made our assignment of talking on the phone every day a joy. As our friendship and trust deepened, we realized we'd found the best friends we could each imagine. We did achieve those goals because we were great cheerleaders for each other and learned that we could be and do and have so much more that we had imagined.

In the 25 years that followed I comforted her through a painful divorce and consoled her as she yearned for a deep and lasting marriage just like mine. A few years later she met her future husband Don Kelly, and as she made plans to move to Hawaii to be with him, my husband Paul von Welanetz lay dying of cancer. Mary buoyed my spirits during that painful and poignant time, reminding me of my many blessings and how much life I had ahead.

Mary obtained a ministerial licence so she could perform ceremonies as a "celebrant" (no better descriptive word for Mary exists!) and when the time came for me to remarry, she officiated at Ted's and my ceremony and the weddings of two of our daughters.

When Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago she rushed into our arms at the airport and found new resolve in our loving embrace. She told me how, because of the successful Tahitian pearl stores (the Black Pearl Gallery) she and Don built together, she always finds inspiration in how the pearl oyster deals with an irritant, turning the experience into something exquisite and unique. She was determined to do that through her treatments and she did by writing three inspirational books:

Here we are at one of her booksignings . . .

Mary and I have celebrated together over time far more than we have greived, and we stay in touch by text or email daily no matter where we are or how busy our lives often become.

Sometimes we travel together with our husbands. On our three week trip to Asia we dined in the oldest Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing . . .

Now she and Don have two homes, one in Maui and one here in Corona del Mar. The three of us look forward to our "Yoga Tuesday" when we meet at a restorative yoga class nearby then try out some local restaruant for lunch where we bubble over with news and catch up, still encouraging each other to go for it in our creative lives.

Husbands and hairstyles come and go,
but devotion as best friends endures forever!


No menu is more fun for me to create that Mary's annual birthday luncheon. We invite the members of our "Emergency Book Club," so named when a meeting was suddenly called when one of our members faced a crisis. Because Mary loves salmon, this year I made her a salad and topped it with salmon roasted in the manner of the Herbfarm Restaurant outside Seattle.

For 4 to 6 servings


1/2 pound wild (not farmed) salmon per person, skinned

Olive oil to coat

Salt and pepper

parchment paper for roasting


6 cups mesclun or Herb Salad Mix

2 nectarines, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 box each fresh raspberries and blackberries (if out of season, use 1/2 cup dried cranberries)

1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted

2 teaspoons capers, drained


1/4 cup raspberry balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon or stone ground mustard

1 teaspoon honey, or more (depending on the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar)

1 medium shallot, minced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the dressing, combine all but olive oil in a small mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil--the dressing will emulsify and thicken thanks to the mustard. Set aside.

To roast the salmon, preheat oven to 225 degrees, or to 200 if using a convection oven. Coat the salmon with olive oil and place on a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet, seasoning it lightly with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. (The salmon will be cooked through, but will have a translucent appearance.)

Toss salad ingredients in a large bowl with balsamic dressing. Divide between serving plates and top with salmon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My heart is in Hawaii

I am basking in the remembrance of plumeria blossoms, the softness of tropical air and pastel sands and ocean waves foaming over my feet. Those early morning walks in Hawaii were just the beginning of long days filled with stimulation and growth at the best writers conference of all.

The enthusiasm in Deb's voice as she notified me of her enrollment in the upcoming Hawaii Writers Conference over the Labor Day weekend in Honolulu reminded me of my own seven years in a row of being a presenter there.

Conference co-founders John and Shannon Tullius are the most generous of leaders, taking care to fill every attendee with feelings of welcome, expansiveness and ohana (family).

I will always be grateful for the spirit of inclusiveness that led to finding my literary agent, polishing my romantic memoir (purchased by Lifetime for a movie-of-the-week) and becoming a co-author of my second Chicken Soup for the Soul title. Here I am with Jack Canfield at our book signing there:

If you are an aspiring writer, I encourage you to sign up right now.

Almost every day at the Conference we would make our way over to Longhi's restaurant for a serving of Opakapaka with Grapes. Now, still on my stay-cation in Corona del Mar (meaning that I am home but hardly working), the sight of sun-drenched green seedless grapes on Saturday at our local farmers market called to me to recreate the one recipe from Hawaii that most brings the flavors of Hawaii home.

My heart and my plate are filled with Aloha!


In adapting this recipe from Longhi's: Recipes and Reflections from Maui's Most Opinionated Restauranteur, I doubled the sauce amount (I love lots of sauce!) and used red snapper from our California coastline instead of Opakapaka, the species of pink snapper found in the tropical islands of Hawaii.

1 pound snapper (or other fish of your choice), cut into two pieces
Sea salt
1/4 cup flour (I prefer Wondra for coating fish)
3 tablespoons butter, for sauteeing, plus
5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut in pieces, for the sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup white wine or dry Vermouth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 tabelspoons cream
3/4 cup of green seedless grapes (cut in half lengthwise if large)
2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives or garlic chives, or parsley

Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly flour it on both sides.
In a skillet over medium heat heat the butter and olive oil until foamy; add the fish. Saute 3 to 4 minutes, then turn and saute on the second side for 3 to 4 more minutes. Remove form the pan and keep warm while you make the sauce.

Pour the wine and lemon juice into the pan drippings, scraping up any brown bits, and simmer the liquid over high heat until it is reduced to about 3/4 cup. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in the cold butter, a tablespoon or so at a time, until the liquid emulsifies into a sauce consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the cream, which will stabilize the sauce and keep it from separating.

Season to taste with salt. Add the grapes and chives or parsley. Pour sauce over servings of fish on warm serving plates.