Culinary Smackdown: WINTER SQUASH http://www.ladivacucina.com

La Diva with orange hair and my dear friend Lisa at a pumpkin patch outside of Chicago at the beginning of the 90's.  Lisa has since left this earth and now graces the great pumpkin patch in the sky.  
I dedicate this post to Lisa Madden.


Darlings!  I think it was Buzzy who said in a previous comment that because I have my new kitchen "we expect great things from you now."  Ruh-roh.  No excuses, it's time to pull out all the stops!

And that's ok, because I decided it was high time to challenge myself a bit and think outside of the norm with the culinary smackdown theme of WINTER SQUASH.  

So, what to do with the good ol' squash?  Living in Australia for years where pumpkin, their choice of winter squash, is eaten year round in savory dishes. so I've had plenty of it outside of the standard  soup or  pies.  I especially enjoyed it at one of my fave Thai restaurants in Sydney, Suma Lee Thai, where they saute it with giant tiger prawns and basil in a savory chile jam.  DIVINE.  An unexpected combination, yes, but it proves that squash DOES go with seafood too and is so much more versatile than given credit for.

As I conjured up this delightful dish in my head, it inspired me to take the common winter squash to new heights using seafood and my fave Thai flavorings in a way I've not tried before; I bring you La Diva's contribution to the WINTER SQUASH smackdown.


BUT WAIT!!!!  We interrupt this post to bring you a SECOND SMACKDOWN ENTRY:  Butternut Squash Waffles Pancakes with Fried Chipotle Chicken!






Darlings, La Diva LOVES me some punkin' pannacakes and I've been making a tried and true recipe for years.  I usually make them for dinner and serve with smokey chicken apple sausages and Brussels sprouts.  So, for this challenge, I thought to myself, "Why not waffles instead?  And then I can serve it with some fried chickenz a la Roscoe's Style!"


But alas...it was not meant to be.  Instead of using my pancake recipe, I tried another from HERE and lo and behold, the waffles was stickin' to da grill.  Now, I'll have you know that La Diva was making these for Sunday brunch.  And to tell the truth, La Diva doesn't have a whole lot of patience before she eats her first meal of the day.  So, I added a bit more milk and oil to the batter, oiled the iron and tried for a second time...no joy.  I had two waffles, one on the bottom plate and one on the top.  Grrrrr.....


I got out my pancake griddle and succumbed to making  pancakes instead.


Meanwhile, the night before I had taken two organic chicken breasts and marinated them in with a canned chipotle with sauce, yogurt and salt.  While the pancakes were on, I took the breasts, shook off the excess marinade and breaded them in flour, egg and panko crumbs and fried the breasts til hot and golden.


RESULT:  Hmmm.....a bit monochromatic for plating purposes, a sassy little garnish of something green would have gone a long way but taste-wise, the dish was DEELISH.  I am NOT kidding, if you likes the sweet, savory crunchy mix of juicy, fried chicken and waffles with maple syrup, you will LOVE this flavor combo!  The spiciness of the allspice, ginger and cinnamon went great with the slightly smoky spice of the chipotle, it was truly a match made in heaven.  In the future, I WILL be working on perfecting a pumpkin waffle recipe.....


And now, for my next entry.....something a bit more sophisticated.







La Diva's Seared Lemongrass Scallops 
on a 
Thai Coconut Butternut Squash Coulis 
with 
Thai Basil Oil 
and 
Crispy Fried Eschallots


Butternut squash coulis:  I sauteed shallots and garlic and then added it to chicken broth along with pumpkin chunks, ginger, fresh coriander and ground coriander seed and cooked until the squash was tender.  I pureed and then strained it, added creamy coconut milk and then using a finer meshed strainer, put it through again to get a most divinely, silky coulis.

Lemongrass diver scallops:   I sauteed finely chopped fresh lemongrass, shallots and garlic, seared the scallops and then finished off with Marsala wine.

Earlier in the day, I had taken finely julienned strips of eschallots (Australian for scallions!) dusted them with flour and deep fried until crispy.  (Quite a feat, by the way, as they can turn brown and burn quite quickly!)

I also made an intense Thai basil olive oil by infusing the leaves in the oil over very low heat for several hours and then straining.

I carefully added the scallops to the squash puree and put a few drops of oil around the bowl and then garnished with the eschallots. 

RESULT:  DIVINE.  Loved the addition of the marsala deglaze with the lemongrass and scallops!  The silky coulis could definitely stand on it's own and the creamy, subtle coconut flavor added to the multidimensional flavors that make Asian food so complex.  The basil oil and delicate essence of the eschallots added depth and nuance thus completing the dish.




Enjoy, darlings, La Diva is BACK.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!



More winter squash recipes from La Diva:


Pumpkin and sage lasagna


Pumpkin gnocchi


Pumpkin risotto, scones and soup


Thank you to Jen from "Our Good Food Life" for hosting and you can click HERE to see the other entries.  Good luck to all!  Ciao for now, darlings! 





Happy 10th Anniversary to La Diva and The DJ



Darlings!  Ten years ago on October 27, 2001, the DJ and I exchanged vows (for the second time) in a proper ceremony in front of family and friends.  It's cliche to say, but I truly can't believe ten years has flown by so quickly.     It was such a fabulous day, so special and truly magical, that I wanted to share it with you.  (I hope you don't mind!) 

As a team, hubby and I have accomplished a LOT in a decade:  moved from Sydney to L.A., L.A. to Miami and lived in three different homes before moving into our own condo October 1.  Felix had three jobs, and I had seven before realizing I'd only be happy working for myself, so started my own business in 2008.  Whew.  Dat's a lot of moving about in ten years!



We got married in the Springtime in the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath, a village in the Blue Mountains a few hours outside of Sydney.  I remember asking the ladies of the center's gardening society for the rental fee and was told "Oh, just give us a donation, dear.  We'll rake up the path for you."  Sigh...simpler times.  Now the garden charges $200.

Every spring, a few villages in the Blue Mountains hold open houses and gardens for the rhododendron festival.  The mountains enjoy a cooler climate due to the higher elevation so all the flora of my native Michigan thrives there:  cherry trees, lilacs, apple trees, azaleas, forsythia and the rhododendrons grow as big as a house!

On one of our first dates, I asked the DJ to take me to the village of Leura for a garden tour in the Springtime.  He went, albeit kicking and screaming, until....he stepped out into the peaceful gardens and inhaled the freshest most heavenly scented air he ever breathed.  He was sold.  From then on when The DJ sought respite from his mad world, he would whisk La Diva away up to the mountains for fresh air, serenity and a hike.  The Blue Mountains became "our spot."



The best man, Liam and the DJ before the ceremony.



On my wedding day, I adorned my French twist hair style with fragrant sweetpeas  from my own garden and wore a simple sheath dress of organza over purple silk satin, which I designed.  My dear friend Racheal embellished the dress by adding hand made buttons with an embroidered flower on each one.


Friends through thick and thin, here's dear Fifi as my maid of honor with a small bouquet of lilies of the valley, telling me not to be nervous.  I'm not and am all smiles.  No bouquet for La Diva, I thought it would be overkill with all the garden flowers.


The DJ was managing musical artists at this time and his brothers' band, Kessel, performs an amazing acoustic set of jazz amongst the ferns!


I do 

We dedicated the ceremony to my deceased mother and as the celebrant spoke of her, a sudden, strong wind blew through the gum trees, blowing out the candle that she had just lit and sending leaves and bark fluttering to the ground.  There were gasps from our guests and a few tears were shed by the ladies.  Mama made a point of letting everyone know that she was in attendance that day.



The ceremony was quick and heartfelt and our guests surrounded us, blowing celebratory bubbles while the band played "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" by the Police.  It was lovely.



We only had 43 guests at our wedding, not too many, so we could enjoy everyone on our special day.



My new family!



Two of my dearest friends, Fiona and Louie (Louise!)


The DJ's talented brother Richard (with guitar) wrote us a wedding song and it was performed by him and artists Drew and Caroline, a beautiful gift from the heart from all three.


Off we go to start our new life together.....

Where will the next ten years take us?


I'll see you ALL on Monday for Culinary SMACKDOWN:  PUMPKIN 
(Be afraid, be VERY afraid!)



The La Diva Cucina, FINALLY!

 This is my view from my kitchen stove....pleasant!  There is a lovely, lush, green park and doggy run in front of our new building.  Where the crane is they are building a Fresh Market and that small highrise behind it is actually where the ocean is.  (Our building is on Biscayne Bay)  It's the historical Fontainebleu and Eden Roc Hotels where the Rat Pack, Lucy and Ricky Arnez and Jackie Gleason played and relaxed.  Cool.

Darlings!  Well, it only took almost 30 years of living in rented homes with crappy, dingy, little kitchens where yours truly had to do a lot of compromising that  I FINALLY gots my own fabulous cucina!

Even Moi was surprised to see the tiny galley cubby hole of a kitchen La Diva prepared her divine dinners in when she came for a visit the Spring before last....much too small, cooking in it was a constant challenge.  Every time La Diva or the DJ would open a cupboard, an avalanche of goods would come tumbling out...plastic containers, spices and even ceramic bowls (which even though it sounds very I-Love-Lucy-like, in actuality, it was not funny, the bowls hit me in my hard Diva head and broke!  They were nice pasta bowls from Italy too.)



This is what the kitchen floors looked like before we put in the cork, dingy, hard depressing and not done very well cement floors that I HATED.  I had my doubts that the sellers had them done professionally and in an effort to save money (to pay for the kitchen!) they might have "finished" it themselves.  And you could certainly tell!  Cement is a very unforgiving medium for a floor and especially so for a cook with bad feet.  The cork is so much better and more comfy to stand on for hours when I have to cook for my classes or parties, not to mention the brightness and light it adds to all the rooms.



The sliding glass door is the only "wall" in my kitchen.  It's so nice to be able to open the door when I'm cooking and get fresh air.  And of course, we have many meals out on the balcony, so it's also very convenient!



My fabulous new kitchen includes:  KitchenAid appliances, lacquered white and solid wooden cupboards from Italy, glass tile and blue oahu quartz countertops.  Nice.

And on top of that, my kitchen is BLUE!  I love all blues and I have a counter top that is all sparkly and full of all different blues and reminds me of the sea.  Perfect for a water baby Diva!


The kitchen is not that large, but it's WIDE and roomy.  The DJ can be in the kitchen the same time as me (which couldn't happen before, especially if the refrigerator door was open.  I'm not kidding.)  In fact, a few people can actually stand in my kitchen at once!  The use of cabinetry with pull out drawers makes the most efficient use of the smaller space.

When we were looking at properties initially, a quality, NEW and modern kitchen was a HUGE selling point to me and I knew I wanted this place as soon as I saw it!  In fact, we only looked at three condos before we made an offer on this one.  It was a relief that we didn't have to refurbish the kitchen as the previous owners claimed to have spent $50K on the kitchen alone, which was a bit crazy to me considering some, ahem, "shortcuts" they took in outfitting their home.  We bought the house in a short sale and got a bargain as the lowest priced condo sold in an expensive building for years!  Thank you, Stephen Anderson, our realtor for finding this gem!



According to the previous owner, this sink and faucet cost $1500 alone.  I LOVE the deep sink, it's perfect for cleaning my big catering tubs and pots.  I also love the wall railing system they put in around the kitchen to save counter top space.


 The wall rack system allows me to keep things handy that I use all the time like oils and spices yet allows for more counter space underneath!  Now all I need is one to hold my knives and cleaver and my kitchen will be complete.



In my new kitchen, I want my counters FREE and CLEAN for prepping and serving food.  The only thing that will live on it is my food processor.  And there is another handy wall rack.  It took me three weeks to figure out that it was for paper toweling and cling/foil wrap as nothing else would fit in it!  Doh!



And there is my new pot rack!  Yippeeee!!!  And yes, that IS a little tv!  They had the wiring already there and a hole in the tile, so why the hell not?!  I actually like having the news and weather on sometimes but the other day when I was prepping for a class, I enjoyed listening to Chef Gordon Ramsay tear strips off some poor bum of a restaurant owner!  haha!


This exhaust hood and extension was also very expensive but really was overkill considering I could only use it to recirculate.  That's kind of like having  a Hummer to do the job that could be handled by a Volkswagen Beetle.  I felt it really overpowered the kitchen and glad I took it down.


Out it came and my contractors built a cupboard offering a much more reasonable solution, a microwave with a recirculating fan instead.  The hood is for sale on Craigslist!


A place for everything and everything in its place....



In my last place, I really beat up the insides of my pot cupboard struggling to get them out every time I needed to cook dinner.  Oh, and see my pretty floors?  See them?  You can biggify and look even closer, if you want!  (C'mon, I know you do, Nosy Parker!)



Ahhh.......nice organized drawers that easily pull out!  No. More. Struggling!



I LOVE the pullout pantry drawers too.  One thing I hate is to DIG in a cupboard and having to pull things out to see what one really has.  This will allow for me to utilize all my dry goods and take stock instead of forgetting about what's been sitting in the back for months!  Yay!  No more rice and pasta avalanches!



The DJ put this rack in for me that I brought from the old place and makes it easy for me to seek out the proper vinegar from over a dozen varieties!  A cooking Diva can never have too many vinegars, oils and sauces!


This KitchenAid dishwasher runs so quietly that I had to put my ear up to it to make sure it was actually working the first time I ran it!  Having a reliable dishwasher that actually works after my last dishwasher fiasco with Frigidaire is a dream.  After hours on the phone and three visits from really useless repairmen, Frigidaire replaced my brand new lemon with another lemon, and I had to rewash my dishes every day for a year with two "brand new" dishwashers until I realized that moving to a new place would actually be easier than calling and fighting with Frigidaire for a third dishwasher.



I just bought these herbs and am hoping that two hours of sun daily will be enough for them to grow so that I can just walk out and snip what I need.



Do you see that?  NO, THAT!  The ICE MAKER...YES!  That is called a "marriage saver" as one of the things I used to get ticked at the DJ over was there was never any ice or room in the freezer to make ice!   No more fights over who was going to fill the ice tray and no more spilled water in my freezer! 

It's a JOY to be in my kitchen now.  Every day I'm so grateful that after all of these years of putting up with crappy little kitchens, I finally have a beautiful, workable kitchen of quality that I will enjoy for years to come. 

The La Diva Cucina tour is now complete.  I hope you enjoyed your visit here today and thanks for stopping by, darlings!  xo

La Diva's Black Bean Soup with Roasted Chiles and Turkey

My black bean soup is inspired by the traditional Cuban black bean soup and a good excuse to post one of these gorgeous vintage posters!

Darlings!  I can hear you saying it, "Diva, two soup posts in a row?  What's up with that?  It's not even COLD in your part of the world!"

I know, darlings, I know.  Once again, La Diva is finding herself very busy settling into our new home and one pot meals are so convenient when I have a lot on my proverbial plate!

One of the challenges I am facing currently is finding the time to read the directions and learn how to utilize the new gadgets and things in our home beyond the basic capabilities.  These include the remote for our new Smart TV (where ARE those shows I taped?  and why does the Internet radio keep cutting out?  grrrr.....), the new microwave (yep, I can reheat leftovers at least!) my new Iphone (so far, I know how to text, take photos and make calls, all I need for now!) and of all the silly things, how to use my new WaterPik that's been sitting in a box since July.... (It looks complicated!)  We are also having major problems with our phones, phone lines and our new server.  Yippee!  I've been told these hiccups are normal when moving into a new home, but right now FRUSTRATION is something La Diva experiences daily.

So, while I spend precious time on the phone, again, with the cable company, Vonage, ATT, Plantronics and Apple, the soup is simmering away and smelling divine!  Moi from Bite the Apple's comment from my last soup post of her fave "go to" soup of black bean with chile inspired me to make my own version.


As if the soup isn't spicy enough already, La Diva just LOVES this habanero sauce from Mexico!  It's hot but not CRAZY hot and delicious.  I can only find it at the Mexican taqueria in Little Havana.

La Diva's Black Bean Soup with Roasted Chiles and Turkey

Time to prepare:  days, hours, months, years.....Darlings, this is NOT the soup you can rush!  This ain't no Rachel Ray 30 minute meal, it's a SLOW process and worth every minute.  So, if you can just settle your ADD butt down for a minute, La Diva will walk you through it.

1 large bag dried black beans (over a pound, maybe even two!)
2 turkey legs
48 oz chicken broth
1 large onion, chopped
1 poblano chile
1 large jalapeno chile
2 serrano chiles
oregano
cumin
bay leaves
olive oil


Extras:
cooked white or brown rice, sour cream or Greek yogurt, green onions, shredded cheddar cheese, warm corn or flour tortillas, cilantro, crushed tortilla chips, avocado chunks or guacamole.


The morning before, soak the beans all day in cold water in a large bowl.  That night, when the beans are all plump, drain the water and cook in a large pot with fresh water until the beans are tender, skimming the foam away from top every once in a while.  Darlings, I really can't tell you how long it takes to cook the beans as I tend to move on to other tasks.  In fact, it only seems that I remember I am actually cooking beans when I hear the pot sizzling and begin to smell burning beans, which means I've let the water boil away and I better get my Diva ass in the kitchen or I've scorched my expensive Calphalon stock pot.  I tend to make it just in time to save both pot and beans, and it's a good thing too as nothing smells worse than scorched beans!  Taste a few and if they are tender, drain and salt them thoroughly while still hot.  Cool and refrigerate.


The next morning, heat up a stock pot with a bit of oil and brown turkey legs on all sides.  Add onions and sweat, add a few bay leaves and salt.  Meanwhile, heat the broiler up on your oven and add the whole, washed chiles to a foil-lined tray.  Allow the skin to blister and then turn, making sure all sides are blackened.  Remove from oven with tongs and put into a brown paper bag to cool.


We interrupt your regularly scheduled post to bring you this kick ass breakfast La Diva made for the DJ.  Home made whole wheat biscuits with sausage gravy and poached eggs!  Yeah-uh!  (I never made home made sausage gravy before....too dangerous for me to know how!)


Once the onions have cooked down a bit, add the chicken stock, at least a tablespoon of crushed, dried oregano and a teaspoon or two of ground cumin seed.  Set aside.  Wearing gloves, remove the skin, seeds and stems of the chiles and discard.   Chop the chiles finely and add to the stock pot.  Now, add the beans and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, turn down heat to a simmer and SLOWLY cook for about two hours or so with the pot lid ajar and stir often making sure the beans aren't sticking to the bottom.  Simmer until the beans cook down more, the soup has thickened and the turkey begins to fall away from the bone.  


Using tongs, remove the turkey legs and allow to cool enough to handle.  Then, remove all the meat from the bone and skin and break into bite size pieces.  Discard the bones, skin and gristle and add the luscious turkey meat to the pot.  Soup should be thick and beans cooked completely.  Taste and season accordingly.


SERVE!

I like to serve mine with with a mound of white rice in the middle and the soup around it, Cuban style!  I then garnish it with green onions and lashings of habanero sauce.   Then to cool it all down a bit, I add some chunks of avocado and a big dollop of nice Greek yogurt mixed with cumin, salt and lime juice!  (darlings, you won't even MISS the sour cream but your thighs will!!)


RESULT:  Wow, damn good black bean soup with full flavor and a kick of spicy heat.  Why turkey?  Because I was making this for a friend who eats no red meat and still wanted a soup with great flavor.  The turkey did the trick and I actually prefer it to ham or pork for a nice change of pace. (I sometimes add chorizo too!)  Why roast the chilies?  Well, think about it for a second, and remember how roasting vegetables brings out the sugars and flavor and you'll understand why this extra step adds depth of flavor as opposed to just putting the chiles in and, basically, boiling the hell out of them in the stock!  The combination of the three chiles adds a nice, balanced heat but omit the serrano if you no likey spicy like La Diva does!

Darlings, do you have any favorite one pot meals for La Diva to try?  DO TELL, I need all the time I can get right now!  And a "muchas gracias, amiga" to Mizz Moi for inspiring me to make this soup!  Ciao for now, darlings!  (PS:  Our place is almost unpacked...kitchen shots to come!  FABU!)

It's Good to Eat HOME COOKED Food Again! http://www.ladivacucina.com

 A Mediterranean influenced salad:  spice rubbed grilled chicken breast with steamed freekeh seasoned with sumac, cukes, tomatoes, red onions, Bulgarian feta over baby spinach and arugula.  Crunchy, healthy, GOOD.

Darlings!  I had taken for granted how GOOD it is to cook one's own food at home!  Being without pots, spices, dishes and a clean, organized kitchen to cook in during our move, the DJ and I subsided on mostly takeaway of pizza,  burritos and greasy Chinese.  La Diva tried so hard to be healthy, but the grocery store pre-made salads just didn't taste quite fresh enough.  On the weekends for breakfast, all we had time for was a quick McGriddle or bagels and a coffee and then we'd get to work.

It took me three days to unpack and organize my kitchen.  Dudes, I had three boxes of spices alone!  It was great to be able to actually have space to put everything in.  After not cooking for more than two weeks, I could not wait to cook a real dinner again for the DJ and myself.  I was longing to eat vegetables again and wanted to quench my desire for leafy, crunchy food.  So, the Mediterranean chicken salad in the photo above was our first *healthy* meal in our new home.



 Comfort food is best made at home:  Ground beef AND turkey make up these tasty meatballs in a brown onion gravy over mashed parsnips and potatoes with steamed, buttered Brussels sprouts.  DJ satisfyin'.

Saturday was a miserable day in Miami.  The tropical storm started the night before and then raged on and off all day and into the night.  At times the wind was so strong, it was blowing like a baby hurricane and a powerful gust sent my orchid crashing to the ground, shattering one of my favorite pots.  I watched a large cardboard box fly by seven floors up, at times the wind had gusts up to 50 mph!   Gray-all-day times are rare in Miami, so La Diva thought it was an ideal day to try a hearty soup my friend Bobby made recently:

Stuffed Cabbage Soup

Did you know La Diva is of Polish descent too?   Easter was always spent with my dad's mother side of the family, the Poles, eating and laughing.  No Polish-American kid worth their salt didn't love golabki or stuffed cabbages.  I've made stuffed cabbage a few times but it's not something I think to make very often, so to find a soup that replicates the flavors and ingredients of stuffed cabbage, La Diva was intrigued.  (and it would be a lot less time consuming than making stuffed cabbage rolls too!)

Ahhhh cabbage soup.  Not glamorous.  Not fancy.  Just hearty, cabbag-ey goodness.



BOBBY'S STUFFED CABBAGE SOUP

2 lbs. ground beef
2 large onions, chopped

Brown the above and drain well.  Then add to:

3 lbs. of cabbage chopped
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
14 oz. can of beef broth
2 large cans tomato sauce
1 large can of diced tomatoes
2 large cans of water
1/2 - 3/4 cup of white rice
salt and pepper to taste

Bring all to a boil then simmer until rice and cabbage are done.  Note from La Diva:  Make sure you stir well so the rice doesn't stick to the bottom!)

RESULT:  Pretty good, warm, subtly flavored, satisfying and perfectly comforting, yep, it sure DOES taste like stuffed cabbage in a soup!  The Polish Diva in me highly approves.  However, if you know anything about La Diva, you know I'm going to change it up a bit.  I used ground dark turkey meat instead of the ground beef, which lightened the texture of the soup, but the downside was that the turkey seemed to be lacking in any definitive flavor, so I added a few beef bullion cubes and a couple of bay leaves to add more depth.  When I make this again, I will cut back on the water and add beef broth instead.  Also, unless you have a large family to feed, I'd say cut this recipe in half, it's a LOT OF SOUP for only two people. (Bobby must be feeding the neighborhood drug dealers and crack ho's again!) 

I ended up freezing half of it and giving some to a friend.  I'm not sure how well the rice will hold up once frozen, though.    Bobby makes the soup with chicken broth and brown rice, which sounds nice too.  Another friend suggested adding caraway seeds.  Feel free to tweak it to the way you like your stuffed cabbages to taste.  Anyway you make it, it's a simple, satisfying soup that is great for an easy, casual supper.  Thanks again, Roberto, for another wonderful recipe for my repertoire.

What about you, darling?  What's YOUR fave comfort soup for those dark and dreary days?  Don't be shy, tell La Diva all about it, darling!  Ciao for now!

It was worth every challenge, every hiccup, every dollar.

Darlings!  This is what La Diva LOVES to see, men on their knees doing my bidding!  La Diva was born to be a project manager, fo sho.

We are pretty much finished with our new condo refurbishments and in spite of a few hiccups along the way, I'd say it went very well.  La Diva was very lucky to get reliable , honest and professional contractors.  Here's what we did:

  1. Put in cork flooring, baseboards and shoe molding throughout the entire place (except for the bathrooms.)
  2. Smoothed down, plastered and painted the ceiling.  The previous owners had attempted to scrape the popcorn off but there were still lines and bumps, now it's smooth as a baby's bum!
  3. Patched up all the holes in the walls from the previous owner's multiple audio visual touch panels. 
  4. Painted the living room, master bedroom and office.
  5. We took advantage of the extensive and expensive media wiring throughout the house and updated  equipment with smart tv, speakers, Apple TV, Sonos sound system, etc.
  6. Had cupboard made for kitchen and installed under counter microwave.
  7. Installed melamine covered wood over dining room built in and secured properly.
  8. Air con vents were cleaned and unit serviced.
  9. Electrical units serviced throughout the house.
  10. Washing machine transmission replaced.
  11. Water heater electrical problem repaired.
  12. Replaced plumbing parts for two toilets.
  13. Repair, level and waterproof balcony floor.
Ka-Ching.

I'm tired just writing this!  It's dizzying to think of all we've accomplished in six weeks.



    La Diva is lovin' the colours of the new La Diva Cucina  World Headquarters more than I even imagined!  Bright, yes, but stimulation is just what I need to keep me going while working from home.  The cork floors  and white baseboards throughout the house offer a clean, fresh and uniform design.





    I think I might not put the curtains up in my office for a while...I am really digging the view from the floor to ceiling windows in the corner!  Under the crane, I can just see the historic Eden Roc and Fontainebleu hotels, playgrounds to the Rat Pack, Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Ricky Ricardo and more back "in the day!"  (Both hotels are still fabulous, actually!)




     My new kitchen is fabu.  And it's no Ikea kitchen, sweetpea, these cupboards are lacquered and come from Italy.  I know this because I decided to remove the very expensive exhaust hood to have another cupboard put in along with a microwave to save precious counter space.   I looked up the hood online and it was a pretty penny...but it really would be wasted in the space as it was too big and powerful to be used only to recirculate.  So, I knew I made the right decision to "downgrade" to a more practical microwave.



    If I used the Italian kitchen company to supply me with the cabinet, it would take six weeks to be shipped from Italy and cost me $1200.  La Diva negotiated down to $880.  Then, I thought, "Eureka!  Why pay for the cabinet when we only need the door?"   Cost for cabinet door only from Italy:  $775.  EEK!  The lacquering process takes seven coats of lacquer into the oven to bake on seven times, hence the cost.  My contractors were able to get a very similar finish and had the cupboard made locally at a fraction of the cost! I think they did a great job.  Yay!  Another cabinet and no wasted counter space!

    All was fabulous, all was good and then there came moving day.  And moving day was 

    HELL.  

    Don't get me wrong, darlings, I DO know what makes a move successful, having done it interstate and internationally several times now with nary a broken glass.  However, this freakin' move merely 1.4 miles away cost me more than I bargained for.

    Here's a quick rundown:
    1. We start the morning off with the old building's engineer giving our movers a hard time and wants them to park and move from the South side of the building as they are doing work on the north side.  Bull to the shit.  We live right near the elevator on the north side and I knew someone who had moved from that side the day before.  And even though we had booked the elevator a month in advance, nobody thought to let us know about any change.  Felix puts up a stink, we get our way, but 20 minutes is wasted and we are not off to a good start.
    2. When La Diva gets to the apartment, I find that the $100 a/c thermostat that was installed the day before is NOT working.   It's our third thermostat.  It's HOT and even though La Diva and the DJ both did some trouble shooting, we couldn't solve the issue and still had to move in with no a/c in the relentless heat.  Yippee!
    3. The morning is passing quickly and the movers are taking WAY longer than I budgeted for.  At $90 an hour, the move has now gone from an estimated four hours to eight.  Oh, and don't forget the $135 "fuel" charge and extra hour for travel time.  RIPOFF.  I'm so glad that we won't be doing this again for a looong time.
    4. With a 9:30 am start, the movers have finally arrived at our new digs at three pm and now there is only two hours to move our stuff in until the receiving dock closes.  We are all hustling.
    5. And then, I hear, "Uh oh, Mizz Laura!  Your glass table top done broke," exclaims Victor the mover.  Yay!  Funny, no one was near it or can figure out just how it broke!  And there it lay, my cocktail table top, broken in a million pieces in a blanket.
    6. As the other mover brought in the dining room table base with the special copper-coloured glaze finish, I notice there is a huge chip in it and several dents in the wood.  La Diva, "Why is this chipped?!  Didn't you wrap this with a blanket?  "  Mover:  "Uh no, sorry."  Now, I'm really ticked.  I'm so glad I take such good care of my expensive belongings for years only to have a harried kid ruin them within a day.  Time to write the claim form and be ripped off again.  Sigh.
    7. "Uh oh, Mizz Laura!  The elevator is broke!  We can't move nuthin'."  Tick tock, tick tock....as I call the building's engineers, security and property manager, none of them pick up their phones.  Another fifteen minutes goes by and finally the elevator is running again.  It will stop working again later in the next hour.
    8. Five o'clock comes and I weasel another hour of freight elevator time out from the property manager and agree to pay the movers "off the clock" in hand.  Everyone is happy with the arrangement considering the overtime I would have been charged.  The truck gets unloaded by 6pm.  Bye, Mizz Laura! 
    9. Since we took the sheets off the bed before moving, La Diva thinks it's logical to simply wash them and put them back on the bed instead of digging through a box.  However when the washing cycle begins, my machine sounds more like a chain saw.  I trouble shoot on the appliance's website. YES, it IS supposed to sound like sawing!  Yay!  Wait, NO, it does NOT sound the same as in the video on the brand's website.  Exhausted, I put the dirty sheets on the bed and make a note to call the repairman the next day.
    10. Back to the old place to get another load!  Yippee!  The DJ, "Do you want to go for a final swim in the pool?  "I'd love to but I am really looking forward to taking a nice hot bath at our new place."  We head back.  Hot, dirty, stinky and bone-tired, La Diva draws a bath....and waits for the water to get hot.  After running the water for 15 minutes, there is still no hot water.  I check the sink.  No hot water.  Resigned to a stifling, grubby and smelly first night in our new place, we open the windows and collapse into bed and fall into a deep sleep, tomorrow is another big day.

    But you know what?  It's all OKAY because the HOUSE IS MINE, SNITCHES!!!

     
    The creamy cork floor adds brightness and a fresh, clean look to each room no matter the colour scheme.


      Juan did a great job on the wallpaper.



      Doesn't it look FABU?!



       And now we are all moved in and unpacking.  It's been so nice already here, so quiet and peaceful, such a change from all the noise from living on West Avenue!  And I am so ready to get back to work on La Diva Cucina as well as into a regular routine of cooking and working out.  After all, a gal can only eat so many take away burritos, Chinese food and grocery store salads, I am really craving some fresh veggies, fruit and home made dinners.   When we are finished and you can actually see the floor, I'll post the final photos....and I'll see YOU real soon, darlings, I promise! Ciao for now!