Essentials to a Beautiful Dinner Table

Essentials to a beautiful dinner table

Part two of my interview with Bonjour Events for Dinner Party tips. Part three, coming soon.

With the entertaining season around the corner we asked Cindy Zuccarino of Ciao Tavola for a crash course on creating a beautiful dinner table.  Known for her elegant, yet relaxed dinner parties, friends began asking Cindy for help planning dinners in their homes and thus launched her business Ciao Tavola, helping bay area hostesses create unique dinner parties. Below are her top five tips for creating an attractive dinner table.
1) A must for a beautiful table is unscented candles.  Try to use different sizes and heights using odd number quantities.  Dim the overhead lights – you want to see what’s on your plate, not your neighbor’s facial blemishes.

2) Fresh flowers, without a doubt will soften any table…keep strong scented flowers to a minimum.  Using greenery such as branches, bay leaves or pine (watch the sap!) or vines gives the table a cozy, rustic look.

3) Name cards are a good idea.  Be creative!  If you are giving parting gifts, tie a name card around them and place on top of the plates.  You can also use a photo (small, of course) of each guest in a frame and place at each seat – the frame can be the parting gift, too.

4) I like to remember to use the rule “less is more” and give your guests personal space at the table.

5) Try to stick to three colors; one dominant and two complimentary.

Thank you Cindy. Watch for a few more tips from Cindy this week.

Preparing for a Dinner Party

Preparing for a Dinner Party

In 2008, I was interviewed by Bonjour Events for Dinner Party tips. Here is part one. Two and three, coming soon.

Prepping for a dinner party is never an easy task. We asked dinner hostess Cindy Zuccarino of Ciao Tavola: What are five things every hostess can do to feel more prepared for her next dinner party?

*  When creating your guest list, consider who you are inviting…make sure there are not underlying problems.  If you know there will be a couple/people who do not know the other guests, think ahead for a common thread.  It is up to the hostess to make sure everyone feels included.

*  Try to come up with a general menu at least a week ahead of time.

*  Learn from your mistakes!  If something did not work before (food, people, conversation), do not do it again.

*  Create a general “to do” list.  Try to think of everything, especially things that don’t have to do with the food like reserving the babysitter, taking the dogs to the kennel, etc.

*  Make a mental note of a rough time-table for the evening…how long will cocktails take, at what time should the guests be seated, etc.

And most importantly, be flexible, relax, and always have a good sense of humor!


You Look Mahvelous!

Know and embrace your body’s shape and you will save a considerable amount of time and money on clothes. Now ladies, I’m talking about the body you’re schlepping around now – not the one you occupied 20 years ago. Your body is beautiful, regardless of what stage of life you may find yourself…at least, that’s what I say when I exit the shower. It works – or could it be because I haven’t yet put in my contacts?

Believe me, I have morphed over time, too. My late teens to 30, I was lucky enough to have a nice figure. Then came the kids. Don’t get me wrong – I was happy and blessed to have birthed 2 healthy babes, but what the heck happened to my innards? Gravity was not my friend. I couldn’t put things back into place, no matter how many Zumba, yoga, Pilates class memberships I bought (notice I wrote “memberships I bought” and not classes I attended?).

I was guilty of making shopping errors. There are clothes hanging in my closet with the tags still on them. My “education” began years ago when I started working as a wardrobe consultant. The classes and training opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing how clothes should fit. Also, being in a studio with a bunch of women hell-bent on dressing well is a learning experience on its own.

Now I’m confident and relaxed when I shop. I am also less critical of myself. Gone are the days when I would try to squeeze into something that was not complimentary to my figure. No matter how hard I try to channel my inner Sofia Vergara, reality and dressing room mirrors will smack me back to my true self. Keep things in perspective, too – when you see that an outfit looks good on the 18 year old sales girl, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will look good on you.

Take a look at the chart and find which category best describes your figure and become familiar with the types of clothes that will compliment your silhouette. Me? I’m short, full bust and short-waisted. How about you? When you look mahvelous, you feel mahvelous!



He ain’t heavy…

On Monday, February 20, 1995, Raymond passed away. One week shy of his 40th birthday.


I don’t remember exactly when he was diagnosed with AIDS nor how the disease consumed his body, but I do remember the exceptional person he was. And that is what this post is about, memories of my brother. I decided to write about Raymond because I realized today marks 20 years since his passing.

Raymond was beautiful inside and out and perhaps the most generous person I have known. He was gentle and kind – not once, did I hear him speak ill of anyone. And since he was part of my large; and at times, rambunctious family, he had a sense of humor as well. Evidently, he was also patient because he didn’t mind hanging out with me.

We would often cruise to Redondo Beach. First in his VW Bug then later in his red convertible MG Spider. When I was in 8th grade, he took my friend and me for one of these drives. We came upon a hitch-hiker on the way. My friend and I dared Raymond to pick him up…and lo and behold, he did! The poor bloke had to sit in the backseat with my friend. He was probably more afraid of us than we were of him because we bombarded him with questions, “who are you, where are you from, where are you going…and why the heck would you accept rides from strangers?”. Anyway, I learned a lesson. Don’t dare Raymond.

Another memory I have is when Raymond tried to convince my mother into letting me go to the senior prom. I was a sophomore and a senior boy had asked me to be his date. My mother was very strict and boys were definitely out of the question – especially one who was two years older! But Raymond told me he would try because he wanted me to go and the boy was a real “looker”. Raymond sent me to my room so he could talk with my mom – there he was, sitting with her at the dining room table, explaining how the prom was a fun tradition in high school, etc. It was a valiant effort. But the answer was still NO. sigh.

My parents were not the type of parents who would sit down and have open conversations about random things. But even though my mother didn’t talk much, friends always felt welcome in our house. I remember Raymond’s gay and lesbian friends coming over and boy, they came in all shapes, sizes, and personalities! Didn’t matter though – my mother welcomed them like she welcomed all our friends. No special treatment.  Everyone was the same. I know Raymond appreciated this. He and my mother had a special bond.

The time came when Raymond became too ill so he had to move to the Serra Project Home in Long Beach, a hospice for AIDS patients. The disease may have taken his physical beauty but he remained positive and caring. When we would visit him, he would ask how we were and what was new – never complaining about his problems, pains or burden. My family made a conscious effort, although unspoken, to be with him everyday, even for a little bit. However, that Sunday, for some reason, no one was able to visit. He died early the next morning – I believe in my heart that him being alone was actually a good thing because it allowed him to finally be selfish and let go. You see, Raymond was the kind of person to hold on to life as long as possible to spare us the grief. He died with dignity.

Sadly, Raymond also suffered from mental illness – paranoid schizophrenia, to be exact. I’ll save this for another post as it deserves more than a few lines. His body and mind are now healed and he resides in the mansion God has prepared for him (John 14:2).

I think about him often and I feel blessed and proud to have called him my brother. His picture makes me smile.

Pasta con Tonno

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This dish is delicious and easy to make. Try it, you’ll like it.

serves 4 adults


  • spaghetti pasta  (I prefer fresh or gluten-free)
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 cans 5 oz. tonno (Genova)

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  • 1 c. kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1 cube beef bouillon
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • chopped basil


(meanwhile boil water for pasta, cook al dente, drain)

  • heat crushed tomatoes, add sugar and bouillon
  • add garlic, cook approx. 10 min., remove
  • add tonno, cook approx. 10 min.
  • add olives, cook 5-10 min
  • add 2/3 of the basil
  • pour over drained pasta
  • garnish with remaining basil

Buon Appetito!

Inappropriate, but hilarious!

It was that time of the month. No, not that time of the month, silly…that time when the Five Sassy Mamas get together to catch up on the latest news. The Five Sassy Mamas are a funny and wise bunch, each a smidgen over 50 years old.

Last night, we met for drinks and appetizers. We greeted each other with niceties and the obligatory hug. As soon as we sat down, we got down to business – the ordering of drinks and taking turns bringing everyone up to speed on our lives.

The conversation was entertaining and one discussion led to another. Then it happened. One of the Sassy Mamas brought up her upcoming medical “procedure”. Let’s just say, the procedure is unpleasant and is recommended once a person reaches 50. Knowing the others had gone through it before, One knew she would receive sound advice for that dreadful day.

At first it was quiet, then suddenly the table erupted with laughter. The knee-slapping jokes and one-liners were told at amazing speed. There was no stopping us. The chuckles were contagious.

The discussion started something like this, “I don’t know what to expect, how do I prepare for this thing?” and “should I bedazzle the area?” “would it be too much if I strategically placed a friendly post it with HEY THERE written on it?”.

Mama P chimes in and suggests drawing an arrow directing the doctor to the proper place, just in case. Mama L adds her war stories, “Prepare yourself for all the farting you will hear from the other patients around you. It will be everywhere.” What the…?! One is definitely not ready for that!

Mamas J & K, not wanting to be left out, explain the procedure is not the problem, it is the prepping at home that will be the nightmare. The thing One recalls from their comments is, “there will be major cramping and make sure you are within inches of the commode”. Really?! Good grief.

We could have closed the place down, but it was almost 9:00 pm and for One, that is bedtime. It could be said, One feels better about what is coming her way because if these Sassy Mamas can endure such discomfort, so can she.

Laughter is the best medicine!

Penne or Farfalle with Shrimp

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serves 2-3 adults


  • penne or farfalle pasta  (I prefer fresh or gluten-free)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 lb. shrimp (med size)
  • chopped basil
  • crushed red pepper


(meanwhile boil water for pasta, cook al dente, drain)

  • heat olive oil in sauté pan
  • brown garlic, remove
  • add tomatoes and 1/2 of the basil, sauté  approx. 10 min.
  • add shrimp, cook 5-10 min
  • pour over drained pasta
  • garnish with remaining basil
  • sprinkle crushed red pepper (to taste)
  • add more olive oil if necessary

Buon Appetito!

Thought for the day (in September)

Shipping the last child off to college is an awkward time. It is awkward because the space you have occupied the last eighteen years has changed and evolved into something foreign. This isn’t a good or bad thing, simply something a mother experiences. To boil it down to one sentence, you’re connected to your children via a virtual umbilical cord from the time you push the seven pound (if you’re lucky) cherub through your loins to taking pictures of excited teens before senior prom. Then they’re gone.

A scene from the movie, Bridges of Madison County comes to mind. Francesca, wife and mother, is in the throes of a steamy three-day fling with Robert, a photographer in town for a short time. In the scene, they are having a conversation wherein she explains her emotions and why she must end the relationship. (you may want to have a tissue handy.)

“Robert, please. You don’t understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave they take your life of details with them. And then you’re expected to move again only you don’t remember what moves you because no-one has asked in so long. Not even yourself.”

I know, I know, a little dramatic but a powerful statement, nonetheless.  For the record, I am not having a steamy affair with a photographer or anyone else for that matter, but I am a mother who has shipped her last child off to college.


Two months after creating this blog, named SheLaughs, my family experienced an unexpected death. I have not posted recently because how in the world could I write something that is humorous while feeling sad. But it occurred to me as I was drinking my morning coffee, the memories that continue to play in my mind are those of a very funny man and the hilarious times we had.

Jack was a family man in every sense, married to my sister, father to four adults, grandfather to seven, and great-grandfather to one.  He was your typical working stiff – committed to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities at work. Just as important to him were his responsibilities at home. I don’t think there was anything Jack enjoyed more than spending time with his growing family. For his alone time, he relished going to the local Circle K for his cup of coffee and reading his newspaper at the kitchen table – the simple pleasures. Jack may not have had the luxuries some are lucky enough to enjoy, but he was rich in character.

At his celebration memorial, friends and family came to offer their condolences and share their stories. Witnessing his kids join together to create a beautiful memorial made my heart swell. My niece said to me, “we want to do this so my mom does not have to worry”. However, the most memorable moment was when my nephew delivered his speech. The speech was eloquent, heartfelt and my nephew was poised the entire time.  Jack would have been proud.

Grieving ebbs and flows and everyone experiences it differently. In time, the sadness will be replaced with laughter because Jack blessed us with funny memories we will recall, reminisce and re-tell.