Monday, November 14, 2022

Recipe-in-a-Flash: Potsticker Soup!

This truly is a “recipe-in-a-flash” because most of it comes from ready-to-go ingredients. The recipe is from Trader Joe’s but other than the Gyoza Potstickers, you can get almost all the other components at any store. The recipe serves six, but freezes very well (without the potstickers) so you can do as I did and pack it up in freezer containers for easy dinners in the future. 

The soup is rich, full of veggies (courtesy of fresh spinach and a mirepoix), and oh-so satisfying. The delicious Trader Joe’s gyoza are available in vegetable, chicken, or pork (I chose chicken), and can be pan fried in just about 10 minutes. Then you just add them to the soup (of course, you could eat them on their own as a great, little appetizer, drizzled with a splash of soy sauce). 

After plating the soup, and adding the potstickers, garnish with cilantro and a dollop of crunchy chili onion (or another hot sauce). It really is a terrific weekday dinner or lunch.

Trader Joe’s Potsticker Soup


TJ’s imported olive oil

1 package TJ’s Gyoza potstickers

1 container TJ’s mirepoix (or your own mixture)

2 packages TJ’s chicken broth

1 bag baby spinach

1 TB soy sauce

1 TB toasted sesame oil

Handful of chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

TJ’s crunch chili onion, or your favorite hot sauce


  1. Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with oil (about 2-3 TB) and lightly fry the potstickers over medium-high heat until nicely browned on both sides, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat 2 TB olive oil. Add mirepoix and saute until onions appear translucent. Add broth and bring to a slow simmer. When the soup gets some energy, toss in the spinach and stir in soy sauce and sesame oil.
  3. When the soup is officially simmering, add the potstickers. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro and a heaping spoonful of chili onion crunch or hot sauce.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Pumpkin "Pillow" Cookies

It’s that time again. When every store, restaurant, even gas stations, start pushing pumpkin spice. The aroma of the quintessential fall flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice) evoke images of cozy nights in front of a warming fireplace, wearing our favorite sweater or hoodie. And who am I to argue with this annual phenomenon? Even though it’s currently 73 degrees and sunny, I am ready for fall baking. Instead of the yearly publishing of my all-time favorite pumpkin bread, I opted for something a bit more portable - a cookie! 

The title of this recipe, from the NY Times cooking site, is pumpkin cookies, but it should really be officially re-named pumpkin “pillows.” These are like little clouds of deliciousness, bursting with those requisite autumn flavors. These have a hefty two teaspoons of ground ginger, giving them a nice bite. The recipe calls for a sprinkle of sanding sugar before baking, but I didn’t have any so I used regular granulated sugar, but next time (yes, these are so good there will be a next time) I will use the sanding sugar for added texture.

They are not the prettiest cookies  (reminding me of the Italian cookie, “brutti ma buoni,” which translates to ugly, but good), but when a cookie is this good, who cares what it looks like?! Seriously, make these cookies for all your fall get-togethers.

Pumpkin Cookies


1-1/2 C AP flour

2 t ground ginger

1-1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/2 t ground nutmeg

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t kosher salt

8 TB unsalted butter, at room temp

1 C packed light or dark brown sugar

1 large egg, at room temp

3/4 C pumpkin puree

1 t vanilla extract

Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt.
  3. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract until blended.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and beat just until combined.
  5. Scoop the batter into 2-tablespoon scoops, at least 1 inch apart, onto the prepared sheets. Sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are puffed, set and spring back when gently pressed in the center, about 12 minutes. Repeat with second sheet.
  6. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.

Because these cookies are moist, it’s best to store them between parchment or wax paper in an airtight container at room temp. You could also freeze them and thaw before serving.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Recipe-in-a-Flash: Pan-Roasted Green Beans with Golden Almonds

This might not be the most summery-type recipe, but I was recently gifted some beautiful, just-picked green beans and didn’t want to just throw them in the oven with the usual suspects of salt, pepper, & EVOO. The ever-reliable NYT Cooking site came to the rescue with this terrific recipe. It’s a bit more work but worth it. Charring the beans gives it a delicious smokiness, and the melding of shallots, parsley, and lemon plays perfectly with the beans.

I served it alongside fresh Sockeye salmon that I pan-seared with a sprinkle of Paradise Powder from the wonderful Paradise Seafood Market on Marco Island, chased down with a crisp white wine from Sicily.

If you’ve got green beans in your summer garden, try it. The recipe says the almond-shallot topping will work with just about any vegetable so you may want to think about this for your Thanksgiving table.

Pan-Roasted Green Beans with Golden Almonds (NYT Cooking)

4 Servings


Kosher salt

8 oz green beans and/or wax beans, trimmed

1/4 C blanched whole almonds, coarsely chopped

3 TB EVOO, plus more as needed

1 large shallot, minced

1 TB fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, thinly sliced

1 lemon

Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt (a teaspoon or so, or to taste). Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until bright green but still firm, about 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to the ice water. When cool, drain again. Pat dry with paper towels until completely dry.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the almonds and the oil, adding more oil if needed to just cover the almonds. Cook over medium heat until the almonds are golden, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the shallot. It will cook in the residual heat.
  3. Coat a large skillet with oil. Heat over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the beans and season with salt. Cook, tossing frequently, until charred dark brown in spots and tender-crisp, about 7 minutes.
  4. Top with the almond mixture, then the parsley. Grate the zest from a quarter of the lemon directly over the beans, then cut the lemon into wedges for serving. Season with pepper and serve.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Blueberry Schlumpf


Photo credit: LK

Wow! Wow! Wow! Not hyperbole. This recipe is a WOW! From Food52, a recipe from Marian Bull, who got it from a distant relative, this should be your go-to summer dessert recipe.

The recipe calls for wild blueberries, but unless you live in Maine, or somewhere else where wild blueberries are widely available, regular blueberries will do fine. I made this with incredible New Jersey blueberries picked up at my local farmer’s market - huge, plump, sweet - and I think it really made the dish.

It couldn’t be easier. Combine the blueberries with a bit of flour and sugar; dump in a baking dish. Then mix the topping together, sprinkle over the blueberry mixture, and bake.

Serve warm from the oven with a scoop of “good” vanilla ice cream (I used Häagen-Dazs). The “yummy” sounds around the table told me this recipe was definitely a winner. Even without ice cream, which is how I ate it the next day, it was outstanding.

Blueberry Schlumpf


Makes one 8x8” pan.


1 qt wild blueberries (conventional will do)

2 TB flour

2 TB sugar


1 C flour

1/2 C brown sugar

1/2 C cold butter, cut into pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix the filling ingredients and put in 8x8” baking dish.
  3. Mix the topping roughly (so that it’s still lumpy) and sprinkle over the top. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Recipe-in-a-Flash: La Flordita Daiquiri!

Happy Sunday, friends! I hope you are well and enjoying a restful day.

I happened upon this recipe in an e-mail from one of my favorite magazines, Garden and Gun. It sounded like the perfect summer cocktail and since I had all the fixins’ in-house, I whipped it up. Wow! I was right, this is the perfect summer cocktail - delicious, icy, pretty, and just boozy enough! I give you the La Flordita Daiquiri!

Recipe makes one fabulous cocktail:


2 oz Cuban rum

1 oz fresh lime juice

1/2 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur*

2 TB refined sugar

1-1/2 C crushed ice

1 slice lime

1 Luxardo maraschino cherry


Place the first five ingredients in a blender. Blend at high speed for 20 seconds. Pour into a coupe or short highball glass. Garnish with lime slice and Luxardo cherry. 

*Do NOT confuse Luxardo cherries with the horrible red dye maraschino cherries of the 60s and 70s. No, no - these are made in Italy and are a dream, especially after your drink is gone and you eat the alcohol-soaked cherry - deluxe! If you are a serious cocktail maven, Luxardo cherries should be on your bar cart (they are terrific, by the way, in a classic whiskey sour).

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Baking Zen, When We All Need It Most…

I have always found happiness in baking. I’ve also found comfort, solace, and a sort of zen in the familiar movements (measuring, kneading, rolling) of baking. It’s something primarily done alone, just with your thoughts or perhaps with your favorite music in the background. And then, of course, there is that moment when you take the cake (muffin, cookie, whatever) out of the oven and taste it. It could be an entirely new taste from something you’ve never made before. Or it could be a memory taste, from your childhood, or from a trip you took. Either way, it’s wonderful. And I always find joy in sharing my baked goods (I subscribe to the Dorie Greenspan theory of “bake and release.”).

This past week I felt the need to bake after hearing about the second mass shooting in our country in less than a week. I know you come to this blog for food-related stories, so I will not stray too far from that focus today. But I must say that when it is legal for an eighteen year old to buy a gun but not to buy cigarettes or alcohol, there is something seriously wrong with our country’s morals. So if you care about your children being able to sit in a classroom without fear, or for anyone to go grocery shopping, or go to a house of worship without fear of being gunned down, write/call/visit your elected representatives and beg them to vote for sensible, meaningful gun control. Thank you.

Have some very ripe bananas hanging around your fruit bowl? Make these muffins! They are deliciously moist and tender with a terrific cinnamon-crumb topping. I made them just as the recipe outlines, but next time I might add some chopped walnuts to the crumb topping for a little more texture. But they are absolutely wonderful as is. You may want to bake some this weekend to share with friends or family in need of a little baking love. We can all use it right about now.

Banana Crumb Muffins (King Arthur Flour)


1/2 C AP flour

1/4 C sugar

1 t cinnamon

4 TB (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temp*


1-1/2 C AP flour

1 t baking soda

1 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

3 large, ripe bananas, mashed

3/4 C sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/3 C butter, melted*


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F
  2. For the topping, in a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Add butter and mix with a fork or pastry cutter until crumbly. Put aside while preparing muffin batter.
  3. For muffins, in large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Set aside.
  4. In another bowl, combine mashed bananas, sugar, slightly beaten egg, and melted butter. Mix well. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.
  5. Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full (do not use paper muffin cups). Using hands, arrange coarse, pea-sized crumbs over muffin batter.
  6. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until muffins test done with a cake tester. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to wire rack.

*The original recipe calls for butter or margarine, so feel free to use margarine if you prefer.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Recipe-in-a-Flash: Spinach and Feta Bowtie Pasta

Here’s a terrific weeknight recipe you can toss together in about 30 minutes. The combination of the salty feta cheese and the bright lemon zest hit just the right notes. The recipe calls for chopped fresh dill but I didn’t have any and didn’t feel like making another supermarket run; it was an excellent dish regardless but I’m sure the anise-like flavor of dill would add another level of deliciousness. I loved this dish so much I made it two nights in a row!

As the recipe from The Washington Post mentions, you could throw in some sliced, grilled boneless chicken breast or cooked chickpeas to add protein. 

I enjoyed it with a recently discovered New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Sea Pearl. Highly recommend if you can find it. It’s light and refreshing, with a bit of tart citrus-lemony notes. At an average price of $12-14, this will be a great everyday summer wine.

Spinach and Feta Bowtie Pasta (The Washington Post Nourish column)

Serves 4


Fine salt

8 oz dried bowtie (farfalle) pasta

1 TB olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced or finely grated

12 oz baby spinach, rinsed

2 TB chopped fresh dill

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 TB)

3/4 C (3 oz) finely crumbled feta cheese

Freshly ground black pepper


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring once or twice, until the garlic is soft but not browned, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the spinach, in batches if necessary, stirring as needed. Cover and cook just until the spinach wilts, for 2-3 minutes. Uncover and increase the heat as needed to cook off/evaporate any accumulated liquid in pan.

Transfer the spinach to the bowl with the pasta. Add the dill, lemon zest, and feta cheese and toss to mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve right away or at room temperature. 

Storage notes: refrigerate for up to three days.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Getting Ready for Blueberry Season!

Last summer I got some of the best blueberries at the Brick (NJ) farmers’ market & I am looking forward to it again this year. In case you are not aware, New Jersey is one of the leading producers of blueberries in the US (NJ is not known as the “Garden State” for nothing!) and blueberries are the official state fruit. The season begins in late June and runs into July, sometimes even August depending on the weather.

So in anticipation of the coming season, earlier this week I baked a Sour Cream Blueberry Banana Walnut Bread. I had a large container of Costco blueberries (from Canada, eh) and would never eat all of them before they went bad so I dug through my many, many recipes and found this one. It’s from an old Williams-Sonoma baking book (it’s so old I may have bought it when I was a W-S store manager back in the 90s!). As the name implies, it’s definitely more bread-y than cake-y, and not very sweet (only contains 3/4 C sugar), but perfect as a breakfast item, smeared with a bit of good salted butter or cream cheese. The bananas and sour cream give this bread its moist texture. If you’re going to use it as more of a dessert, I would sprinkle some confectioners’ sugar on top to give it a bit more sweetness.

Keep this recipe on hand when blueberry season comes to your area, or pick up a box now and practice! June is only two months away!

Sour Cream Blueberry Banana Walnut Bread (The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book)

Makes one 9x5” loaf


2 medium-ripe bananas

2 C AP (plain) flour

3/4 C sugar

1-1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/2 C chopped pecans (I used walnuts)

2 large eggs

1/2 C sour cream

1 t pure vanilla extract

1/2 C unsalted butter, melted

1 heaping C fresh or frozen blueberries


Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 9x5” loaf pan with butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray.

Mash the bananas well with a fork or coarsely puree them in a food processor. Measure out 1 cup and set aside.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nuts. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, butter, and the 1 cup mashed banana pulp. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the banana mixture, and stir until just combined. The batter should be slightly lumpy. Gently fold in the blueberries, taking care not to break them up or mash them. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the bread until the top is firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Unmold the loaf onto the rack and let cool completely. Cut into thick slices to serve.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Blue Zone Greek Tomato Pasta Soup

For a while now, I’ve been following Dan Buettner’s research on “blue zone” populations. If you’re not familiar, blue zones are areas of the world where people generally live long, healthy lives (sometimes past 100). The original blue zone communities were Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Ikaria, Greece; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. 

What do all these very different places have in common? They all practice what is called “downshifting,” the art of turning to down-to-earth principles to renew and recharge. Read here about the daily routines the people in these regions practice to keep them healthy. Reading these things, I realized that they are all such simple, common sense practices: 

  1. Go outside for at least 15 minutes every day - get some sunshine!
  2. Get together with friends
  3. Pray, reflect, meditate
  4. Tend a garden
  5. Boost your mood with food
  6. Take a nap
  7. Schedule a weekly friend date
  8. Don’t take life too seriously
  9. Plan a happy hour
  10. Call your grandparents
  11. Have a “reason to live”
  12. Make friends with someone older or younger than you

Simple, right? You may not be able to do all of these things, but if we try to incorporate some of them, we’d be ahead of the game. I think in these very troubling times we need some old-fashioned routines to keep us grounded. 

A few weeks ago I made the Greek Tomato Pasta Soup from Dan’s book. It was so easy & so incredibly delicious I had to share it with you. This recipe makes a big batch so take the opportunity to invite some friends to share the meal with you (#2 above). The recipe calls for vine-ripened tomatoes, but it was March in New Jersey so, no, thanks. Canned worked just fine!

Watch the short video (19 seconds) above for all the gorgeous bubbling tomato-y goodness of this soup!

The original recipe also called for “roasted” tomato sauce but I couldn’t find that so I used your standard “good” quality, supermarket sauce. And although not part of Dan’s original recipe, it wouldn’t hurt to add some fresh basil and freshly grated Parmigiana-Reggiano to the finished product.

It was delicious! Have a glass of red wine with it (also part of the daily diets of Blue Zone inhabitants). 

Mangia Bene!

Greek Tomato Pasta Soup (Dan Buettner)

4 C water 

2 C vegetable broth

1 fresh vine-ripened tomato, chopped (or one 15-oz can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes)

1 C roasted tomato sauce, fresh or store-bought


1 lb orzo pasta

1 t salt

Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot, bring water and broth to a boil.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, olive oil, orzo, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine.

Reduce heat to low and bring pot to simmer. Cook until you see very small bubbles and broth is thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally so orzo doesn’t stick to bottom of pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Diner Envy

Frozen Key Lime Pie

If you know anything about New Jersey, it’s that NJ is known as the official US home of the diner. Sure, other states have coffee shops, or Denny’s or a Waffle House, but there is nothing like a NJ diner anywhere else in the US.

 NJ diners are a place where you can get anything from omelettes to a tuna salad sandwich, to chicken cordon bleu, at any time, day or night. Even Mick Jagger visited the world-famous Tick Tock Diner in Clifton a few years back.

So on a recent vacation to Florida, I had the opportunity to meet friends for lunch at a new kind of diner. And, wow, I was impressed. The Lake Park Diner in Naples has it going on. From the first look, you can see this is a whole different animal. Modern and shiny, with a fabulously creative menu, the management here is on to something. 

Because it’s Florida and you can eat outside year-round, there is a large, pleasant outdoor seating area. As at all good diners, it’s a casual atmosphere. But what’s different here is their mission statement: “we believe that when you go grab a quick bite to eat, you shouldn't have to feel guilty about it afterwards.”  They offer a menu sourced with sustainable, organic products, and focus on putting their customers’ health and the environment first. Combine this with delicious food, and you’ve got a winning ticket.

Pimento Chicken Panini

I had good intentions of ordering a salad, but heck, I was on vacation so instead went for the Pimento Chicken Panini - buttermilk fried chicken, pimento cheese, bacon jam, baby arugula, and provolone - all pressed together on terrific sourdough bread. Let me tell you, the sandwich worked on all levels, but the moist, tender chicken and the fabulous bacon jam were the all-stars. One of my lunch partners had the same thing and she concurred with my enthusiastic review. The sandwich came with a choice of sweet potato fries, regular fries, or mixed green salad. I chose the regular fries because, IMHO, they are one test of a kitchen’s strength. The fries were perfectly crisp and salted. There’s nothing I hate more than ordering fries and having them arrive at your table limp and unseasoned! My friend ordered the sweet potato fries and thoroughly enjoyed them. Our third dining friend loved his Roti Sandwich, which consisted of organic rotisserie chicken with sun-dried tomato goat cheese, organic arugula, crispy prosciutto, garlic aioli, and balsamic drizzle on a rustic baguette. I’m sure, by now, you see this was not your typical diner. 

Lake Park's Sweet Potato Fries

Brice, one of Lake Park’s managers, took very good care of us and offered dessert but we were all too full (heck, I had to take half of my panini home!). If you find yourself in the Naples area, stop by the Lake Park Diner - you may find yourself with “diner envy” and wish for a spot like this in your hometown - I certainly do.

Sunset at CJ's on the Bay

The rest of my Florida trip was a mixture of pure relaxation; reading/snoozing at the pool or beach, and grilling fresh seafood from local purveyors at our rental home. We did venture out to a few waterfront venues (Kane’s Tiki Bar at the JW Marriott, and CJ’s on the Bay in the Esplanade) to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets appearing nightly on the island.

Pelican Bend's Grouper Tacos

But my favorite restaurant meal on Marco Island was at Pelican Bend in the Isles of Capri neighborhood. It’s a very casual waterfront spot with a laid back vibe, serving fresh seafood, burgers, salads, etc. My friend and I gushed over how terrific our grouper tacos were. Topped with lettuce, shredded cheese, house-made pico de gallo, and a Key lime aioli; served with very good cole slaw, and excellent fries. We couldn’t resist sharing the house-made frozen Key lime pie (that mouthwatering image at the top), perfectly tart with a crisp graham cracker crust. We could have sat there all day, watching the pelicans dip in and out of the water. But, alas, there was ice cream to be had!

I have known my friend and traveling companion for going on 23 years but I had no idea she was an ice cream devotee! During my two weeks on Marco Island, we visited all the ice cream shops (some more than once!). Even though there was a gelato shop on the island, my favorite was a traditional ice cream store called Sweet Annie’s Ice Cream Parlor, where I thoroughly enjoyed their Butter Pecan in a sugar cone; a very close second was Beebe’s Ice Cream (loved their Pistachio and Rum Raisin). Dolce Mare (the gelato spot) was good, but I was expecting more. Chances are I am jaded from having the real thing in Italy many times. Oh well, so many ice cream stores…

While there we did a short boat tour of the Everglades where we took in the peaceful beauty of the area and saw the creatures that call it their home: the endangered, gentle manatees, scary alligators, graceful egrets, ibis, and other wildlife. It was an easy, fun way to experience another part of southwest Florida.

Escaping to Marco Island was definitely the antidote to a very long year filled with life changes. The warm air, bright blue skies, gorgeous sunshine, and ocean views do wonders for the soul. Might just have to be a yearly thing.

Twenty-six days until Spring!

Eat well, stay warm, be happy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

You Can Take the Girl Out of Jersey...

The view from our condo.

In July 2019, after a long-time desire to live in a warm climate,  escape the harsh northeast winters, and to experience life in someplace other than New Jersey (where I had lived my entire life), we moved to Puerto Rico. What could be bad, right? It’s part of the United States (yes, folks, it is a US territory, not a foreign country - you wouldn’t believe how many people do not know that), warm weather all year round, beautiful ocean views, laid back island vibes, a large “ex-pat” community, an English-speaking island (sort of), US financial system, US healthcare insurance accepted, US Postal Service, etc. 

Friends and family were simultaneously sad at our departure, and envious of our forthcoming life in paradise. Well, paradise is not always what it seems.

As an aside, in case you are not aware, Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898 after centuries of Spanish rule. It is roughly 3,500 square miles, situated in the Greater Antilles chain, and has a population of approximately three million people.

The Puerto Rican people are very proud of their heritage and extremely protective of their culture. Many of the natives have absolutely zero interest in becoming a US state, fearing the loss of their culture. They cite Hawaii as an example (they are not totally wrong).

Back to my story.

Yes, it is a beautiful island, with incredible views around every corner. The Atlantic and Caribbean oceans that encircle the island are a gorgeous crystal clear blue-green hue. But with its location in the West Indies, comes the threat of hurricanes every year from June - November. The island has still not recovered from the devastating twin hits of Maria and Irma in 2017. As a result of those hurricanes (resulting in shortages of food, water, and fuel), the agriculture industry was almost entirely wiped out. Farms were destroyed. Fishermen whose families fished those waters for generations left the island. Healthcare professionals left for work on the mainland. On an already poor island, thousands of people slid into poverty (the poverty level on the island is 40%). 

Local wildlife

Many houses and buildings damaged during the 2017 hurricanes have still not been repaired (the ubiquitous blue tarps on many rooftops), crumbling structures line the streets and highways. I found this very depressing.

Prior to the hurricanes, the electric grid in Puerto Rico was fragile, due to the corruption of the government-run agency. Afterwards, it was almost non-existent. Our power went out almost weekly, sometimes for just an hour, sometimes for a whole day. During the earthquake in early 2020, we had no power for a week (we considered ourselves lucky compared to some other parts of the island).

Due to a lack of farm-fresh foods, food prices on the island are sky-high. This is also due in part to the antiquated Jones Act of 1917 which stipulates that anything being shipped to the island must first go to the US mainland. On top of this, the few farmers that are still on the island ship their first-rate products off the island to get top dollar, so the locals are left with mediocre produce (farmer’s markets were not at all like what we had experienced in the states).

 Puerto Rican Green Parrot

So not only does everything take longer to get there, now it costs more. And, if like me, you are used to being able to get almost anything you want at supermarkets, and products of a high quality, this was shocking and extremely disappointing. And don’t get me started on my never-ending, island-wide search for really good bread, pastries, and bagels (spoiler: they don’t exist there)!

For someone like me, who is very food-oriented, the lack of really good restaurants in Puerto Rico was surprising. Not to say there are none, but they are few and far between. Fried everything is the major food group. Ethnic restaurants (Thai, Indian, good Asian, etc) are practically non-existent. Good wine stores? I had to drive thirty minutes to get to one. 

I know these issues sound like first world problems, and these things are not important to many people who move to Puerto Rico, but they were to me.

Technically, the island’s official languages are Spanish and English, but only about 20% of the island’s population speak English. My two years of high school Spanish were woefully inadequate. Dealing with electricians, plumbers, etc., were near impossible - thank heavens for Google translate. Not to mention trying to speak with doctors. It was draining trying to communicate. 

Let’s talk about driving in Puerto Rico. I can sum it up this way: it’s like the wild west. Very quickly, you learn to drive defensively for two reasons. One, the roads are a mess, and two, drivers are not very good. One person told us that drivers are bad because there is really no driver education required (that explains alot). 

What we didn’t fully grasp before moving was that we would be the interlopers, viewed as outsiders, coming to dilute the culture. There is an “expat” community, people from the states who have relocated either full or part-time to the island, but we found not much in common with alot of these folks. 

To be fair, our timing was off. About six months after moving, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. So all the amenities at the gated golf/beach resort where we lived were closed, and the complex practically deserted. Another thing we didn’t know before purchasing this apartment was that this was primarily a weekend/vacation second home community (only about 20% of the residents live here full-time). We were hoping for a more active life socializing with other residents, but that was not in the cards.

I discovered that living on an island was not for me. I felt trapped. Yes, I could get in the car and circumvent the island (you could drive the entire island in about three hours), but having to fly to see friends or family was expensive and complicated. 

In April, 2020, I accidentally stepped on a fire ant mound and got a terrible reaction. Luckily, I had access to tele-health with a dermatologist who was able to prescribe meds.

The final blow was in August, 2020 when during my regular daily walk, I slipped in a mud puddle and fractured my wrist. Surgery was required almost immediately and a plate and seven screws are now a permanent part of my anatomy. I may never be able to play tennis again (not that I played before!). Even though our health insurance was accepted widely on the island, the hospital did not accept it, and we had to pay everything up front (the ER, the surgeon, the surgical suite, the hardware inserted in my wrist, the anesthesiologist, the GP who had to clear me for surgery, etc). None of the hospital forms were in English.

I had a sneaking suspicion Puerto Rico was trying to tell me something…go home!

After much soul searching, I moved back to New Jersey in February, 2021. Four snowstorms threw me a welcome home party. To be honest, I am not happy about the circumstances that brought me back, but I am happy to be back. Back to good supermarkets, incredible restaurants, great farmer’s markets, access to music and theatre, and the ability to get in the car and drive to get-togethers with family and friends. 

Jersey peaches!

My advice to anyone thinking of relocating to an island paradise, rent for at least a year before buying. We threw caution to the wind and took a leap of faith, thinking that if it didn’t work out, we could always leave. Easier said than done.

True, New Jersey is not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the girl. 

Author's note: this is a more in-depth version of an article first published in the Healthcare Marketer's Exchange.