Ultimate Dream Dinner — Phuket, Thailand


The most important ingredient in my ultimate dining experience? Dreams.

The kind people at smartling.com asked if I could have or make dinner anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would I eat?

My dream dinner abroad finds me cooking in an open-air kitchen on the shores of the Andaman Sea in Phuket, Thailand.


For me, dreams and dinners-of-a-lifetime are made up of exotic surprises. It was a surprise to meet my younger daughter in Phuket. Since we only had a few days together we met between Vietnam–where she’d traveled for work–and Nepal–where I’d volunteered for dental relief. An early Mother’s Day present, our day of cooking at The Phuket Thai Cookery School started at the local market with a charming guide who showed us how they make the freshest coconut milk and how to pick ingredients for our dinner.


Back at the school, after a few demos by the hilarious staff, we were let loose in their open-air kitchens to recreate the traditional Thai recipes they’d demonstrated. Our cooking areas had a view of the sea with all of our ingredients measured out for us–a cook’s dream. The best cooking tip I received there has become a tradition in my own cooking ever since. When squeezing the juice out of a lime (or lemon) squeeze it around the blade of a knife and the juice flows down the blade beautifully.


On the menu:

Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup)

Kaeng Kiew Wan Kai (Green Curry with Chicken)

Phad Thai (Thai Fried Noodles with Prawns)

Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

Khao Niew Mamuang (Mango with Sticky Rice)

The food seemed to flavor our passions and had all the best ingredients: Thailand, a reunion with my daughter and the intoxicating aromas found only among mixtures of kaffir limes, lemongrass, curries, the freshest of seafood, and mangoes. Cooking in the open air kitchen and eating the five-course meal seaside in conversation with new friends blessed me with fulfilling a dream.

Once upon a time, cooking was a big part of my life. We’d have the family over for Easter. I’d cook a rack of lamb for a few dozen people. Housewarmings featured Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table)–a family tradition. But when life as I knew it took a turn I didn’t expect, I lost the joy of cooking which left me unable to even enter a grocery store. My daughter knew this. Wise beyond her years, she sent me back into the kitchen. Lovingly. For Mother’s Day. In Thailand. My daughter and I set a few of our dreams in motion over Tom Kha Kai, our favorite course. I raised my chopsticks full of Phad Thai and looked to the Andaman sea, giving thanks for this time together, an exotic, delicious surprise.

More thankful this Thanksgiving than any other

Borobudur February 2014
Borobudur February 2014


I sit at the fire pit where I first met him. The magic that night undeniable. There is no such magic tonight. I give a big smile to the flames and the memory and wonder why love disappears.

The asking takes me back to Bali. Why is not a spiritual question Laura, my healer reminds me.

For certain.

Flames reflect in the empty glasses friends drank from while chatting and flirting. Empty Glass the name of one of his favorite albums.

The man I thought he was would never hurt me in this way. I try to shrug off memories of what never was by admiring beautiful, wide-eyed young couples and say a silent prayer. Lord, watch over them so they never wake up wondering where a lifetime of their love went. As well as their youth.

What to do with the truth?

Perhaps it would have been better to sit at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a paper bag over my head. Denial has its place.

But, no. I was given life to live it. To risk, to love fully, to experience pleasure and pain and live authentically. In the firelight I find I’ve not only survived, I’ve thrived and discover I’m more thankful this Thanksgiving than any other.

In deep gratitude I give thanks for my strong, beautiful daughters, friends, a family which expanded this year to include people all over the world, the grace of God, my trust in the unknown, faith over fear, and wisdom which has given me peace.

A woman joins me at the fire pit. Asks where everyone went. Wonders if I’m alone.

I know now that I’m never alone, even when I appear to be.

She says she lost a diamond ring but “it’s no big deal.” With a laugh she says she’s also lost her husband.

I smile and mention that’s a bigger problem.

She says she isn’t worried.

She fans the fingers of her left hand and points to her ring finger to what she says is a four-carat diamond ring and adds of the two it’s “the ring that really matters.”

We search the sand beside the fire pit for her “no big deal” missing diamond ring. His words still so clear in my memory, I always took my ring off when I was with other women.

She gives up on the search and we say our goodbyes. And there’s this part of me that wants to find the ring she so easily gave up on.

The great escape, measuring time & The San Francisco Book Review

I’m back home after unplugging for a five day vacation with the family up to a lake in the Sierras. We had a blast. It’s so good to travel up to the mountains again. That lake is like a second home to us and a place my hubby’s family has been going to for generations.

My daughter and I were able to sneak away from the pack for a while and we started to write a little fairy tale about the lake. It’s the first time I’ve ever written up there. We were sitting on the docks, looking out at the water and she wrote a paragraph and then I wrote a paragraph and before you knew it, we had a wonderful little story brewing. It incorporated a lot of the mythology of the lake, or what we imagined the mythology to be 🙂 , and includes some of our favorite spots too. I can’t believe I haven’t written there before. I guess maybe it’s not what my brain wants to do at 7000 ft? It’s been years since we’ve vacationed there. We keep asking ourselves why it’s taken so long to travel back to the cabin. A place we’d once gone to two or three times every summer. And then it became so obvious. It hit me at unexpected times. In my search for the table extensions, I opened the wrong closet and found his coats still hanging there. Groggy, on an early morning I opened a drawer in the bathroom and found his razor and overnight bag. Ray’s been gone for about six years now. I can still hear his voice up there. I still expect him to come around the fire at night. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure his spirit does. Ray’s been a big inspiration in my writing. He finds his way into many of my books. So, when I returned home to find the 4.5/5 star San Francisco Book Review of Transfer Student. I smiled. What author isn’t pleased that her writing is well received, right? But my happiness doubled because it came from a different place. It brought more memories of Ray and made my smile grow. See, years ago when I was writing the first drafts of the story, I was trying to come up with the language of the Rethan people. I was having a terrible time trying to come up with how Rethan’s measure time. Specifically, I was hung up on inventing their word for year. I ended up calling it a ray. Here’s a link to an interview where I talk more about the behind-the-scenes inspiration for the story. 

I hope you all are getting a chance to escape to a favorite spot this summer. Whether it’s sneaking away to your favorite spot in your garden to read or write or plant something beautiful or just walk around your neighborhood or hang out with friends. Escaping sure is fun.

The exploding chicken dinner

Sometimes you just HAVE to laugh. It was late in the day yesterday. Hubby was smoking a cigar on the deck and I was in the kitchen getting a few things ready for our BBQ. When the kids grow up these kinds of family dinners are few and far between. We live in the hills that overlook a valley with one road in and one road out.

Hubby thought he heard an accident on the main road and wanted to go check to make sure it wasn’t the girls who were with our nephew, a high schooler in town for Spring Break. The three of them [and two dogs] were expected any minute. So hubby drove down. When he didn’t come back, I drove down too. It was a bad wreck but thankfully our kids weren’t involved. Joe stayed to help a while and before long we get a call that the kids are stuck in major traffic. It took them about an hour to get to our house, a drive that’s normally ten minutes from where they were stopped.

We had big hugs all around and were chit-chatting about the huge surf on the coast that day and catching up with each other’s lives. We had just sat down to eat, grateful they had missed that accident and talking about the 30 ft. waves they’d taken videos of on their drive when our smoke alarm blares.

That’s random, I think. I hadn’t burnt anything. We were just sitting around the table eating. One of our daughters runs for a ladder to check on the smoke alarm. I tell the kids to go outside as the sound was so loud. I’m on my way into the kitchen to see what’s up when hubby picks up a pyrex off a burner on the stove that I had left on and it literally explodes in his hands. APRIL FOOLS! Thank goodness he was okay. Just a little rattled. He reaches for the broom and I shush him out of the kitchen to go salvage what he can of dinner with the kids and our nephew.

Glass makes such a mess when it explodes. It was kind of hilarious. There was one breast sort of plastered to the front of the oven full of glass chards. It almost looked like artwork.

Anyway, I might have ruined dinner, but the homemade ice cream was pretty tasty 🙂 And now everyone’s laughing about it and requesting exploding chicken next time we get together 🙂

Congrats to all the winners in the YA SCAVENGER HUNT!

Transfer Student Blog Tour | Behind The Scenes : Wish Upon A Star

Congrats to @Jwitt33 winner of today’s TRANSFER STUDENT EBOOK! Good luck to today’s tweeters 🙂 To read a review and get the scoop on today’s EBOOK/SWAG Giveaways visit the next stop on the tour, the wonderful Epilogue Review!

Over the next few days I’m blogging about the inspirations/challenges of TRANSFER STUDENT.

I wrote the first draft in 2006 after my father-in-law died. It was a crazy, sad time. I was working at The Los Angeles Times on the re-opening of the Griffith Observatory [it had been closed for five years for renovations] and we were back-and-forth between LA and Fresno [a four hour drive from LA], more and more frequently as my father-in-law got worse and worse, eventually ending up on life support. His name was Ray. I named the Reathan word for “year” in his honor. After Ray passed, just hours after, it was late at night and my husband Joe, his mom and I all sat out on my mother-in-law’s patio and looked at the stars. She said she knew Ray was up there, one of the stars. And that’s all it took. I had the beginnings of a story about souls that traveled, that starjumped, through space. And I wanted to explore the idea of a parallel planet similar to Earth, a sister planet. Retha is that planet and an anagram for Earth.

Tomorrow I blog about why I decided to write the story from Two POVS, that of a teen girl Earthling and a teen boy alien from the planet Retha.

Married on Valentine’s Day

It was 26 years ago today that I spent my last night as a single girl. As you can imagine, I was incredibly excited. The weather was going to be perfect. As it turned out, at 5pm on Valentine’s Day in a little suburb of Chicago the snow began to fall. I like to call it our Dr. Zhivago wedding. I always loved the scene in Dr. Zhivago where Lara & Uri flee to Varikino in the heart of winter. The romance of seeking refuge in the ice. And so it was at our reception, after our vows in the beautiful garden chapel in the church where I grew up, we watched the snow fall all around us through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. It was a dream come true. Of course, I believe most brides feel this way on their wedding day. But, I did so love the snowstorm. My husband’s family from California really froze, poor things. And after all the dancing and our friends’ shenanigans my hubby and I started our honeymoon. And another dream come true. I flew out of the snow and into The Tropics.

This year we celebrated by visiting one of our favorite spots on earth. This video reminds me of the feeling I have when we spend time there. xxooLaura