Travel and the Holiday Card – Five places I visited without leaving home

It’s that time again when I scroll through the photos on my Facebook page and plead with family members to send me their favorite travel photos of the year to include in our family holiday card. In 2020 all the traveling I did involved my imagination and the wonderful information about new places, real and imagined, found in books. Here’s five places I would include on the card.

1. Ransom Canyon, Texas
Christmas In Winter Valley, Jodi Thomas

Cooper Holloway would take nature over people any day—especially visiting relatives. That’s why he’s headed for a rustic cabin in remote Winter Valley, where he’ll care for a herd of wild mustangs.
Elliott is busy trying to keep Maverick Ranch running smoothly with Cooper gone, which is no easy task with family visiting.
With a big, chaotic family Christmas around the corner and love blooming in surprising ways, the Holloway men will have to make big choices about the future—just in time for the holidays.

2. Burning Cove, California (1920’s)
Close Up, Amanda Quick

Welcome to Burning Cove, California where 1930s Hollywood glamour conceals a ruthless killer…
Vivian Brazier never thought life as an art photographer would include nightly wake-up calls to snap photos of grisly crime scenes or headshots for aspiring male actors. 
Nick Sundridge has always been able to “see” things that others don’t, coping with disturbing dreams and visions.  It is a cutthroat world of allure and deception that Vivian and Nick must traverse—all in order to uncover the killer who wants to add them to their gallery of murders.

3. Yorkshire, England (Regency)
A Duke by Any Other Name, Grace Burrows

Nathaniel, Duke of Rothhaven, lives in seclusion, leaving his property only to gallop his demon-black steed across the moors by moonlight. Exasperated mamas invoke his name to frighten small children, though Nathaniel is truly a decent man — maybe too decent for his own good. That’s precisely why he must turn away the beguiling woman demanding his help.

4. England (Contemporary)
The Summer of Wishful Thinking, Eve Edwards

She’s the last person he wants moving in. But maybe she’s just what he needs. Gemma Whitehall helps people tie the knot as the local registrar, but watching loved-up couples exchange their vows serves only to highlight what’s missing from her own life. Gemma cant ignore the fact that life and love are slipping through her fingers. Sam Ranworth has spent the best part of a decade building walls around himself after tragedy struck. When Gemma rents the ramshackle cottage on Sam’s neglected country estate, neither of them can ignore the spark of attraction. 

5. Oklahoma’s Kiamichi Mountains
A Thousand Voices by Lisa Wingate

Adopted at thirteen, Dell Jordan was loved, mentored, and encouraged to pursue her passion for music. Now, at twenty, after a year abroad with a traveling symphony, a scholarship to Julliard is within reachas are mysteries from her past.
To find answers, Dell sets off on a secret journey into Oklahoma’s Kiamichi Mountains, drawn by the only remaining link to her origins- a father’s Native American name on her birth certificate.

Stella’s Scottsdale Brunch Spots

I admit to a weakness for weekend brunch. Growing up my least favorite meal was breakfast, probably because I would have preferred sleeping in to getting up –breakfast signaled the start of the day Weekend brunch is another matter entirely! Usually it’s hours after my usual wake-up time – sneaking up on lunch.  Here’s five local spots for spending brunch eating dinking and chatting with friends and family.

Olive and Ivy – Excellent patio with a view of Scottsdale waterfront. Even if you miss out on the patio – it’s always busy when the weather’s good – get a booth that faces the patio though floor to ceiling windows. Excellent mimosas and breakfast specialties. It’s one of those places my family has deemed worthy of a special occasion for years. My daughter is fond of the chicken and flatbread and always takes out of town guests here and even hosted one of her birthday dinners as well.                                           Their website promises to whisk you away.


Postino Wine Café – Another awesome patio. Best thing about brunch at Postino is the small plates – my brunch partner and I order one of each and share ending up with five little plates and a taste of everything plus a mimosa, of course. When the weather is nice we sit outside and take advantage of their green filled patio. Each location is a little bit different, but the quality of food and drink is always top notch. Throughout the year that have specials like a free board of bruschetta on a birthday or $5 glasses of wine before 5pm.

Hash Kitchen – Super busy and open only for breakfast and lunch. Variety in the food and the best part – a mimosa fight where the four flavors change seasonally. Brain child of the Maggiore Group, on the weekends HASH adds a DJ for a music filled brunch. My favorite items on the menu are the savory scrambles, where my daughter enjoys the coconut crusted French toast.  Although I enjoy mimosas, Hash is known as having the world’s largest Bloody Mary bar. Its insane the combinations people make for a drink which can include meatballs, fried raviollis, baby corn, mozerella cheese and bacon .

Arcadia Farms Café – Lovely garden patio, inside of the café worth the visit. They kept the original frame work of the house and guest house and converted it into a restaurant making it perfect for ladies who lunch. Its common to see a girls birthday party or bridal shower taking place here. My daughter and I are suckers for any place that serves complimentary scones with flavored butter. Plus brunch on weekends including breakfast tarts, omelets, pastries, coffee, tea and wine. So many choices! For a quick and more casual brunch they do offer a walk up counter right next store and across the street is the bakery where the make some of the best baked goods in town.

The Breakfast Club – This place is PACKED. During Scottsdale’s touring season, people wait in line for upwards of an hour for a seat. My husband and I are big fans of the golden waffle. He is also impressed with the generous side of ham. My daughter is loyal to their breakfast burrito and appreciates the variety of potato offerings. They serve up southwest staples, omelets, quick starts, burros and benedicts. Its one of those rare places where its “cool” to be seen there, but the food is incredibly good and the vibe is inclusive. Inside and outside dining, breakfast every day – that’s what they do – and I will say it again, absolutely the best waffle ever!

Interview with Victoria Wyatt

Today on SJP blog our special guest is Victoria Wyatt, the benevolent spirit from Sweet Dreams at The Palace Hotel.

Stella: Thanks for joining me Mrs. Wyatt. Welcome to the blog, it’s a pleasure to uh see you.

Victoria: Thank you. This I my first conversation away from The Palace and I’m pleased to be here.

Stella: What possessed you to open a hotel in a very small town?

Victoria: When Mr. Wyatt died I discovered that others saw the business we operated together as his business although we worked about the same number of hours and I handled all the money. In 1917 the role of women was changing at a fast pace, from homemaker to bread winner. The right to vote for women was on the horizon and, with men headed off to war, women were suddenly pushed to take over traditionally male jobs. The perfect time for a woman to start a business in a place no one knew me.

Stella: Why Creekside?

Victoria: Creekside in 1917 was a small town with a big heart. Few inhabitants were second or third generation residents, most arrived to start over. Because the population was small we supported each other. There was another hotel but we didn’t see each other as competition.

Stella: You passed away in 1949, why did you stay?

Victoria: On April 24, 1949, my heart stopped beating but love of friends, family and the community didn’t end. I stay to experience again the emotions embedded in my life’s important moments. And, I stay to encourage the living to embrace their own life. To live with courage, kindness and love. The Palace sheltered me in life and I’m not ready to leave.

Nikki’s Recipe Book: Blueberry Bread Puddiing

Blueberry Bread Puddiing
Adapted from Kemptville Blueberry Bread Pudding

By Charles Leary and Vaughn Perry

Served fresh once a week at The Palace Hotel

2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 day old baguette (1 lb) cut into 2 inch pieces (or any slightly dry bread)
2 large eggs
½ cup sugar
1 cup blueberries
¼ cup of toasted almond slivers for baking (or any favorite nut in small pieces)
1 ½ tsp unsalted butter softened

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Butter a 9 inch by 9 inch square glass or ceramic baking dish
In a large bowl, whisk milk with vanilla.
Add bread and nuts, submerge in milk, let stand 5 minutes
In a bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until fluffy
Add to bread mixture and stir.
Fold in blueberries
Transfer to buttered pan
Dot top with butter
Bake 45 minutes uncovered until browned and crisp on top.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving

Before dotting with butter, poke dark chocolate chips (about 16 chips) halfway down into pudding