Have Better Cards

The secret to winning at poker and at anything in life is to have better cards. Since, I’ve been left to my own devises unexpectedly to support my children and myself without warning, I think a great deal about things like increasing my market share, and making my adventure clothing company Ocean SF attractive to investors, while leveraging my assets, and managing my resources.  

The truth is the best way to win at any card game is to have better cards than the other players, this is of course a metaphor for what I am trying to do, and to me it means that I must have a better product than my competitors, and I’ve worked hard to make sure that I do, our technical mid layer jacket, is by far the best on the market.

My mother used to warn me to play my cards right. At the time, I didn’t really understand this, but now I do. 

Here are some tips for life and card games:

  • Come prepared 
  • Stay calm
  • Games are about taking risks, don’t take too many risks, but if you play too conservatively you will lose 
  • Other players can bluff, but the person with the better hand always wins

Love and blessings.

My Charmed Childhood & Chinese Chicken Salad

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The Sideboard Kitchen, Danville, California

If you read my book, Real Food (Amazon), there are many references to my charmed childhood growing up on a farm in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon, and as with many people, the older I get, the more I appreciate my roots and my life there.

My mother was a complete and total “foodie” twenty years before the term was coined. She was the epitome of fresh, organic and sustainable.  All of our food came from our land.  I had my first Twinkie in fifth grade.

My mother grew up in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada (below Iceland).  It’s tundra, so very little grows there.   My father had grown up on a cash crop farm in Illinois, so they were from very different backgrounds and he was 14 years her senior.  They met when he was working with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) for the Department of Defense during the cold war.  This is how my sister and I got our names as we both have the SAC initials.  They were married when she was 23 and he was 37.  They moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the Pentagon, and then to Nurnberg, Germany where he worked undercover for the CIA (and where I was a born), then he went to Vietnam, after the war they bought our farm and restored the 100 year old farmhouse where we lived.

They raised  race horses and my father taught history at the local college and coached the high school football and basketball teams.  My mother wore black silk cigarette pants with jeweled velvet slippers and invited the locals over for cocktail hour.   It was not unlike the T.V. show Green Acres.

When she wasn’t socializing with the neighboring farmers, my mother gardened, cooked, canned, baked and made jam.  She had a massive three acre garden full of tomatoes, lettuces, watermelon, strawberries and everything inbetween.  The black angus and lamb that roamed our fields eventually landed in a giant freezer, the size of a coffin, in our kitchen.  My father made wine.  There were orchards of peaches, apples, cherries and pears, and walnut and hazelnut trees, raspberry bushes and a blanket of mint around our pond.  Wisteria and hydrangeas, lilacs and honeysuckle graced the parameters of the historic house we lived in.  Our backyard was so big the grass was cut with a tractor.  White sheets blew in the breeze on the clothes line.  It was all wonderful.

As I watch the food scene evolve it reminds me of skipping through my mother’s garden on the farm and waiting for dinner to be ready.  This usually included a large garden salad dressed with just oil and vinegar, a T-bone steak the size of a dinner plate, and little else.

If you are in the area stop by the Sideboard Kitchen in Danville, owned by a local couple, their food is fresh and organic and very reminiscent of life on the farm.  They will be opening a second location in Lafayette where Squirrels used to be.  If not, here is my favorite recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad by the master, Bobby Flay, of the Food Network.  I substitute half of the romaine for kale and add cilantro like Sideboard, as pictured above.







Cooking for Teen Athletes – Gluten free Spaghetti and Meatballs

Although I’ve been very busy with my entrepreneurial ventures and teaching at Berkeley, I’m still required to cook for my athletic teenage daughters.  Cooking for athletes is different than cooking for a normal family as there are serious time constraints and, “food as fuel” is more of a practice than a concept, although I think it should be an extremely high priority for anyone feeding growing children, athletic or otherwise.

My daughter will often swim for an hour and a half.  She does this after school, so she has already had a full day and has eaten next to nothing.  She’s also prone to anemia, so I am always trying to pack her meals with nutrients, and they need to be iron dense.  My other daughter plays soccer and has practices in the evening, so between soccer and swimming there is a tiny slice of time for dinner, and it’s around 5 p.m.

As many mothers know, teenage girls don’t eat much at lunch, which makes them very hungry when they get home from school.  This is when the bad snacking is often done.  I’ve tried many strategies over the years, but have recently decided to serve a quick dinner at this time when possible.  I know how lucky I am to be able to have the flexibility to cook early in the day, but if you don’t, try making a double batch of this to freeze in single serving glass containers, or to serve the next day.

When the kids were little, and I was for the most part a stay-at-home mom, I could spend two hours cooking dinner, but that is no longer possible.  Someday, I hope to have time to make homemade ravioli again, but for now this will have to do, and it checks the boxes of the top criteria for me.  Fast, easy, hot and nutritious. Plus, they love it, which might be the most important criteria.


Spaghetti and Meatballs


1 package gluten free spaghetti cooked

1 jar of marina sauce or make your own

1 package of meatballs from Whole Foods Market or make your own

Parmesan cheese (I like these large shavings)


Begin cooking gluten free pasta as per package instructions.  Then, in a large sauce pan heat the meatballs and sauce until they come to a slight boil, reduce heat and let simmer while the pasta is cooking.  Once pasta is done, add to the pan and gently toss while hot.  Reheats and freezes well.






Comfort Food

Pasta, Prosciutto and Peas

I’ve saved the best for last.  This is one of my most cherished recipes, and I make it over and over again for my kids and friends.  I had this for the first time at Tre Vigne in St. Helena when I was 24 years old and on my first trip to the Napa Valley.

Michael Chiarello, now a very famous chef, vintner, TV host and sustainable farmer with his own restaurant, Bottega in Yountville, was the chef.  I still love this restaurant and had lunch there on my birthday this year (December, 2015).

Back then this entrée cost only $8, and we had lunch on the beautiful Tra Vigne patio.  I was with my sister, Sandra Sheehan and my Auntie Deborah. It was a hot summer day and there is nowhere on earth more pleasant than the Napa Valley in the heart of the wine country in the summer. What bliss. I returned many times and I always ordered this dish until it was taken off the menu a few years ago, but I highly recommend the Maltagliati Verde (herb infused pasta with slow cooked lamb) which we had on my last visit.

After the kids were born, I couldn’t make it to Tra Vigne as often, so I taught myself how to make Michael’s recipe at home, and my kids love it too. It’s perfect in a pinch when you find yourself with 12 unexpected and very hungry kids for dinner (double the recipe below), add a salad and some crunchy bread.

As for Michael Chiarello, he can still be found at the stove and was gracious enough to join us (on the patio of course) one afternoon at his restaurant Bottega for lunch.  He will forever remain one of my favorite chefs and inspirations.

Thank you Michael Chiarello!


▪ 1 lb of pasta

▪ 2 tablespoons of olive oil

▪ ½ lb chopped prosciutto, pancetta or bacon (shown)

▪ 2 cloves of garlic, chopped

▪ 1 cup of peas, fresh or frozen

▪ ½ stick of unsalted butter

▪ ½ cup of heavy whipping cream

▪ Parmesan cheese, as needed


Boil the pasta, as per the package directions, and then begin making the sauce.

Heat a large sauce pan or dutch oven to medium heat.  Once hot, add the olive oil, then the chopped prosciutto and garlic. Brown lightly.  When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the ham and garlic mixture.  Then, add the butter and cream and reduce heat to low. Stir gently until the ingredients are well combined.  Add the cream, fresh grated parmesan cheese, stir well and reduce for 5 minutes.  Serve immediately in a warm bowls with freshly grated Parmesan.


Chicken & Veggie Riso

                    Chicken & Veggie Riso

When my kids were little I made this at least once a week.  They were not the best eaters, so I would put them both in the bath tub and feed them this by hand while they splashed around.  There was no other way to get them to eat the peas, tomatoes, red peppers and chicken in this recipe. They would then drift off to sleep freshly bathed with full little tummies.

Riso looks like rice, but is actually pasta.  This is a very forgiving recipe as it gets better over time and can be reheated and is excellent hot or cold. Kids love it!  This is a quick weeknight dinner with leftovers for lunch.  Serve with lots of crunchy sourdough bread and fresh butter.


1 box of Riso pasta

16 oz. of chicken broth (see home made recipe in my book Real Food (Amazon)

1 lb skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup white wine

2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil

1/4 bag of frozen peas

10 or more kalamata olives, pitted and quartered

1/2 red pepper, diced

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese balls

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (hold pepper for kids)

Freshly grated parmesan

Fresh basil for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and pour yourself a glass of white wine (any kind, it doesn’t matter).

When oven is preheated place a 1/2 a cup of white wine and the chicken in a baking dish and cook for 30 minuets or until chicken is white inside. Put chicken stock on to boil. Pour yourself another glass of wine and put on some music.

Cook riso as per package instructions, but turn off the burner about 5 minutes early and allow to cook. This way you are sure not to burn it. In a large pasta bowl add sun dried tomatoes, frozen peas, olives and diced red pepper. When the chicken is done cut it up quickly with poultry sheers, no need to dirty a cutting board and add to mixture.

Fold cooked Riso into the chicken mixture. Add Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls or not. It is good cold as well as hot. Pour more wine if desired.

Summer Entertaining – Father’s Day Family Dinner – Gluten Free

Pork Chops with Oven Roasted Potatoes & Sauteed Zucchini


As promised this is the first of my summer entertaining posts.

Deciding what to make when throwing a party or even just cooking for family is aways the first hurdle to entertaining.   This very simple, but elegant menu will get you started.  It is extremely easy to shop for and cook.  I’ve included lots of photos which my friends all say they need, so I am trying to take them as I go along.

This dinner was super easy to execute and it is a menu my husband loves (meat and potatoes).  It’s kind of old school and reminiscent of what my mother cooked when I was a kid, but with a goat cheese and fresh herb salad and delicious seasonings and the use of olive oil to brown the meat instead of a flour and oil dredged combination, it actually tastes quite modern.

This meal took me about 10 minutes to shop for at my local grocery store and then it took about a half hour to cook.  The potatoes took a little bit longer, so I started them first and put them on the platter last.




When having friends to dinner I often stress over how to serve the food.  I usually serve it family style at the bar in my kitchen or in individual serving dishes at the table, but I liked having it all on this large platter.  It was easy to clean up too and I think it looks really fresh and appetizing this way.


Pork Chops


2 lb. pork chops

2 tablespoons olive oil

Seasonings below


I do rubs on all my meat and for the pork I sprinkled both sides with the following:

  1. Salt
  2. Pepper
  3. Garlic Salt
  4. Paprika
  5. Cumin
  6. Tarragon

Heat a large skillet until hot and add olive oil.  Brown pork chops on both sides, this takes about 2 minutes per side, then reduce heat until cooked through.


Oven Baked Red Potatoes


2 lb. red potatoes (choose potatoes on the smaller size)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme)

Blue Cheese salad dressing for dipping


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Quarter potatoes and then place them on a baking sheet, add olive oil, salt and pepper and herbs.  Toss well with your hands to coat all sides of the potatoes.  Allow to cook for 20 minutes or until they no longer stick to the baking sheet then turn them with tongs to brown all sides for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.




2 medium sized zucchini

2 teaspoons butter (if you are dairy-free use olive oil)

Salt and pepper.


Heat a small skilled until hot and add butter.  Once the butter is melted add the zucchini and sauté until soft and slightly browned.  Add salt and pepper and serve.




Fresh Herb Salad


4 cups Fresh Herb Salad mix

Handful of Croutons (see my recipe in Real Food For Real People)

1/2 cup candied pecans

2 teaspoons herbed goat cheese

1/4 cup or more White Balsamic Salad Dressing (see my recipe in Real Food For Real People) or use vinaigrette of your choice


In a salad bowl place 4 cups of salad, goat cheese, croutons and pecans and toss with salad dressing.  Add dressing slowly and then toss with tongs to coat each piece of lettuce.









The book is due to launch in the next few weeks.  I always felt it should have a Spring launch, but also knew it would be done when it was done.  As this journey comes to an end, I am trying to savor these last moments of not knowing how it will be received or what will happen as it goes out into the world.  My daughter asked me how it feels to finally publish my book, and I told her that it’s really scary. It has given me a giant case of butterflies, but it is also a good feeling.  It reminds me of skydiving, and the first time I jumped out of a plane. I kept thinking, “I don’t have to do this”, but I knew if I did I would experience something spectacular.  Letting go and trusting that it would all be alright was all it took to have the world spread out before me and to see the birds fly under my feet.  It was exhilarating, and in the end I floated gently to the ground, safe and sound.  As personal as this project is, and has been to me, it is different because of the way I hope to influence, teach and nurture other people.  I resist the urge to try to stop it, but instead to open my heart and let it go no matter how much it scares me.  

Love and Blessings to all.


Easy Chicken Parmesan

There are so many good things about this recipe that I don’t know where to start.  But let me begin by saying, I learned how to make this from my neighbor Kathy Bratt in Tahoe.  She made it for a house full of people on her birthday with such ease I could not believe it.  She had learned it from her neighbor who was from Italy.  I decided to make it on Martin Luther King weekend after teaching skiing all day.  I had inadvertently invited 29 people to dinner after working all day!  Luckily, my friends are helpful and our cabin has a big great room so I had lots of help with the pounding and sautéing and the evening was a big success.

I’ve made this on weeknights and I must admit I adore the pounding of the chicken.  You can use a meat mallet or a rolling pin, but either way it’s fun to pound the chicken believe it or not. The kids also love to help with this.

– 2 pounds of chicken breast
– 1 cup of flour
– 1 cup Parmesan cheese
– 2 egg whites
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/4 teaspoon pepper
– 1 jar of good quality red sauce (marinara)
– One large ball of fresh mozzarella cheese
– 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
– Sprig of basil for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Rinse chicken and pat it dry with a paper towel. Wrap one breast at a time in saran wrap and pound until thin, but not torn. Separate egg white from yolk and put into a shallow bowl.  In a separate bowl add flour, cheese, salt, and pepper.  Dredge each chicken chunk in the egg white and then coat with the flour mixture. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and brown each breast on both sides (about 2-4 minutes per side). Let drain on a paper towel as you brown each breast. The chicken doesn’t need to be cooked through because you will be baking it as well. Once each breast is browned place them in a baking dish and cover with the red sauces and mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling. Grate fresh Parmesan on top and serve with the pasta noodles of your choice. Spaghetti, penni or rigatoni all work well.

Caprese Pasta Salad

This recipe is dedicated to Pauline, a little girl on our volleyball team, who loved this salad and asked me personally for the recipe (love that).  I am always trying to make yummy food for the parking lot where we congregate between games during all day volleyball tournaments.  Kids don’t typically love the traditional pasta salad recipe so I decided to try this instead.  I think it was a hit because of the simple fresh ingredients and the Gemelli (Barilla) pasta that stays al dente.

1 box or 16 oz of Gemelli (twisted pasta)

1 small basket cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 bunch fresh basil

8 oz package of fresh monzzarella cheese in bite size pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt & fresh ground black pepper


Put pasta water on to boil and prepare as package directs.  Wash and dry tomatoes and basil.  Cut tomatoes in half and tear basil leaves from stems.  You will need a nice size handful of basil leaves.  Use a good size bowl so it will be easy to toss and coat each pasta piece.  I like to add my ingredients to the bottom of the bowl while the pasta is cooking so they can begin to incorporate.  So, add olive oil, halved tomatoes and a sprinkling of sea salt to the bowl.

Rinse pasta in a colander and allow to cool completely.  Add pasta to the ingredients in the bowl, then add the fresh monzzarella.  You can use smaller balls or chop a larger ball into bite size pieces.   Add fresh basil and another sprinkling of salt over the cooled pasta.

Gently toss all of the ingredients together as the basil and monzzaella can be very delicate If the pasta looks dry add another teaspoon of olive oil.

If you are serving this to young children omit the black pepper and just add it to the individual portions for the adults who will appreciate it.

This is delicious cold, naturally, but left overs can also be heated in the microwave for a light lunch.

If you are not doing a picnic you can serve this with a grilled steak.  It would be an easy dish to make ahead for company.

Real Food for Real People

Book Cover 101713
Sydney Chaney Thomas –
Real Food For Real People
Coming to Amazon March 2014 (photo by Christina Shook)

Several years ago, I found the time in tiny intervals to write a little cookbook.  I self published it and give it to friends.  A few months later, I was invited to present it at the State of California Food Conference, where it was very well received.  I was encouraged to expand it and get it published, but life intervened and I let it go.  Over the summer of 2013 it kept whispering to me, “Sydney, you need to finish the cookbook”.  Now finally, it’s done, or as done as any creative endeavor can ever be, and will be available on Amazon (Kindle) in the Spring of 2014.  It truly has been a labor of love.  My dearest wish and greatest hope is that it will help other people.

I’m proud of the fact that my food is very simple to execute and as a result of that I had a number of different titles that conveyed that, but my editor (Neo Garaby) recommended that I not call the book,  Easy Food for Lazy Moms, or the even more controversial, Easy Meals for Drunk Moms, but all joking aside, the book is created for people who may be distracted and/or drinking a little wine while cooking.

In these pages you will find not just my recipes, but other topics that I hold most dear.

Blessings to the kind souls who have encouraged me every step of the way.   I love you all.