Hanukkah When You’re “ISH”

I’m “ish” … that would be Jew-ish.

That’s a phrase I heard coined by a wedding colleague in Philadelphia regarding couples who were Jewish by birth and because of older relatives but not practicing.

Really But Not Really

Technically, I’m less than “ish,” my father was Jewish, and my mother was not and with the Judaism following the mother’s lineage; technically I’m not Jewish.

My father’s parents weren’t practicing, and neither was my father. I grew up in a community that wasn’t very Jewish (at the time). Now the community has three large, active synagogues.

Most of what I know about Judaism is from friends we made while my mother was bowling in a league from the local synagogue’s women’s club.

Jewish Girls Are Always Right

{that means the right side of the aisle, as opposed to Christian weddings}

I continually learned more about Judaism while planning Jewish weddings. Every time you think you have got it down you learn another tradition.

Shout out to all the Jewish families I worked with in Philly!!!

So with all that said, we never celebrated Hanukkah. A mesh bag with gold foil chocolate coins, a hard plastic dreidel and that’s about it.

White Fish, Brisket and Chopped Liver

Jewish deli’s in suburban Philadelphia, and occasional trips to Forrest Hills, New York to visit my G*dparents fueled my passion for “Jewish food.”

In my twenties I worked with an older Eastern European woman named Sally who never shared her recipes; so, I learned how to make a mean kugel by watching her.

Hanukkah Lite

I rarely do anything to celebrate Hanukkah but decided to make something “ish” and keep it on the light side.

So I decided to make some salmon cakes with fresh salmon, lemon zest, shallots, and green onions.

lightening up salmon cakes - hanukkah - food blogger

I like to puree most of the salmon in the food processor, add some egg, garlic, ground black pepper, and brot. {it’s a hard cracker-like bread that is multigrain and a great binder.} But I like leaving some salmon small diced for texture too.

salmon cakes - cooking lite - Hanukkah

I know that Hanukkah is about oil, so I bind them with as little as possible to keep them light, dust them with multigrain breadcrumbs and then oven-fry them with a bit of olive oil.

authentically Mark - Mark Kingsdorf - food blogger - Hanukkah - salmon cakes

I’m making some butternut squash hash with onion and olive oil and serving with some fresh heirloom tomatoes.

For me, it’s more about the memories and the people who came before me and less about the authenticity of the recipe.

Happy Hanukkah!

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I Love You More Than Pizza

This is probably the highest compliment I could pay anyone, and Chuck hears it on a regular basis.

I am a self-avowed pizza junkie, it is probably my biggest addiction. It’s actually a combination of two cravings – bread and cheese. I think pizza is a convenient vehicle to bring these two delicious foods together.


I recently started watching Ugly Delicious on Netflix. It features David Chang of Momofuku, and the first episode is about pizza. They traveled to Naples, ate a crazy pizza in Japan with all authentically Japanese local ingredients, met with Wolfgang Puck at Spago and delivered Domino’s pizza.

They also did a deep dive into iconic New York and Connecticut pizza. Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, halfway between NYC and PHL New York pizza is my life.

I am admittedly a thin crust, big honking slice, pizza purist. I am a tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese guy. If anything pepperoni and maybe (maybe) sausage and mushroom or meatball. But, they have to be homemade, light, fluffy, delicious meatballs (and sliced).

Being entirely Authentically Mark, I’m going to piss off some people here. I LOVE amazing, freshly made Philadelphia Tomato Pie, but it is not pizza. I’m not a fan of Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, it has great flavors, and I love the long strings of cheese; but the texture is odd to me.

{I almost said it’s not pizza but that would be too extreme and I’d get lots of hate mail}

I’m also not really a fan of some of the odd things people put on a pizza. Pineapple, ham, and jalapenos just don’t belong on pizza.

The other thing is that I kind of like some of the random flatbreads; but, like tomato pie, they are not really pizza. The California Pizza Kitchen’s Thai Chicken; has grilled chicken breast with peanut sauce and Mozzarella, hearth-baked then topped with crisp bean sprouts, julienned carrots, slivered scallions and fresh cilantro. It’s delicious, but it’s not pizza to me.

Here’s the rationale from my culinary career and it is still a pet peeve in my life. Caesar Salad is a classic preparation; it was created in 1924 by Caesar Cardini, an Italian restaurateur in Tijuana, Mexico.  And, it has a particular list of ingredients and a specific, unique, tableside preparation.

If it I not made tableside it is now a ‘mock’ Caesar, a bottled dressing is ‘mock’ Caesar dressing, and God forbid that you add things like tomatoes, grilled chicken or anything else; it is no longer a Caesar Salad… call it something else.

Pizza is the same way. It is about the perfect thin crust, slightly blistered on the edges, crisp on the bottom, tomato sauce (not too sweet), mozzarella cheese, a touch of good olive oil, a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano and then fresh basil or maybe a few other previously discussed Italian ingredients.

What is something you WILL NOT eat on pizza? And who makes your favorite pizza?

Why Shrimp Cocktail Sucks

Ok, not all, just most.

Typically, a shrimp cocktail has no flavor. It doesn’t taste fresh and sweet like fresh seafood; it tends to taste like ice, and at best like good flavorful cocktail sauce.

Truthfully, you could dip just about anything in that cocktail sauce, and it would taste the same and probably be considerably less expensive.

The reason is that people, especially restaurants, cook the shrimp all wrong!

I have found that most places throw some seasoning into a big pot of water. If you are lucky, they throw in some lemon or a bay leaf too.

Once the water comes to a boil people dump in shrimp in the shell, bring it back to a boil long enough to change color and then drain the shrimp. The next step is running cold water and maybe dumping some ice on top.

As if this has not washed away any possible flavor they then peel the shrimp taking off the only part that picked up any real taste.

So, lets back this up.

Thaw, peel and devein your shrimp (this recipe works for about 2 pounds)

Take all of the shells and toss them into a small stockpot with about 1 tablespoon of oil

Sautee the shrimp shells until they change color

Pour in two cans of beer (you decide what kind)

Add in 1 small onion, medium dice

4 cloves crushed garlic

About 1/2c. Old Bay Seasoning

3 bay leaves

2 cups of cold water

Bring all of this to a good rolling boil to infuse the cooking liquid with the all of the seasonings.

Once this comes to a boil dump in your shrimp, stir, bring to a boil and wait for the shrimp to become slightly firm and turn white.

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Remove from the heat, stir several times as the shrimp will continue to cook a touch more. Add in about 3 cups of ice and allow the shrimp to cool in the flavored liquid.

If you have ever allowed a piece of meat to rest to allow the juices to be drawn back into the meat; this is the same principle.

If you dump off the flavored liquid and run cold water over the shrimp, it will taste like cold water!

Once the shrimp have cooled, about 15 minutes, remove the shrimp from the cooking liquid and refrigerate. I typically keep about 2 cups of the strained liquid in the container with the shrimp so more absorbs and so they stay moist.

I promise you this will be the best shrimp cocktail you have ever had!




Missing In China

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LOL, yes, sometimes life gets in the way. Who would have known that my new, full-time job as a blogger for the wedding, events and hospitality industry would have taken off so fast?

Wedding Ghost originally started off with me blogging for wedding professionals. Mostly wedding planners, decorators and photographers. Since its start, I’ve started working with a number of venues, cake decorators, and caterers.

I’ve always been super passionate about food. It was my first love and with a formal education in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America, and working in the industry for close to 25 years; blogging for restaurant groups, caterers, craft food companies and bakers was second nature.

Check out some of my food reviews on Yelp!

On top of keeping really busy, we just got back from an awesome trip to China. Gate 1 Travel was amazing again! We started in Beijing, flew to Xi’an, took a bullet train to Chengdu, took a trip to Chongqing and embarked on a three-day riverboat cruise on the Yangtze River ending in Yichang and then wrapped up with a few days in Shanghai!

We saw some AMAZING sites including two of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World – The Great Wall of China and The Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, and we spent a lot of time with Pandas!


Not to mention some crazy food!


Honestly, we had a blast!!!

To see more of our trip to China and read some of my blogging check out In Search of Neverland!

authentically mark - st pete blogger- flower truck - tampa bay posies - unique flower shop- volkswagen van- st petersburg flowers

I Love St Pete!

On a daily basis, I fall more and more in love with St Pete. People laugh at me when I say I only cross the bridge when I have to.

St Pete has a beautiful big city feel with a small town mentality. The culinary, arts and culture here is AMAZING. It is easy to navigate, and you have several significant hubs with new art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants; whether it be downtown, on the gulf or off Central Avenue.

Recently I was driving down Central Avenue heading downtown to do some errands, and I passed a Volkswagen van parked next to a local coffee shop, I did a double take and had to circle back around.

authentically mark - st pete blogger- flower truck - tampa bay posies - unique flower shop- volkswagen van- st petersburg flowers

This remarkable, unique blue van is the Tampa Bay Posies Flower Truck!  The business was started by two friends who had a ‘little extra time’ on their hands.  They found this van and had it retrofitted to hold flower buckets and covered it with a canopy.

The buckets are full of unique flower blooms not found in dull supermarket flowers.   Today they had beautiful pink and white peonies, heather, HUGE King Protea, puffy green dianthus, and several varieties of roses and anemones.

authentically Mark - tampa bay area blogger- flower truck- unique flowers in tampa bay - tampa bay posiesmark kingsdorf - florida blogger- st pete blogger- st pete flower truck - posies flower truck- unique flowers in tampa bay

They are available in the Tampa Bay Area for weddings as a great photo op as well as offering small wrapped posies of fresh flowers for your guests as a favor. They have many standing orders they deliver, but most times, you can find them at local events and pop-up venues. They keep a calendar of locations on their website and you can find them on Facebook and Instagram as well.

The concept is adorable, the flowers are beautiful, and the ladies are too, too sweet.

I found them on my way to check out Brooklyn South on Central Avenue. They are a gourmet cheese, meat and sandwich shop, tucked into a fun, funky 450 square foot space.

authentically Mark - Sain Petersburg Florida - st petersburg cheese shop - Brooklyn South- saint petersburg sandwiches- st petersburg florida restaurants

authentically Mark - wedding ghost- st pete blogger- st pete florida- st pete cheese shop- Brooklyn South - central business district- sandwiches in st pete

They offer an impressive selection of imported and domestic cheeses and charcuterie; unique scratch-made sandwiches and gourmet food products from Brooklyn and around the world. The shop is packed to the gills with beer, wine, unique sodas and soft drinks as well as specialty retail items.

I popped in for a sandwich and stayed for great foodie conversation with owner Matt Bonano.

I ordered the Italian, it is a pressed sandwich on locally baked ciabatta bread, but everything on the well-crafted menu and the daily specials looked exciting and delicious as well.

mark kingsdorf- florida food blogger- brooklyn south- st petersburg gourmet sandwiches- central avenue district restaurants

mark kingsdorf- st pete food blogger- brookyn south- gourmet sandwiches in st petersburg florida

They offer after-hours cheese classes and work to promote local artisan meat and cheese producers.

This is my St Pete, and both of these businesses are exactly why we love it here!


St Pete – Miami – Key West

This past week we embarked on a great journey, truthfully my husband Chuck did all the work and I had all the fun.

As you saw from my previous posts Chuck participated in Smart Ride 14, a 165 mile bike ride from Miami to Key West raising funds for AIDS service organizations across Florida.

We set out driving from St Petersburg to Miami with registration at University of Miami. With my background in events I look at event production under a microscope and they did an awesome job.

Smart Ride 14 - University of Miami - Miami to Key West - AIDS Ride - Florida AIDS RideSmart Ride 14 - University of Miami - Miami to Key West - AIDS Ride - Florida -AIDS RideSmart Ride 14 - University of Miami - Registration - AIDS Ride - Florida AIDS Ride - Share a memory

There were people across campus directing us to bike storage for the next morning and then on to registration. They had lots of volunteers directing people across campus and they could not have been nicer. That evening after registration the opening ceremonies included a welcome and candlelight vigil.

Smart Ride - AIDS Ride - AIDS Ride Florida - university of Miami - candlelight vigil - Opening ceremonySmart Ride - AIDS Ride - AIDS Ride Florida - university of Miami - candlelight vigil - Opening ceremony

One of the featured speakers was a woman named Ruth Coker Burks

Ruth Coker Burks - AIDS Activist - Smart Ride - AIDS Ride Florida - Opening Ceremony -

Ruth Coker Burks (also known as the Cemetery Angel) is an activist and AIDS awareness advocate based in Arkansas. During the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, she gave up her career as a successful real estate agent to help AIDS patients that had no one to care for them. Because of prejudices, fears and the stigma surrounding the disease at the time, she was often the only one who would look after them until they eventually died. She most notably is recognized for burying them in her own family cemetery in Hot Springs, Arkansas. – Wikipedia

I was blown away by her kindness and then realized that not only did she ‘bury’ these guys in her family cemetery; but she BURIED these guys! She and a young daughter dug holes because no one else would.

We were up before the sun as riders headed out at sunrise. They provided breakfast for riders, and a local high school cheerleading squad and volunteers were there to cheer on the riders as they departed.

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Smart Ride - Smart Ride 14 - University of Miami - Miami to Key West - Florida AIDS Ride - RideoutSmart Ride - Smart Ride 14 - University of Miami - Miami to Key West - Florida AIDS Ride - Rideout

The coolest thing about this ride was that EVERYTHING was donated, the riders pay for their hotel rooms the first night in Marathon and 100% of everything raised goes directly to organizations for services.

After I saw them off I chilled, found some Cuban coffee and went to a party store and got green and yellow pom-poms (Chuck’s team colors).

Cuban Coffee- Latin Cafe 2000 - Miami - Cafe con Leche

By that point riders had made their way through Miami and were arriving on route 1 heading south to Marathon, their overnight stop. Each pit stop, about every 15-20 miles was staffed with volunteers, snacks, sports drinks, water and there were cheerleaders and people directing them along the way.

Probably the most amazing group were the guys on motorcycles who helped direct traffic in places where the riders had to cross from one side of a road to another. They were truly awesome and I’m very thankful to them for keeping everyone safe.

The upper keys seemed to be pretty well cleaned up from hurricane Irma but there was still a lot of debris along the road ways and there were A LOT of flat tires. The Marathon area still had a ways  to go with cleanup, they were hit the hardest.

The first day they did 100 miles to Marathon, I traveled along the road waiving pom-poms out the window and cheering them on.  I stopped to do some writing and blogging for clients and also cheer riders as they arrived at pit stops.

As the hotel in Marathon was filled with riders and volunteers I drove straight through to Key West checked into our hotel and grabbed dinner.

The next morning, I headed over to the White Street Pier and the Key West AIDS memorial, the end of the ride. As everyone entered Key West they headed to a school where they had lunch and waited for all of the riders to arrive and then were lead through the streets by a police escort.

I got there really early and spent some time taking in the memorial, it’s a beautiful mix of poured concrete with a relief of what looks like the chain of islands that make up the keys and Zimbabwe marble inscribed with the names of 1,000 people who have died of AIDS and have shown a love of the Florida Keys by living, working or visiting there. It was pretty emotional and I’m glad I went early and spent some quiet time there.


Smart Ride - Key West - Key West AIDS Memorial - White Street PierSmart Ride - Key West - Key West AIDS Memorial - White Street PierSmart Ride - Key West - Key West AIDS Memorial - White Street Pier - Florida KeysSmart Ride - Key West - Key West AIDS Memorial - White Street Pier

About 2:30 in the afternoon the volunteers all arrived a head of the riders, then you could see flashing lights and hear sirens as the riders approached. I followed the riders as they crossed the bridge and found Chuck and his team. Once everyone arrived they welcomed everyone, announced how much money they raised ( you’ll have to go to the Smart Ride website to find out).

Smart Ride - Key West - Key West AIDS Memorial - White Street Pier - Smart Ride VolunteersSmart Ride - Key West - Key West AIDS Memorial - White Street Pier - Chuck Hinchliffe

At the end they brought in the ‘Riderless Bike” a bike with a flag with an AIDS ribbon being carried by several riders representing all those lost to AIDS… it was really tough as both Chuck and I have lost so many friends.

Chuck has already committed to the next ride, which is actually later this year as this ride was pushed back from November 2017. You’ll see future posts talking about the ride and how you can sponsor Chuck!

Smart Ride - Key West - Key West AIDS Memorial - White Street Pier - Chuck Hinchliffe

Be sure to check out Chuck’s post, sharing his journey on his first Smart Ride! I couldn’t be more proud of of him!

I love you Chuck!


This week starts a journey…

…that’s been quite a while in the making.

Somewhere, right after we moved to St Petersburg we heard someone from church talking about participating in the Smart Ride. Smart Ride is the southernmost AIDS Ride, in its 14th year that raises money for service organizations across the state of Florida.

Since 2003 they have raised over 8 million dollars and 100% of the money raised is distributed to organizations who provide services like:

  • Pharmaceutical Care
  • Residential Assistance
  • Psycho Social Services
  • Dental Care
  • Holistic Care
  • Housing
  • Medical Care
  • Prenatal and Child Care
  • Prevention & Education

All costs of the ride are covered by the riders and many, many sponsors:  everything from food, to lodging, medical, pit stops, etc..

The ride is from Miami to Key West, 165 miles over two days with 100 miles the first day and 65 the second with a group procession of all 400+ riders and 300+ volunteers through the streets of Key West, ending at the White Street Pier AIDS Memorial.

Chuck had been training pretty diligently, through really hot Florida summer.  He was side tracked a little with some family issues and then Hurricane Irma came to visit.  But he was back on track in November ready for the adventure ahead.

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Photo by Rhodes Studios

Unfortunately, the race originally scheduled for the weekend before Thanksgiving had to be pushed out into 2018 because of some of the severe damage in Marathon Key, the first night’s stay; as well as in Key West.

I’ll be tagging along driving from St Petersburg to Miami and then continuing on my own to key West stopping along the way to sightsee, try some great food and hopefully capture some images of the ride, cheering on riders along the way. Chuck and I will get to enjoy some time with the riders on Saturday and then head back the next day.

Here is a video with areal footage from a previous ride:

If you are able we’d really appreciate it if you could support Chuck and the ride – here is a link to Chuck’s Fundraising page with information on the local charities he chose. Any donation would be greatly appreciated.  If you are unable to make a donation, just keep him and the other riders and volunteers in your thoughts and prayers.


Stay tuned for more pictures and updates from the Keys!

So, here’s the poop…

Anyone who knows me absolutely knows that #AuthenticallyMark is VERY tongue and cheek; there is no other version of Mark, I have very little filter, I’m honest to a fault.

Which is actually why I don’t drink vodka, because then I would have NO FILTER, whatever comes to my brain comes out of my mouth.

But, I digress. Authentically Mark was designed to be a creative writing outlet for my cooking, adventures, for prospective Wedding Ghost clients to see some of my writing style and to talk about things that no one else will.

Today’s topic is poop! We all do it, no one ever talks about it and one of the last things anyone wants to do is have to use a bathroom anywhere around people you work with or know.

Poop Happens - Poo Pourri - travel - blogging - Wedding Ghost - Blogger - freelance writer

Chuck and I love to travel and we often cruise. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship the cabins are not only really, really tiny but no matter where in the cabin you are no more than five feet from the rest of the room. And, to make matters worse you are right next to the door and the hallway.

Industry networking events! UGH! You are in bathroom filled with people you work with and network with all of the time…

So, my sister-in-law (hi pee-boo!) told us about this crazy product called Poo-Pourri; and she swears by it. It’s a small spray bottle of scented liquid. The instructions say that you pump 5-6 spritzes onto the water before using and it creates a barrier that keeps smells locked in.

Poo-Pourri - Mark Kingsdorf - wedding ghost - blogger - freelance writer - wedding blogger - travel blog -

I was REALLY skeptical and this holiday season I happened to be in Bed, Bath and Beyond and saw a display of various sizes. I figured I didn’t want to waste too much money when this didn’t work so I got the tiny travel size.


Truly, it’s amazing, I got the Citrus scented and it’s really beautiful. I’m not sure exactly how it works but it does and I’m hooked; we have one in each bathroom.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough, their YouTube videos are hysterical! Check these out:



A Gift from the Heart

A number of you have heard about, and some even enjoyed, my ‘monster chocolate chip cookies’, however very few people know the story behind them.

Mark Kingsdorf - Wedding Ghost - Authentically Mark - blogger - wedding blogger - freelance writer - weddings

Some time back in the early ‘90’s, after moving from Washington, D.C. to beautiful downtown Kintnersville Pennsylvania, (a tiny little town located in Bucks County along the banks of the Delaware river) I was working as the chef at The Great American Grill.

I was offered the honor to be part of the team collecting and editing recipes for The Red Ribbon Cookbook, a fund raiser for F.A.C.T (Fighting AIDS Continuously Together) Bucks County.  This awesome organization raises much needed funds to help provide support to people in need, living with HIV and AIDS. I met some wonderful people and keep in touch with many of them to this day.

FACT Bucks County - The Red Ribbon Cook Book - AIDS Fundraiser - Monster Chocolate Chip Cookies - Mark Kingsdorf

While I’m excited to have several recipes included in the book; I’m most excited about the Monster Chocolate Chip cookie recipe included by my friend Gary Kisner. To this day it’s one of my favorite recipes.

If you’ve ever had one of these cookies, please know it’s a gift of love as the recipe, and the project and cookbook it came from mean the world to me.

At one of the toughest points in my life when I was feeling very lost I baked nearly 100 dozen cookies for Christmas as gifts for family and friends; mostly chocolate chip or variations of this cookie.

One of the things I found is that the cookie base is really versatile. Once you’ve incorporated everything but the chocolate chips and walnuts you can add just about anything you’d like. A friend brought us macadamia nuts from Hawaii and I made white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. I’ve added trail mix, chopped peanuts and peanut butter, oatmeal and raisins, I’ve even mixed in potato chips, pretzels and chocolate chips.

My late mother-in-law used to individually wrap each cookie and then place them in a freezer bag, freeze them and keep them to have throughout the year. (they defrost in the microwave in a few seconds).

So, this year; my Christmas gift to all of you is my favorite Monster Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

1 lb.       Lightly salted butter (melted)
1 1/2c.   Granulated sugar
1 1/2c.   Brownulated sugar (Domino sugar product, marketed as pourable sugar)
1 t.         Vanilla
4 ea.      Large eggs
1t.          Salt
1 t.         Baking soda
5 c.        All-purpose flour
24 oz.    Semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c.        Chopped walnuts

Combine melted butter, sugar, vanilla and mix well
Add eggs and mix until incorporated
Add baking soda, salt and flour and mix until flour in thoroughly incorporated
Mix in chocolate chips and nuts (or whatever ingredient(s) you want)

Scoop out cookie dough into about 2oz portions
Bake on a nonstick sheet pan at 375 degrees
Cookies bake in about 14-16 minutes