Who were the penguins dining at Penguin Café? If you know their identities, email us…

Something fishy was going on at the Penguin Café the other day. Two penguins, identities unknown (mystery shoppers?) sat themselves down at a table and ordered their meals.

We’re sure they must have been satisfied, otherwise there would probably have been a flap.

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Photo by Barbara Corman

Two penguins check out the menus at Penguin Café

Did climate change drive them here, or just the chance of a great breakfast?

We may never know.


Award-winning Gourmet Chef teaches tricks of the trade at Spring Cooking Class Series at Montage LB 

This spring at Montage Laguna Beach, attendees of special cooking classes will learn tricks of the trade, start mastering go-to recipes and have fun with acclaimed Chef Craig Strong, who has earned the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Rating for Studio for the last nine years. 

While overlooking the Pacific Ocean at this iconic luxury resort, cooking class students will participate in “Loving French Classics” in April, “Saucing It Up” in May and “Spices of Life” in June. To complete the experience, at the end of each cooking class, guests will enjoy a wine-paired lunch.

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Chef Craig Strong teaches Spring Cooking Classes 

Since 2009, Strong has helmed the kitchen at Studio with its highly acclaimed modern, French cuisine with California influences. Under his leadership, Studio has achieved a Forbes Five-Star Rating for the last nine years and has earned Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Strong is the force behind the ever-changing à la carte menus, multi-course chef’s tasting menus and private dinners at the elegant Chef’s Table. He is also responsible for Studio’s 1,000-square-foot raised bed garden and uses its bounty in his every day cooking, especially in his innovative gourmet vegetarian tasting menu.

Details follow for current classes:

 Loving French Classics: Sat, April 21, 11 a.m.

For those not traveling to Paris this April, they can instead attend Loving French Classics to experience French favorites at home. Participants will start with composing French onion soup, followed by coq au vin and ending with impressive éclairs.

 Saucing It Up: Sat, May 19, 11 a.m.

This class will reveal the prized secrets of sauce making, so students will have go-to sauces in their repertoire to deliciously top meat, seafood and vegetables. Participants will focus on basic meat sauces such as béarnaise and bordelaise, learn how to make beurre blanc for seafood and prepare the ever-popular hollandaise for vegetables and egg dishes.

 Spices of Life: Sat, June 9, 11 a.m.

Learning how to choose and use spices in cooking favorite dishes is what Chef Craig Strong will be sharing at the Spices of Life cooking class. Participants will create their own version of a spice blend for shrimp, make a Thai green curry fish soup and prepare spicy chipotle chicken.

The cost for each class including a wine-paired lunch is $150, plus tax and gratuity. Class size is limited. Reservations are available by calling (949) 715-6520.

Studio is located at 30801 Coast Hwy.

For more information, go to www.montagehotels.com/lagunabeach.


Five top chefs in Laguna Beach tapped for renowned OC Chef’s Table

By DIANE ARMITAGE

If you’re a foodie (like me), you probably dream that someday you’re going to have a great chef host a custom, never-seen-before and never-seen-again dinner for you and your closest friends.

With the Illumination Foundation’s return of its phenomenal OC Chef’s Table event on Sunday, March 18, your dream just came true. And, here’s the topper to the best dream ever – aside from rubbing shoulders all evening with your own table’s Chef and 32 of Orange County’s most acclaimed culinary wunderkinds, the proceeds raised go to Illumination Foundation’s mission to end homelessness in Orange County. 

Presented by Disneyland and brought to you by KPMG, Orange County’s most prestigious culinary fundraiser takes place again at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. A few tables and individual tickets for OC Chef’s Table are still available at: ifhomeless.org/occt2018.

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OC’s Top Chefs Join Mickey Mouse

Presented by Disneyland Resort on Sunday, March 18, the prestigious OC Chef’s Table culinary event features 32 of the county’s top chefs raising funds for Illumination Foundation’s mission to end homelessness in OC

The event includes a cocktail reception, live entertainment, a silent auction and even table décor that jostles for first-place pageantry. Joined by L.A.’s Celebrity Chef Jet Tila, each chef is responsible for his or her own 10-top table of patrons, creating an encapsulated “atmosphere,” from table décor to lavish courses and cocktails prepared tableside.

Event features 32 of Orange County’s acclaimed chefs

OC Chef’s Table has tapped top talent from 18 cities, representing every section of “the orange,” from Brea to San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

This year, Laguna Beach had a record five invitations to the event, with returning chefs Ron Fougeray (Splashes) and Andrew Gruel (who established Slapfish’s second restaurant in Laguna Beach after his founding restaurant in Huntington Beach). 

Chefs Rainer Schwarz (Driftwood Kitchen/The Deck/Hendrix), Azmin Ghahreman (Sapphire) and Arthur Ortiz (Skyloft) are newcomers to the event.

The OC Chef’s Table Hosting Chef is, again, Disneyland Resort’s Culinary Director of Signature Restaurants, Andrew Sutton. A longtime friend of Chef Schwarz, Sutton personally reached out to ask that Schwarz get involved in the event. 

“It’s always great camaraderie when chefs are able to get together,” said Schwarz. “But when Andrew explained the cause and introduced me to what Illumination Foundation was doing, we were absolutely in.

“I like knowing that we’re all doing something together here that causes such significant change,” he explained.  

“It’s just such an honor to be a part of this circle of chefs,” said Skyloft’s Chef Arthur. “And, there’s really no better reason for us to all join together. Homelessness is all around us, in every city of Orange County. We can look to government or agencies and expect them to help these people or take care of the issue, but nothing’s really going to change until we all take on this responsibility with an understanding that these people are our people.”

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Chefs prepare and cook all food tableside at OC Chef’s Table

Another first-time entry, our new neighboring success story, Trevor’s at the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano, echoes similar sentiment. “We’re definitely seeing more homeless people here in San Juan,” says owner Trevor Baird. “It’s heartbreaking and it can seem overwhelming, but here’s our chance to act locally, from a grass roots level, and change this - permanently. That’s what our restaurant’s mission is all about. Illumination Foundation’s invitation is perfect timing and a perfect combination for what we’re committed to doing here in our own town.”  

Alarming statistics on homeless children

Illumination Foundation primarily focuses on helping homeless families. Today, there are more than 32,000 Orange County children living in “tenuous” housing (i.e. cars) or homeless shelters. 

“The most vulnerable homeless population is that of families,” says Illumination Foundation CEO & President Paul Leon. “We receive about 55 to 60 calls per week from families asking us for help. This week, we were able to take in 10 babies with their parents, but we had to say ‘no’ to 15 others who asked.” 

The County’s first emergency housing for struggling families

Last year, the Chef’s Table event raised more than $650,000, which allowed for the completion of the Illumination Foundation’s first Theriault Emergency House, a beautiful Stanton-based home that takes in homeless families with at least one child or pregnant woman. 

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The Theriault Emergency House for homeless families with children

Built from the ground up in just seven months, it houses up to nine families at a time with large private bedrooms and baths for each family, new laundry facilities on both floors, a rambling community kitchen and living room, and a fenced, grassy yard for children to play in. 

Most families stay for about a month, working daily with case workers, doctors and local hospitals to get their lives – and health – back on track. At month’s end, families are helped into permanent housing solutions or bridge housing while they seek out permanent residence.  

Proceeds from this year’s OC Chef’s Table 2018 will go to the construction of the country’s first Recuperative Care Housing Site for children. Working hand-in-hand with CHOC Children’s Hospital, Illumination Foundation’s recuperative care program will be a safety net for unstably housed children who are recovering from an illness or medical procedure.

“Our goal is to build at least five emergency houses in Orange County, each with our foundational pillars of service and resource attached,” says Leon. “At that point, we will be helping more than 1,200 families each year get the footing they need to stabilize their lives.”

The one visit that resulted in creating Illumination Foundation

Celebrating its tenth year, “accidentally” came into being when Paul Leon crossed the bridge from “those people” to “our people” thinking.

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Illumination Foundation CEO & President Paul Leon

While completing his MBA at UCI, he began working in the hospital as a qualified nurse to determine mother/baby risk for at-risk mothers. In the process, he made a visit to the OC Armory Emergency Shelter, which provides hot meals and sleeping quarters to at least 200 people nightly during cold weather months. He was astounded and appalled to see so many children in the facility, and took it upon himself to immediately find housing for a couple families whose children were extremely sick.

“In the weeks that ensued, I was consumed with trying to find housing for homeless families and realized it was tougher than I thought it was going to be – there simply was no housing,” says Leon.

“I took this issue back to my classroom and we began working on it as a class project. In short order, we had organized a medical team that began making ‘house calls’ to the homeless,” explains Leon.

From a classroom project idea, the Illumination Foundation has quickly grown to become a national example and leading advocate for breaking the cycle of homelessness. It addresses the issue in multi-pronged fashion, from establishing resource centers and children’s “after school” tutoring centers, to providing emergency and recuperative care housing, all while directly addressing vastly improved healthcare that includes substance abuse and mental health issues.

Perhaps the most telling statement of Illumination Foundation’s success: 30 percent of the Foundation’s staff is made up of people who were once homeless and helped by the organization. 

“Our only mission is to protect these people and treat them with the compassion, dignity and respect they deserve,” said Leon. “We have no other agenda.”


Asada: A beachside vibe with tacos…and then some

Story and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

Asada “handmade tacos + beer” offers more than their handmade tortillas and craft brews. How about a sip of spicy sangria and a roasted veggie salad? Sounds like a nice afternoon!

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This Boat Canyon nook is like an open concept taco stand. They make 11 varieties of soft or signature crispy tacos, which are the classic surfside snack. I stopped by for lunch with a couple of friends who make this place a habit, regularly going for the crispy tacos and the huevos rancheros.

Photo by Chloe Cunningham

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All Day Breakfast – Huevos Rancheros

I went out on a limb toward alternative Mexican fare and enjoyed the Barbara’s Roasted Veggie Salad with added grilled chicken. It’s a romaine lettuce salad loaded with grilled zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and avocado, with crispy onions, cheddar and jack cheese on top. The warm veggies were nice and crunchy, but the chipotle ranch dressing was a bit heavy so next time I’d ask for that on the side.

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Barbara’s Roasted Veggie Salad

There are five “Asada Favorites” on the menu, and my two favorites in this category are the Short Rib Crepes, and the Carne Asada Plate (but I really like the Stuffed Chile Relleno too – it was a tough decision!). The Short Rib Crepes are just delicious with tender, demi-glace short ribs (prepared with Negra Modelo beer) served with a horseradish cream, roasted veggies and crispy onions. The Carne Asada Plate – great for sharing – is a nice, juicy steak marinated with citrus and plated with grilled onion, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, rice, beans, tortillas and Asada’s famous bacon wrapped jalapeño.

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Carne Asada Plate, great with the green citrus salsa

The menu has a little fun, too. Somebody named Raymond got over his hangover with a burrito stuffed with scrambled eggs, pico de gallo, poblano chiles, jack cheese, spicy potato tots, jalapeño smoked bacon and salsa Diablo. The eponymous Raymond’s Hangover Burrito sounds like a good solution to a pitcher of Asada’s house-made margaritas!

Asada’s newest incarnation is a lighter version of the former restaurant that was in downtown. There’s a casual vibe and options of take away – even six-packs of beer. I love the idea of party trays the next time I’m invited to a potluck (taquitos, mini burritos or tamales). Yes, bonus points to Asada for the plentiful parking in the Vons lot, and that you can order big platters to take to the beach or your home party.

610 N Coast Hwy   asadatacos.net


Maro Wood Grill entices guests with an intimate setting and smoke-kissed food – but don’t worry, the smoke won’t get in your eyes

Story and photos by JENNIFER ERICKSON

There is much to be said for ambience, for walking into a warm, softly lit space on a chilly evening and feeling the stresses of work and the world begin to melt away. This was my sensation upon entering the well-enclosed patio of Maro Wood Grill on a recent evening. 

Since most of Maro’s seating is on the terrace in front of the restaurant, my friend and I had brought layers, fearing a chill. We needn’t have worried. Thanks to efficient heat lamps and an absence of any drafts, a lovely warm glow enveloped us and the other diners. No one needed to shift seats because of an overbearing heat lamp or a cool air current. 

We might have opted to sit inside, perhaps at the small bar offering front row seats to the grill, with its glowing red embers of charcoal and mesquite, where most of the food is cooked. But we opted instead for the magical glow of the patio. Here the background music filled the gaps in our conversation without overwhelming it, and the intimacy of the space encouraged the exchange of a few casual observations with nearby diners, who seemed as delighted as we were to find this haven.

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Hard to believe this intimate setting is an outdoor terrace where diners will soon find a warm haven

If the atmosphere enticed us, the food kept us enthralled. What’s amazing is that even though most cooked menu items are grilled, and even though the grill is plain sight, the only place you encounter smoke is in the delicate flavor it imparts to the dishes. Rest assured, you will not leave Maro smelling as though you’ve been sitting around a campfire. However, from the first juicy bite of a sweet-smoky grilled green bean, you will know that the cook is, indeed, playing with fire. 

Yes, I used the adjective juicy to describe a green bean. Somehow the flames lick the beans enough to char them and seal in the moisture, rather than drying them out. The crunch came not from an overly crisped bean, but rather from a wonderfully fruity salt.

That would be Sonoma coarse sea salt, according to Alex (who preferred not to give his last name) who has owned Maro Wood Grill with his partner Chris since last May (the restaurant has been in operation for eight years). Alex informed us that their aim is to provide an organic, farm-to-table menu with grass-fed beef and other sustainable proteins and, as much as possible, locally sourced ingredients. Hence this ethereal Sonoma, California sea salt. 

That said, quality rules, which is why the organic wines on the menu are Italian. According to Alex, they tried to find organic wines from California and Argentina (since the menu is loosely based on Argentinian cooking principles), but ultimately the Italian organic wines most closely met the flavor profile they were seeking to match their menu.

Our meal started with a couple of the empanadas for which Maro is rightfully known. We tried the beef and the chicken, which both had moist and flavorful fillings with just enough crust to seal in their goodness and to eat them without making a mess when dunking them in an slightly tangy aioli dipping sauce. (Vegetarians will be happy to note that spinach- and mushroom-filled empanadas are also on the menu.)

A sampler plate of the grilled vegetables followed (usually they are separate menu items), and we made quick work of the (aforementioned) green beans, shishito peppers, mini bell peppers and okra, often forgetting to swipe them in tasty a trio of horseradish, sriracha and ginger aioli. Honestly, those mesquite-kissed vegetables were fruity, smoky, juicy and so full of their own natural flavors that the sauces were almost an extravagance.

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The grilled vegetables get a nice char but remain succulent

If you’re in the mood for leafier greens, Maro offers a number of substantial salads that could easily be shared as a side or serve as a first course or a light meal. The couple next to us, visiting from Sweden, said they’d had their fill of meat earlier in the day, so they started with an assortment of empanadas (I mean, if you haven’t tried them, it’s almost an imperative), and then finished with a duo of salads – one with burrata, tomatoes, beets, micro arugula and truffled balsamic vinaigrette, and another with kale, carrots, candied walnuts and house pomegranate dressing.

Beef, pork, lamb, seasonal fish and poultry are all accounted for in the proteins offered for entrees. For this meal my friend and I shared a seared ahi tuna and a grilled rib eye steak. You will find steak and tuna at myriad restaurants in Southern California, but will they be this fresh? Will they play with smoke and fire just enough to sear their outsides, leaving their insides rosy red? More important, will you be this glad that the other components of the dish complement, rather than mask the innate flavors of the beef and tuna? You owe it to yourself to find out. 

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Maro’s signature empanadas are crusty on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside - to dip or not, that is the question!

And what were those julienned vegetables with the tuna that looked a bit like peppers and onions, but were earthy as well as sweet and velvety rather than shiny and slick? That would be rutabagas, turnips and parsnips, said Alex, solving the mystery for us. “That’s how we turn ugly into beautiful,” he said, referring to the trio of root vegetables as they appear in their natural, rather hoary state.

A bright, housemade chimichurri provided an herbal and acidic counterpoint to the rich, but lean rib eye, and grilled mushrooms and asparagus complemented its grassy profile. At Maro, the meat provides its own decadence, no need for extravagant sauces. A lovely Argentinian Malbec, however, paired quite nicely with the beef.

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Don’t be fooled – the meringue underneath this charred surface is as light as air, floating above a delicate lemon curd and light crust

Admittedly, dessert was not really on our radar by this time, but when faced with a surprisingly light and decidedly not too sweet lemon meringue pie, we rallied. This is not your grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. No gummy, dense neon yellow layer of overly sweetened lemon, and no dense, almost springy meringue on top. Here was a delicate crust smeared with a layer of lemony custard and topped with pillows of barely set meringue. 

Oh, and did I mention that your well-behaved dogs can join you on the patio if they are joining your party for the evening?

Maro Wood Grill, located at 1915 S. Coast Hwy, is open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, and from noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It is closed Mondays. For more information, call 949-793-4044, or visit www.marowoodgrill.com.


Five Crowns is a royal treat, and not just for Brits

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

I remember vividly the first time I saw the Five Crowns, part of Lawry’s, an upscale gourmet restaurant chain, in Corona Del Mar. It was our first family vacation to California in 2012.  

As Brits, our eyes are always drawn to anything representing the UK and as we approached the mock Tudor building with the red telephone box outside, I remember thinking “oh, it’s the American take on a British pub,” and I kind of dismissed it.  

When we eventually moved to California two years later it was the last place I wanted to go, I wanted to eat Americana, Mexican and anything other than the type of food I had lived on my whole life, and honestly? I didn’t think anyone could ever cook British food as well as the Brits.  

After a year here, I began to crave the pub

About 12 months after we moved here, I was actually craving what we Brits call “The Pub” and my husband Jonathan (also British) suggested we visit the Five Crowns. Hesitant, I agreed, and from that first meal I became hooked.

When you walk into the Sidebar, which is a separate eating area, where more smaller plates and a bar menu is served (I will be reviewing this at a later date) you are automatically transferred to a very accurate representation of a good old-fashioned Pub.

The décor, the lighting, the atmosphere makes you feel you have just stepped inside from a blustery rainy walk in 30 degrees F to a warm cozy place complete with a fireplace to warm your Wellington boots, when in fact, you have just driven down PCH with your top down in 80 degrees listening to Tu Pac, but you get what I’m saying. It’s like going home for me and that is why I am such a fan, but that’s not the only reason.

Five Crowns was one of Stu’s favorite places to eat of Laguna

As many of you loyal readers know, I am limited with regard to food reports nowadays for health reasons, but when I met with Shaena and she suggested someone review Five Crowns, I immediately volunteered. We rarely review for Laguna Beach beyond Laguna Beach. However Five Crowns was our darling Stu’s favorite place to eat, he was the prime rib guy and I know he would have loved that we have featured it.

I took Jonathan with me for the purpose of this report (how could I not) and we arrived there on Tuesday February 13 the day before Valentine’s Day, but still tables were as full as if it were the night itself. 

The manager, the server and the chef were all great

Andrew Germann, the restaurant manager, greeted and seated us and explained that Valentine’s week is busy for them, not just the night itself, so I was very grateful we were able to dine that evening. Andrew has been at Five Crowns for 18 months now, moving here from Oahu where he was a manager in the restaurant industry.  

Our server was an amazing young lady called Linda, who literally knew everything about everything, she was funny, warm and attentive and I can honestly say in my years of food reporting, I’ve never had a server as knowledgeable about her food as she. It made the evening flow along so nicely and her recommendations were spot on. She was assisted by the lovely Juan who made sure our iced water kept coming.

Our Food Journey at Five Crowns

What I love about Five Crowns is that the menu is not “overwhelming” – as a reporter I honestly don’t enjoy seven-page menus. I’d rather have a one page full of outstanding dishes to choose from. 

The meal started with their selections of warm breads, which came with a side of traditional English butter, served with some rock salt. A perfect start, along with a cold glass of Kim Crawford Rose for me. 

We then ordered a salad to share from the Soups and Greens section of the menu. The salad we chose was the Pride Of The Crowns salad, butter lettuce, with bacon, toasted walnuts, shavings of gruyere cheese and herb de Provence dressing. This was simple and delicious. We enjoyed every bite. The butter lettuce smelled and tasted so fresh and the dressing was just right.

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The butter lettuce smelled and tasted so right

It was then onto then mains and to my surprise, I’m joking – it wasn’t a surprise at all - Jonathan went for the Crown Cut prime ribs – this dish originates from 1965 and it was the dish that launched Lawry’s fame.  

The prime rib is served with au jus, a Yorkshire pudding and creamed horseradish. You can choose two sides with this dish. Jonathan went for Lawry’s creamed spinach and the mashed potato.  

Jonathan hails from Lancashire, which is very close to Yorkshire. And one thing he is very picky about is Yorkshire Pudding. Chef Alejandra has them perfected, very authentic, very well done, light, fluffy and not greasy. This whole dish was fabulous.

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The prime rib that launched Lawry’s fame

I chose to go for the Mediterranean seabass, this was accompanied by white beans and prosciutto and served with a butternut squash puree. I couldn’t help myself, I also ordered truffle fries as a side to accompany it. It was an exquisite meal. Tasty but light on my tummy and I didn’t leave a bit.

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Seabass: It was an exquisite meal

Feeling very full, but knowing I had to try a dessert, I took the opportunity to rest and have a talk with the Chef Alejandra Padilla. Alejandra has been at the Five Crowns for just over three months and is loving it. She has been a chef for 15 years, previously with the Houston group. Her favorite dish on the menu right now is the Beet and Citrus Salad as it reflects the season beautifully. She and her purveyors select the best ingredients for the menu based on seasons. 

As always, I like to ask my chefs little bonus questions. I asked Alejandra if she was stuck on a desert island with the ability to fish, what would be the five ingredients she would take with her. Her answers were salt, lemon, chilli arbol, rice and squash. Squash features heavily in her menu right now, so I expected that one.

The chef was great, chatty interesting and we spent a long time talking about British pub favorites. Who knows? Maybe our ideas will feature on a menu in the future!

For dessert we allowed Linda to choose for us and we had a magnificent dark chocolate soufflé with cream and a side of vanilla ice cream. It was the best soufflé I’ve ever had in my life. Perfect in every way.

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The best soufflé I’ve ever had in my life

Just as the button was about to pop off my pants we were presented with another dessert, warm sticky toffee pudding with persimmons. This was spectacular, but I couldn’t eat it all. However the Bucklings took a piece to school the following day.

I absolutely adore the Five Crowns, they really do have everything right. The food, the building, the staff, it’s all fabulous. All they need is a big grey rain cloud over the entire building ten months of the year and they will be the most authentic British restaurant in the OC! 

Five Crowns is located at 3801 Pacific Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. Phone number: 949-760-0331. Menu: www.lawrysonline.com.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Lynette Brasfield is our Features Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Cameron Gillespie, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers and/or columnists.

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