Thursday, December 27, 2012

France: Again to France - Part 2; Cheese Fondue

     From the title, you can guess with relative certainty that we did, indeed, go back to France.  Last Saturday, we drove three hours to the city of Reims (in English, we spell it "RHEIMS"), which is the capital of the Champagne region.   The weather did not cooperate with us; rain and wind all day long but luckily, the town provided many indoor sites to see.  In the short 24 hours, we had a wonderful experience.

     In addition to being known for Champagne, Reims is also famous for its spectacular cathedral and it was also the location for the signing of the surrender documents ending World War II.  First, a bit about the town.  Nestled amongst the wine vineyards, Reims is a bustling city.  The old section, which has much charm is still quite bustling and busy.  We arrived mid-morning, quickly found our hotel and were directed to the Marche Couvert (the recently, re-opened Covered Market).  While the structure was interesting, the market itself was a bit disappointing.  The Marche Couvert in Metz is far more spectacular and luckily, closer to us.  After a quick tour, we headed to the Cathedral.  Wow, what a spectacular site.

     The cathedral in Reims was initially begun around the year 1200.  It is an incredible structure, both inside and out.  It truly takes your breath away.  What was equally impressive was that the cathedral served as the venue for the crowning of the French kings.  As you walked through the center of the church, you could just imagine the ceremony taking place.  The stained glass windows were magnificent and, once again, Marc Chagall created some beautiful pieces.  During World War I, the town of Reims was under bombardment for over three years.  During that time, the cathedral was hit by bombs over 300 times.  Luckily, through the generosity of donors (and specifically, John D. Rockefeller who donated over 16,000,000 francs), the cathedral was bought back to its original glory.  While many statutes and the facade of the building were damaged, the city kept these pieces of glory and they are housed in the Archbishop's Palace next door.  It took your breath away to see these statues dating back from the 1200's.

Reims Cathedral
     With stomachs growling, we headed over to the Marche de Noel, or Christmas Market, which was taking place along the pedestrian only, main shopping street.  I think that our stomachs took over and rather than take in the market, we were determined to find a restaurant.  Everything we found was completely packed with diners.  Through perseverance, we walked into a quirky place and were immediately welcomed and ushered to a table.  The restaurant was unlike anything that we had seen in France.  In a nutshell, it was the TGI Friday's of France!  Flat screen televisions adorned the walls, the noise level was high and the food of choice were incredibly large HAMBURGERS!  It was unreal but totally fun.  We thought we had seen it all until we noticed how the French ate their hamburgers...with a knife and fork!  No joke!  Even if the burger was a double decker...even if it had a sunnyside egg on was eaten with a knife and fork.  No picking up these morsels!

    Back out on the street, we encountered another French spectacle that could not be ignored.  While the Germans may have their beer tents, the French in this part of the world, have Champagne tents.  So of course, we had to take a sample.  Speaking of Champagne, we will have to visit the region again.  We were a bit dismayed that many of the champagnes in the stores, were ones that we could buy back in the States.  The prices were not dramatically different either.  In our other wine travels, when we have shopped in a certain region, we have returned with absolute bargains.  Not this time around...but perhaps we need to get out into the countryside and explore the area in greater depth.  This; however, did not keep us from purchasing a few "unknown" bottles to sample over the holiday.

     Our last stop of the day was the Musee de la Reddition or the Surrender Museum.  It was here in 1945 that the documents ending World War II  were signed.  The museum was small and the major attraction was the map room, where the signing took place.  For the second time that day, we were a bit blown by what we were experiencing and what had happened in the past.

     After a wonderful, fun and slightly upscale dinner, we settled in for the night and were back home early enough on Sunday to enjoy the afternoon.  Monday brought a welcome surprise as Jamie had the day off, courtesy of the President (of course, had we known about it on Friday when the order was signed, our weekend would have been very different.  There are a lot of places you can get to on a four day weekend.)  Nevertheless, we settled in on Christmas Eve and had a wonderful evening.

     I had an idea.  First, we calculated how many places we had visited in 2012 and how many miles we had travelled.  We determined that we visited 30 towns/cities/areas and had travelled in excess of 17,000 miles (round trip and not including our trips back to the States).  Then I asked both Dear Husband and Dear Daughter to list five places they wanted to visit in 2013.  We placed those slips of paper in a cup and during dinner, Dear Daughter selected a slip.  Five locations were discussed during our first course (small servings of potato chips served with Cremant); 5 with the second course (foie gras served with onion confit and toast and of course, Champagne) and 5 during the main course (cheese fondue).  As each location was selected, the owner had to explain why this should be included in the 2013 list.  At the end, we had one location that was unanimous...Portugal.  But we also had a starting point for 2013 and the lively conversation was great fun.  Another memory to sock away!

     Christmas was great even if we were missing our family.  We enjoyed speaking with everyone via phone or FaceTime.  We had a wonderful Christmas Brunch and an eclectic  Christmas Dinner, which we all participated in making.

     So, "On to France" has concluded for now.   We enter 2013 going back to Austria - leaving tomorrow to ski near Salzburg.  "The hills are alive..." let's hope the mountains are alive...with snow".

     We hope that you have had a wonderful holiday season and best wishes for a spectacular 2013.  Dear Daughter and I celebrate our one year anniversary as ex-pats tomorrow.  It has been a wonderful year and I truly believe that this move has been a good one for all of us.

Now...for that cheese easy and so, so good!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Crab Benedict

     We have this poster in our house, which I gave to Dear Husband years ago.  It shows two skiers and the caption says, "Again to Austria."  Dear Husband told me at breakfast yesterday that maybe we should cross out Austria and write in France.  While we were not going skiing on Saturday morning, we were getting ready for our second trip to France in 48 hours.  
     Last Thursday, we took a "study trip" to Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace to experience the Marche de Noel (Christmas market).  (In school, they no longer call outings, "field trips" but rather "study trips" and since we were pulling Dear Daughter out of school for this outing, that is how I explained it to the school.)  Strasbourg has been hosting a Marche de Noel since the late 1500's, so we figured that it must be something special.  The market is dispersed amongst four different neighborhoods of the old part of the city, which leads to a nice walking experience.  Strasbourg, while a spectacular city, is very touristy and we picked a weekday to visit in hopes of being able to enjoy the market without the crowds.  We arrived shortly after 10am and were rewarded with near empty streets.  We strolled through Petite France, taking in the cobblestone streets and the old buildings decorated to the hilt.  Every restaurant in town was advertising foie gras on the menu and we had skipped breakfast in hopes of enjoying a nice lunch.  
     The largest area devoted to the market is around the famous Cathedral.  The church is massive and a true wonder to experience.  Back outside, we strolled through the markets sipping vin chaud (hot red wine with spices), while Dear Daughter had the most incredible hot chocolate.  On sale in the little huts were all sorts of trinkets; candles, decorations, hats, jewelry and even local Alsatian food products.  I think that it must be wonderful to see the city in the early evening.  Wonderful lights hung across the streets and even chandeliers were dangling above us.  While the visit definitely put us in the Christmas spirit, a visit at night would be truly magical.
     We settled down to lunch at a very small, very cute, traditional Alsatian restaurant.  For the next two hours, we savored the most incredible dishes.  Dear Daughter and I shared a typical Alsatian salad composed of Emmentaler cheese topped with cold sausage and dressing followed by Chicken in a Riesling sauce with panfried spatzle.  Dear Husband could not resist the foie gras appetizer but he was blown away by his main course, a thick Venison stew.  None of us could manage dessert and after a digestif and a coffee, we were in the car headed for home.  It was snowing again by the time we arrived at the Air Base to pick up our Christmas tree.  But by Friday, the snow had turned to rain.

Dear Daughter in Strasbourg with Hot Chocolate
Main Christmas Market in front of the Cathedral - Strasbourg
    With the weather still yucky, we decided that we needed an indoor activity on Saturday.  Metz, the capital of Lorraine, is only a 90-minute drive and we had yet to venture there.  Knowing that there was an impressive cathedral there along with a covered food market, we decided to make the visit.  Wow, the cathedral is impressive.  Dating back from the 1200's, it boasts  the largest amount of stained glass of any cathedral in Europe.  Over time, many famous French artists have contributed stained glass works and we spent some time finding the ones made by Marc Chagall.  
     Just across the street is the Marche Couvert, the Covered Market.  Opening the doors, I went straight to food heaven.  Oysters from Brittany, foie gras from the Alsace, the most incredible cheeses, fabulous looking produce; it was all there.  It was almost overwhelming.  I had to buy something but I couldn't decide.  It all looked so good!  But as I walked past the butcher, I noticed my favorite cut of beef that I have not been able to find for almost a year now.  I immediately pulled a number and began the long wait.  I observed those standing around me, also in line.  There were fifteen orders still ahead of me and I could tell that many around me had been standing there for quite a bit of time.  Yet no one was huffing and puffing; no one was impatient.  Why get upset - you are standing there for food and food takes time.  When a number was called, the owner of that number would raise his or her hand in the air, and call out the number.  The butcher would walk over to the person and the ordering and the talking would begin.  The French cannot just make the order.  The French have to talk about what they are getting, ask questions, tell a story.  It is all a part of the process and we enjoyed watching it.
     Loaded down with my kilo of beef and some farm fresh eggs, we settled down to a light lunch of soup at the only restaurant in the market.  Soupes a Soup - serves....soup - almost 20 different kinds.  The working kitchen is tiny and we sat at the bar and ordered three different soups and beverages.  All the wait staff were women and the chef loved to call out to them, "Mademoiselles or Mes Enfants".  It was also another sort of entertainment for us.
     Back at home, we settled down after dinner to watch "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - all of us huddled together on the couch, singing the songs, laughing and enjoying the time together.  The events of the States were undoubtedly in our subconscious and I think that we needed the extra "family" time.

Stained Glass - Cathedral in Metz
Stained Glass by Marc Chagall
Dear Husband and Dear Daughter - Metz
     So we are at the end of our weekend and one more week before the holiday.  We are planning a short overnight trip for next weekend in advance of the holiday.  Again to France...this time to Reims - in the heart of the Champagne region.  There we will visit their Marche Couvert, their Marche de Noel, their cathedral (where the Kings of France were once crowned) and the Musee de la Reddition (where the surrender documents of World War 2 were signed).

     Today's dish is perfect for Christmas morning.  It is easy to make, decadent and festive.

Crab Benedict

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snow and Quinoa Salad

     I think that Winter is upon us and it arrived with a vengeance.  I have been transferred to Dear Daughter's school and last Monday, I was called for my first assignment.  It seemed like a relatively easy substitute for a paraprofessional who was sick.  I gladly accepted the assignment and Dear Daughter cheered (as she was thrilled that Mom would be driving her to school).  But what I failed to realize was... at this new school, the paraprofessionals are responsible for monitoring recess and the lunch room.  Now, that would not ordinarily bother me but last Monday, between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m, while I was pulling recess duty, IT SNOWED THE ENTIRE TIME!  There I was on the playground, no hat and no gloves.  I suppose it was my initiation or at the very least, lesson well learned.

     Most of the remaining week was blustery and cold.  By mid-day on Friday, it was snowing again and this time, I had difficulty making it up the big hill to our house.  However, by Saturday, it was a beautiful, sunny day and we were...spending it inside the Aquatics Center for yet another swim meet.  Dear Daughter did very well but I think that we were all a bit bitter at losing such a great day.  We were grumpy because we knew that Sunday would not be so nice...and it wasn't.  It snowed ALL day long.  Plans of visiting a local Christmas market were scratched.  We found ourselves inside, watching our version of football (which for us has become watching the World Cup Alpine Ski Races).  By mid-afternoon, kids were taking sleds up the hill, cutting through the fences to the pastures where the cows spent lazy summer days and hurling themselves down the hill at lightening speed.  Listening, you could hear the laughter and screams coming from their thrilling adventure.  Later, when climbing the steep hill just became too exhausting, they set about making forts and launching snowball attacks at opposing teams.  While the adults may have felt a bit cooped up, the kids were having a blast.

     I was sure that we would wake up this morning to learn that school had been cancelled.  We were not so lucky.  During the night, the temperature rose and turned everything into slush.  It just wasn't fair.

     We are planning some upcoming day trips to see what Europe is like during the holiday season.  I won't tell you about them now but hope to write about it over the upcoming weeks.

     In the meantime, in my new healthy eating kick, I am trying to cut out most processed foods from out diet.  Frankly, I think that we do a pretty good job but there is always room for improvement.  I read recently that you should not purchase any processed item that has more than three to six ingredients and if you can't identify the ingredient, then do not purchase the item.  I am also trying to incorporate some different grains into our diet and came across a recipe for a Quinoa salad recently that has now become our favorite lunch dish.  If you do not already know,  Quinoa is an excellent source of protein.

So here is something healthy for you to enjoy this holiday season.

Hey, I work tomorrow - subbing again for a paraprofessional.  She only has 30 minutes of recess duty but I will be thoroughly prepared!

Quinoa Salad

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

     When I was a kid, my favorite holiday was Thanksgiving.  I loved the tradition of the entire day and even though I came from a relatively small family, the entire day seemed warm and cozy.  Once an adult, the day seemed to lose a bit of its sparkle for me.  Most of the time, I was away from family and it just wasn't fun to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal for just myself and Dear Husband.  Gradually, the extended holiday weekend became a good reason to take a short vacation.

     But with Dear Daughter now a part of our lives and at an age where she can comprehend and enjoy, we wanted her to have a chance to have her own holiday traditions.  It is difficult this year as we are thousands of miles away from our family.  We decided to go somewhere that is truly our own, to our apartment in Brittany for the long weekend.  We started out from Kaiserslautern on Wednesday afternoon; taking the high speed train to Paris.  Once we arrived at Gare de l'Est, we quickly hailed a taxi and took a mad cab ride across the city (from one side of the river to the other) during rush hour.  We have done this several times and we never go the same way twice.  Many times, we exit the car at Gare Montparnasse with queasy stomachs but we still love to briefly see the sights along the way; glimpsing the Louvre, Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower as we speed by.

     Once secured on the second train, we settle down for our picnic dinner.  While normally this consists of sandwiches on baguettes (we are in France, normal sandwich bread) and a bottle of a nice French white wine, this time, I opted to go a bit upscale and made a wonderful pasta salad with grilled chicken and arugula pesto.  What I didn't bargain for was the smell of garlic that quickly wafted throughout the cabin; causing heads to turn and even waking the gentleman sitting next to me.  Oh well, we continued on with our meal.

     We arrived in St. Malo, shortly before 10pm and walked the short distance from the train station to a hotel, where we obtained our Hertz rental car.  Yes, a hotel.  The Hertz office closed at 6pm so they left the contract at the hotel next door.  The hotel manager reviewed my driver's license, decided that all was in order and took us out the back door to the alley behind the hotel.  Using my key, I pushed the unlock button and watched for a car to light up.  We found the car, threw backpacks inside and quickly made the 30 minute drive to the apartment.  As we walked in the door, each of us felt it... We were home.

     Thursday morning was a lazy morning.  We slept late, had a decadent breakfast (with a glass of is a holiday) and planned a trip to the market to buy our dinner ingredients.  Dear Husband was in charge of the stuffing; Dear Daughter wanted to make mashed potatoes and I got the green beans.  Not knowing what kind of meat we would find, this becam a joint responsibility.

     The wonderful thing about this time of year in France is that the tourists are gone.  We visited towns that we haven't been to in years because they are just too crowded to visit in the summer time.  Dinan was like a ghost town; most of the stores and restaurants were closed until April.  While our favorite beaches are typically not crowded; this time of year, they are completely empty.  We had a wonderful time visiting towns and markets that we hadn't seen in years.

     Later that evening, we begin the meal.  Dear Daughter makes the best mashed potatoes.  Dear Husband has brought a box of StoveTop Stuffing with him, but you know what?  It was perfect and his creativity with the dish made it even more delicious.  I simply blanched green beans in boiling water and then later that evening, reheated with butter, oil and shallots.  But what about the turkey?  Do they have turkey in France?  The answer is yes, they have turkey (dinde) but not in the whole form.  We found a turkey roast and it worked perfectly.  It was only about 2 pounds and quite thick.  Surrounding it was a layer of fat; perhaps to keep it most and it was bound in string.  I browned one side for five minutes in a mixture of oil and butter and then placed it in the oven for one hour.  While it was resting, I took the pan that held the turkey and quickly sauteed some shallots, deglazed the pan with white wine and then added Dijon mustard and cream.  I reduced that briefly and that served as our "gravy" - French style.

     We sat at the kitchen table and talked about all of the things that we made us thankful.  We were apart from each other last year and it was nice to be together this year.  Dear Husband told stories of his childhood Thanksgivings and you could tell that they were nice memories to pass on to us.  I remembered going to the Mess Halls with my family on Thanksgiving mornings to help serve the troops before heading home to my mom's succulent dinner.  Dear Daughter had a mental list of the things that she was thankful for and it was an impressive list. 

     I hope that we have given some memories for Dear Daughter.  For me...I stocked away lots of memories to keep for a rainy day.  But for now...I am on a mission - to discover why all of the major restaurants in town are serving Tripe tomorrow.  What in the world is Tripe and why is it so popular?  Maybe I will figure it out!
     For now, I have written this in record time and will go back tomorrow and correct all of my grammar.  I hope that you have created many wonderful Thanksgiving memories!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sausage, Bean and Pasta Soup

     It was an early, rainy, grey Saturday morning as we entered the old, dreary aquatics center at a NATO Airbase in Holland.  Luckily, we had arrived the previous evening, opting to drive up and do a bit of sightseeing with friends rather than take the team bus, which had left that morning at 3:00 a.m.  While many of the team members seemed a bit bleary-eyed, Dear Daughter and her two friends were well rested and in good spirits.

     It must be noted that Dear Daughter is a good swimmer.  Naturally, as her parents, we think that she could be great.  Missy Franklin great?  Perhaps not, but she does have talent.  As parents, we struggle a bit with her motivation and competitive spirit.   She is far more into the social aspect and therefore, we (to include her coaches) are never really quite sure of her potential.  This season has not been easy for her as she jumped an age category after the second meet of the season.  The qualifying times for the league championship seem (to her) very far out of reach and quickly she went from a strong 10-year old swimmer to an average 11-year old swimmer.

     So, it is sad to say, but I wasn't expecting much this meet.  An hour after the meet started, she headed to the platform for her first event, the 100-meter Individual Medley.  As the buzzer went off, she dove into the pool for her weakest stroke, the 25-meter butterfly.  As she touched the wall and began the backstroke, I realized that she was in second place and was just behind the leader!  I started yelling and clapping, and yelling.  Did I mention that I was yelling?  She held her own and was still in second place when she began the third leg and her best stroke - the breaststroke.  She was clearly putting out the effort and was so, so close to overtaking the leader.  But in order to win, I knew that she would have to have a very clear lead going into the final leg, the freestyle.  She didn't have that lead.  I continued to cheer (that sounds better than "yell"), when I heard another cheer for Dear Daughter.

     Well, it wasn't exactly a cheer.  It was the loud booming voice of her head coach, yelling one word...her name.  While this probably doesn't seem like a big deal to you, it was a huge deal to me.  I had never heard Coach Bob say her name, much less yell her name.  I doubt he even knew her name until the second before it left his mouth.  While he is the Head Coach, he spends most of his time with the Varsity swimmers, not the JV team.  If he has said her name, then he must be impressed!

     But I digress...we were in the final leg of a race that seemed never ending.  My voice was getting hoarse and my hands stung from clapping so hard.  She was still just behind the leader when suddenly she kicked in a final burst, overtook her and won her heat!  She had never displayed such effort before, never displayed such a desire to win...and I forgot to film it!  She came over to me with her Heat Winner ribbon and was clearly proud of her accomplishment.  Later that morning,  she saw the final results, Second Place overall.  What was she proud of most?  That she had earned her team 8 points.

     But it doesn't end there.  Her final event after seven hours at the pool was her strongest event, the 50 meter breaststroke.  I tried to have no expectations - it had been a very long day.  As she and I looked over her placement, it occurred to me that she had no idea why she was swimming in Lane 3.  "Your time is the fastest for this heat and the fastest swimmer always gets Lane 3," I explained to her.  She processed this information and became very quiet.  Oh no, I wondered.  Perhaps, she was getting too stressed out about this fact.  She slowly went over to her swim bag and pulled out another swim cap and put it on.  This swim cap was given to her earlier in the season when she qualified for the championships as a 10 year old.  But since the championships will be held when she is 11, she must re-qualify as an 11 year old.  So, while it is a nice cap, it is meaningless as far as I am concerned.

     There she Lane 3...wearing her Championship  Qualifier cap.  Her look was of total concentration.  She even began to swing her arms a bit in an effort to warm up (or shake off the nerves).   At the sound of the whistle, she stepped onto the platform.  She dropped her head, reached down and prepared to dive.  The bell sounded and she left the platform.  She quickly established a commanding lead and never let it falter.  She shaved off over four seconds from her best time and came within one second of qualifying...ONE SECOND!

     "Effort."   "Be all that you can be."  "Do your best."  Dear Husband and I have been repeating these over and over to her for the past several months.  I was sure that it was going in one ear and out the other.  We saw the eyes roll - received that "tween" look.  But as I watched her walk across the stage at the school awards ceremony last week, receiving her Highest Academic Achievement Award for straight As, I also remembered her recent swimming moments.

Perhaps, she did hear us just once.

    So here is a wonderful healthy soup that is easy to make and helps to get those brain cells working and those muscles building.

Sausage, Bean and Pasta Soup

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cream of Pumpkin Soup


     I hate to admit this, but I am not a big Halloween fan.  I love Thanksgiving, love Fall but if Halloween disappeared, it really would not bother me one bit.  The other dear members of my family do not share my sentiment.

     With the holiday fast approaching and Dear Husband leaving for the States, the all important yearly ritual of carving pumpkins had to take place last Friday evening.  I raced home from school (yes, I worked that day!) and began prepping the three pumpkins.  By the time that the rest of the family arrived home, I had three pumpkins that were ready to be carved.  Given that Dear Daughter cannot yet carve a pumpkin, I wondered how long she would be interested in the event.

    What occurred that evening was another "save-it" family memory.  We turned our kitchen into Halloween Party Central.  Music blared through the IPAD and we munched on snacks while contemplating our designs.  Dear Daughter cleaned the seeds and, on her own, made three different batches of roasted pumpkin seeds. We voted on our favorites just before digging into our Chinese takeout dinner.  They were all delicious and we had a marvelous family experience.  On top of that, we now have some killer carved pumpkins.  Maybe Halloween isn't so bad after all...

     With Dear Husband departed for the U.S. early Saturday morning, we were left feeling a little empty inside.  The day was miserable; it was dark, dreary, cold and at times snowing.  Frankly, you could not have asked for better "couch" weather.  Upon arriving home from the airport, we quickly changed into our "slug" clothes, cooked up a batch of pumpkin soup and spent the rest of the day on the couch.  We watched the first race of the World Cup skiing season, recent movies and television shows that we normally cannot see over here.  The best part...we refused to feel guilty about it.  I think that we both needed the break and the bonding time.  We knew that the sun would be out on Sunday.  We knew that homework would still be there on Sunday.  We knew that the "To Do" list would still be there on Sunday.  For one glorious afternoon, we lived in comfortable clothes, nestled under blankets, munched on popcorn and watched enough TV to make our eyes pop out.  AND IT WAS AWESOME!

     But let's discuss the pumpkin soup or kurbiscreme suppe as they call it over here.  While I have made pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie, I have never actually cooked with fresh pumpkin.  While I have made soup with butternut squash, I have never used pumpkin.  While at the grocery store, I found something called Speise Kurbis - which is literally Food Pumpkins.  Armed with two of them, I decided to try making pumpkin soup.  Call it beginners luck, but it was fantastic and incredibly easy to make.

Pumpkin Cream Soup and the winner of Dear Daughter's Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Competition

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

     I am a control freak.  I admit it and there are many times, when I admit it proudly.  I come from a long line of control freaks and  at my age, it is doubtful that I am going to change.  I like order, a sense of structure and thoroughly believe that by setting out my clothes the night before and getting all of tomorrow's lunches made before I go to sleep tonight will make me a happier person come morning.

     Which is why this new endeavor of mine is testing the outer most limits of my world.  It sounded like a good plan.  With Dear Daughter back in school, I needed to find something to do with my time.  I needed to get out there, meet some people, be productive, add an entry to my resume.  So, I was accepted to be a substitute teacher at one of our local elementary and middle schools.  "Piece of cake," I thought.  I could pick and choose when I wanted to work.  The schedule worked well around the family.  I calculated just how many days a month I needed to work in order to meet my new financial goal.  This was going to be a cinch...

     What I didn't calculate was the effect of the loss of control that I would experience.  Here is why...on any given morning, I wake up at 6:00 a.m. and dress.  In "pre-sub" life, getting ready meant slapping on a pair of sweats and a sweatshirt.  In my new "sub" world, getting ready now means, putting on make-up, doing my hair and donning something remotely professional.  Luckily, the night before I have settled on what to wear and have my lunch already made.

     An hour later, just as Dear Daughter heads to the bus stop, I start watching the phone.  Is it going to ring today?  God forbid if Dear Husband calls to wish us a good day.  "Good grief, man," I growl into the phone, "Don't you know the school could call at any moment. If the phone is busy, then I lose the chance of working today."

     If I get the call, I am out the door immediately.  Past 7:15, the more time that passes, means the less chance that I will get called.  No call by 7:45,  means that I can head back upstairs and change clothes once more.  Then I go through a period where I am totally ticked off that I didn't get called.  I exerted the effort to get ready - the least that school could do is give me an assignment!  "Why did they call so-and-so for that class instead of me?  I bet this is because I had a doctors appointment on Monday when they called and now they are paying me back."

Then I switch gears and think, "Yeah!  I get a free day!"  However, then I realize that it is not really a free day.  I have to decide what needs to get done today because tomorrow, I could be called.  What errands have to be run?  Does the house need to be cleaned?  When was the last time I washed my hair?

     So you see, for a person who craves structure and control, this is driving me crazy!  Really, I have lists for everything.  I know that on Mondays, I clean the house.  On Tuesdays, I go to the Farmers Market, etc.  In my calmer moments, I tell myself that this is a good experience.  I need to be less of a control person.  I need to just go with the flow.  I have created a master list of things that have to be done so if I do not work, then I can refer to my list and give my life some purpose.

     That is exactly what happened this morning.  I just knew that I was going to get called.  I could feel it.  But I didn't.  So I changed clothes, stripped the sheets off of the beds, did some laundry and worked for three hours on a program for the end of year swim team awards banquet - that will occur... in March 2013.  Hey, what if I start working a lot and then I do not get the program done?  I might as well start now.

     But the house is smelling really good right now as I have some comfort food cooking in the oven.  Slow-roasted roma tomatoes have become a favorite of mine and I make them at every opportunity.  These little morsels are downright addicting and so incredibly easy to make.  I think that the aromatherapy is doing me some good.  Perhaps, there is a reason that I am not working today.  Perhaps, I just need to let go of the things that are completely out of my control.  Tomorrow, I won't care if I do not get called....yeah, right!

No post complete without a photo of Dear Daughter - this one taken in Bad Krueznach last Sunday

Slow Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Monday, October 15, 2012

France: 23 Hours in Paris - Pizza San Daniele

     We have taken other European cities by storm, arriving on a Friday and leaving on Sunday or Monday.  But with Paris, we have adopted another approach.  This has become our "go-to" city and with each visit, our fascination increases.   Despite less than ideal conditions, we managed another incredible visit to this magnificent city.

     As these visits are incredibly short, we have a fairly structured agenda:  arrival, museum visit, light lunch (for the parents), free time, dinner, sleep, departure.  Within three hours of our departure from home, we were standing at the entrance to the Musee d'Orsay.  Having purchased tickets online, we entered without a hitch and quickly made our way to the fifth floor without even taking in the magnificence of the museum itself.  A converted train station, the Musee d'Orsay sits on the banks of the Seine River and houses the most impressive collection of works from the Impressionist era.  Room after room, we were overwhelmed by the works of Degas, Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, and the list goes on an on.  Even with the growing crowds, to be in the same room with these works of art was truly spiritual.  I wish that I could be alone in one of galleries and just sit and look and absorb.

     Dear Daughter managed about 2 1/2 hours in the museum, which was better than expected.  Since it was lunch time, we headed to Le Petit Cler for lunch.  Rue Cler is an incredible street located close to the Eiffel Tower.  Cafes and stores spill out onto the mostly pedestrian only street.  It is a food lover's paradise and with each visit, I wish that I had a kitchen close by, which would justify all of the purchases I dream of making.  From the various tourists clutching guidebooks, I know that it has become a certain tourist attraction but it is still a quintessential Parisian street.  We visit the fish market, the cheese shop, the bakery, the wine store, the italian deli...all the while - our appetites increasing.

     We manage to grab a table at Le Petit Cler and enjoy a wonderful lunch.  Dear Daughter picks the flank steak and baked potato.  She loves the sauce that accompanies the potato and when I explain that it is sour cream (which she has always detested), she doesn't believe me.  Finally, she gives in and explains that it is French sour cream, so she likes it.  Dear Husband and I both get the plat du jour, which on Saturdays is Carpaccio.  Lovely thin slices of raw beef are dressed with olive oil and topped with arugula and parmesan cheese.  Scrumptious!

Rue Cler - Paris

     Our hotel is located next door.  It is hard to get a room for three people and this is one of the few on Rue Cler that can accommodate us. For a Paris hotel, it is cheap.   I call it the $250 Motel 6.  However, since we are only sleeping there (and it is clean),  it meets the requirement.  After a short break, we are back outside and the weather has changed for the better.  We walk over to the Eiffel and then back along the river to the Pont Neuf (new bridge).  We are booked on a one hour boat tour along the Seine.  It is a very touristy thing to do but we want to see the city from the vantage point of the boat and we want to see it all lit up as day turns to night.  Our boat was much smaller than some of the other tour boats, the commentator was engaging and we loved the next hour.

View of the Eiffel from the boat

     We finish the day at Restaurant Au Petit Sud Ouest.  This tiny restaurant located near Rue Cler and the Eiffel Tower, specializes in duck - foie gras, cassoulet, confit, etc.  We order 100g of foie gras as an appetizer.  Toasters are located at each table and with the foie gras, we are brought a basket of thinly sliced brown bread.  We toast the bread, spread on the foie gras and sprinkle grey salt over the top and then...devour it!   It is just amazing.  We share a plate of duck sausage, duck proscuitto, duck rillettes, while Dear Daughter literally inhales duck in a dark cherry sauce.  A wonderful end to a great day and shortly after the last bite, we all hit a wall.  We calculate that over the course of the day, we walked 7.5 miles and now, we need sleep!

     We sleep very well and wake up to banging noises coming from the street.  What on earth could be happening at 6:30 am on a Sunday morning?  We all try to ignore it but by 7:00 a.m., it is fruitless.  We are a little cranky over the wake up call until I look out the window and see the street coming back to life.  The was the fishmonger setting up for the day.

     Dinner on Sunday night - Pizza San Daniele

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Austria: Austria Part 2 - Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

     We ventured back into Austria for the Columbus Day weekend.  Taking advantage of an early Friday afternoon departure, we were rewarded with very little traffic and arrived in Brand just over five hours later.  Located in the Brandnertal region and close to Bregenz, it is a popular destination for the Swiss.  Buoyed by the strength of the Swiss Franc and its proximity to Zurich (2 hours away), I think that most of the country descended upon this tiny Alpine village.  We were there not only to experience one last hiking weekend but to also investigate its potential as a quick ski destination (although, I suppose that a five hour drive is not very "quick").

     Our apartment, located in the center of town, was clean, efficient and cozy.  The price was right, as well...just 67 Euros a night for a two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen.  Walking to dinner, we were astounded by the number of 4-Star hotels in the village.  From what we knew about the skiing, it didn't seem that the town was capable of supporting so many upscale hotels.  We were disappointed by our dinner that evening at a restaurant recommended by our landlord.  As a result, we decided to grocery shop the next day and make our own dinners.

     The weather on Saturday was beautiful and we took a short drive further up the mountain to the Lunersee Bahn - a gondola, which very quickly would whisk us to the top of the mountain and to the mountaintop lake, the Luner See.  This seemed too easy for us and we quickly decided to ditch all of the well-dressed tourists and hike to the top.  We looked like a ragtag group - sporting old backpacks and wearing ancient and faded hiking clothes.  For those around us, the amount of money that must have been allocated to hiking clothes and gear was staggering.  Yet, most of them did very little hiking - preferring to "look" good.

     The trail to the top took us just over 75 minutes and it was brutal - very few flat spots - straight up the mountain.  Dear Daughter wasn't exactly thrilled with her parents' choice of entertainment.  However, once we were halfway up - her mood improved and when we reached the top, we gathered together for a well-thrown, "High-Five" and a subsequent gasp at the view before us.  I use this word often in these posts, but I cannot think of another one that would give the view was truly SPECTACULAR.  The water was a shade of green that I had not seen before and its contrast with the brilliant blue sky enhanced the picture.  The mountain peaks added texture to the scene.  We enjoyed a well deserved break with beers (for parents) and hot chocolate (for Dear Daughter) at the Douglass Hutte and realized that I had missed a golden opportunity - this was a perfect picnic venue!

Luner See - Brand, Austria

    Of course, if the weather is good one day, then it is probably going to stink the next.  Even though it rained all day Sunday (and I mean - all day), I managed to rally the troops and off we went on a second hike.  The ski gondola in the center of town took us up the mountain and from there we viewed the ski slopes and walked an hour hike to an alpine hut.  Needless to say, we were the only customers but we managed to enjoy big bowls of Gulasch soup before we started our trek down the mountain.  Despite the weather, we managed to have a great time - spending the remainder of the afternoon playing board games and watching Indiana Jones movies in German.

Well, at least they are out of the rain!

     So what were our homemade dinners?  Saturday night, we had Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Pan Fried Potatoes and a fabulous Leo Hillinger red wine (those of you in DC can get Hillinger wines at Total Wine).  More to follow on the Pork Tenderloin.  On Sunday night, we had a Charcuterie Night - various types of Speck (smoked bacon) from the region and local cheeses served with a tasty Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian grape.  Yes, artery-clogging but tasty all the same!

     Monday took us back home but not before we visited Crailsheim, a small town where I lived for three years after graduating from college.  I quickly found my first apartment - a fully furnished, one bedroom that cost me all of $175 per month.  It did bring back memories and it was fun to find it and share it with Dear Daughter.  However, the biggest success of the day was lunching at an Italian restaurant where I had spent many an evening.  After twenty plus years - it still looked the same and I remembered our favorite seats and could almost hear the voices of Julie, Barry, Jamie, Dave, Mark and Jim.  We learned from the waitress that Rocco, the owner in our day had left in 1995.  The food was every bit as good as I remembered it and I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

     Now I have to mention that during lunch, I bragged a bit about the parties that I had had at my second apartment.  It took us forever to find it and Dear Husband actually made the call directionally.  While it looked the same, I still cannot get over the fact that it is now a home for Senior Citizens! Ouch!

     Saturday is cool is that!  We are taking the 7am train to Paris, hitting a museum and a possible boat tour and finishing up with a visit to our new favorite restaurant there.  We should be back at home on Sunday in time for Dear Daughter to hit the neighborhood.  Again, now how cool is that!

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Germany: Heildelberg - Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Fathers - To Die For Bacon And Tomato Hash

     After the dreariness of last week, we needed a spectacular weekend...and I have to was pretty awesome.  It started Friday evening when Dear Husband cooked a fabulous meal.  His first course, Arugula with Bacon and Tomato Hash, is perhaps, one of the best treats I have ever had.  Recipe will follow at the end and you have to try it.  He followed that with Cornish Game Hens and Sweet Potato Fries.  We opened a bottle of our treasured Burgundy wine and the weekend was off to a smashing start.

     At mid-morning on Saturday and with the sun shining, we started our short drive to Heidelberg.  This beautiful city sits on Neckar River and is a short one-hour drive away.  Being a university town,  its Altstadt (old city) was bustling with college students, cafes and chic stores.

Heidelberg - City Gate and Old Bridge

     As we passed under the gates to the city and onto the Alte Brucke (old bridge), we all realized that we were walking over the footsteps of our fathers.  Grandpap Doc (Dear Husband's father) was stationed here just at the end of the World War II.  Poo-Paw (my father) was stationed here many years later.  We imagined them taking similar strolls - so many years earlier.  With warm fuzzies in our hearts, I took one more picture of a memorable spot and sent it to the Grandfathers.  Later that day, both had responded...providing us with little tidbits about their times in the city.

Heidelberg Schloss

     Sunday was just as nice.  After a light breakfast, we headed across the border into France (sigh!) and within an hour, we were in the small village of Bitche.  Sitting high on a hill in the middle of a valley, the Bitche Citadel is very impressive.  I think that a defensive stronghold has been here since the 17th Century and the current structure, deemed impregnable, dates back from the late 1760s.  We wandered for several hours around the fortress listening to the fabulous and informative audio tour.  For lunch, we found a small park in the town and enjoyed what may very well be our last outdoor picnic of the year.  We were back home in time for Dear Daughter to play outside and we could enjoy a beer on the patio.

     Of course, a visit to Bitche had to result in a photograph and what better person to pose for it...

Terrible picture - should have removed the headphones!
Picnic Anyone?
     If you only choose one of the recipes that I post on this blog, then make it this one.  Dear Husband found it on and easily adapted it.  It is really stinking good...

Bacon and Tomato Hash

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away - 3 Bean Chili

     The rain started Sunday night.  A deep groan spread across the local area..."Oh no, it has started.  Say good-bye to the sun.  Get out the rain-boots."  In our household, a general malaise settled in upon us.  Dear Husband claims the days are already shorter here than they are in the States.  Dear Daughter whines just a bit more than usual.  It is harder to get up in the morning.  The rain stayed...and stayed...and stayed.  Then just as the sun began to gather enough courage to peek through the clouds yesterday afternoon, the bully dark clouds raced in and erased that possibility.  More rain dumped on us and the temperature dropped.

     Comfort food was needed.  Overripe bananas became banana bread.  The last of the carrots were transformed into carrot cake bread (again).  I spent the week restocking the freezer with Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Sunday (Spaghetti) Sauce.  Now, it is Friday and the rain has stopped and the sun is courageously shining.  So this note will be short as I need to be outside soaking up the rays before they inevitably disappear.
Come back soon, Sun!

     Lots of travel scheduled for the next few months.  So, while we need an adventure this weekend, it will need to be an easy one.   Not sure yet what the weekend will hold...

    In the meantime, a bit pot of Chili is on the stove - one hour into its four hour simmer.  This is our "go-to" comfort food and we needed it this week.

3 Bean Chili

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Excitement on a Quiet Weekend - Foie Gras on Toast

     This has been a quiet weekend - almost too quiet for us.  It is "neuer wein" season here and yesterday, we went in search of the new wine and its typical sidekick - onion tart.  We are all getting over colds and perhaps we should have remained at home...the outing did not go very well. (When we accomplish this task, I will write all about it as it is a fascinating subject.)

     Last night, our village had its annual Hanchenfest.  We have been waiting for this feast all summer.  In an effort to raise money for the local firestation, each year the village has a dinner serving grilled chicken and bratwurst.  We walked the short distance from our house to the fest, paid for two chickens and three beverages and sat down to chat with neighbors.  I should add that there were more Americans at the fest than Germans and it was a bit disconcerting.  As if by magic, the people around us seemed to instinctively know when the chickens were ready and very quickly, a long line appeared.  I waited a few minutes and then placed myself in the queue.  No sooner as I reached the head of the line, than I heard that there was only one chicken left - the next batch would not be ready for another two hours!  I took the one chicken, gave it Dear Daughter, who was naturally famished and settled for a bratwurst.  Needless to say, we didn't stay long.

     So we come to Sunday and it has been an great start.  We woke to crisp temperatures and clear skies.  Dear Husband and I lounged outside in the crisp morning air.  Finally around 9:45, Dear Daughter graced us with her presence.  Our intent for our late breakfast was to mimic an appetizer that we had earlier this summer at a restaurant in Paris.  This restaurant specialized in everything DUCK; duck confit, cassoulet, duck in a cherry sauce.  But the best item on the menu was the Foie Gras appetizer.  Sliced foie gras and pieces of dark bread were brought to the table.  Each table was equipped with its own small toaster.  You toasted your bread and once ready, placed a slice of foie gras on the top and finished it with a bit of sea salt scattered on top.  The heat of the toast warmed the foie gras and it almost melted in your mouth.  It was fabulous.

     So with our best bottle of Cremant (French sparkling wine), we enjoyed Foie Gras on toasts for our late breakfast.  It was the perfect beginning to the day.  After breakfast, we pulled out the IPADs to ready the Sunday NY Times.  But before starting, I checked a website that I have been checking regularly.  Each time over the last few months, I have been disappointed after checking the site.  But today, I saw the headline, "Burgundy:  More than mustard and red wine."  Being an article about France, I decided to read it.  Then I realized that I knew this article.   "OMG!  It is my article!"  I yelled to the family, "They did it, they did it!"  Obviously, they did not know what I was talking about.

     So without further fanfare, I give you the link:

     The Stars and Stripes (UK edition) published an article that I wrote about a recent trip to Burgundy. While I received no monetary compensation, it is a hoot to see one's writing in print.

     But as this weekend has been....there has to be a letdown...wait for it...wait for it...My last name is LORD not FORD...seriously!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Germany: Sunday Picnic Along the Moselle - 3 Quick and Easy Salads

     The weather was perfect this past weekend; brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures.  We had spent most of Saturday indoors cheering on Dear Daughter at the second of this season's swim meets.  We knew that on Sunday, we wanted to spend the day outside.  While we wake up early each  weekday, the sun is no longer peering through our windows.  It is a sure sign that the days are getting shorter and soon it will be dark... and cold... and rainy or snowy.   So for now, we grab the sunshine and warmth while we can.

     Keeping our drive time to less than ninety minutes, we realized that we had yet to explore another one of Germany's wine regions, the Moselle.  The Mosel River runs through Germany, Luxembourg and France and its wines are some of the best in all of Germany.  We decided to explore Bernkastel-Kues, which is one of the more touristy towns along the river.  It is also one of the prettiest.  Nestled along the river, the small town's cobblestoned streets, pointed houses and historic squares jut up against hillsides filled with vineyards.  It is quite picturesque and therefore, packed with tourists who arrive by car, by bike or by one of the popular riverboats.

     The drive only takes an hour and we quickly find parking and begin exploring.  Frankly, we were unprepared for the amount of people who shared our idea of spending the day outside.  The town was teeming with tourists; the outdoor cafes packed with couples drinking local wine.  However, walking through town, we realized how quaint and pretty is was and it would be a nice place to visit - perhaps in the evening when the boat tours have departed.

     Wanting to try some wine, we cross the bridge to the other side of the river and a much quieter side of town.  Walking along the river, we stop at the garden of a large home.  It turns out to be the tasting area for a local winery.  In the small garden area, several tables and chairs have been placed and the wine card shows about 20 different wines for tasting or purchase.  The prices are all quite reasonable, about 3 Euros for a 1/4 liter krug of wine.  We settle on two different Rieslings, Dear Husband's favorite grape plus a mixture of grape juice and sparkling water for Dear Daughter.

     Wine sampled, we realized that our stomachs were growling.  Not wanting to head back into the heart of the town, we found a nice picnic spot on the banks of the river.  As you may know, I am a fanatic about picnics.  In fact, my birthday present this year was a new picnic backpack and it is totally cool!  That morning, in anticipation of the weather , I had thrown some fresh ingredients into the bag along with drinks.  It looked like my Girl Scout preparation was going to come in handy.

     I really love picnics.  I like the communal aspect of the meal; the pace seems so much slower and enjoyable.  For today's meal, I had planned three simple salads to put together on-the-spot; Tomato and Mozzarella; Prosciutto and Melon and Serrano with Arugula, Parmesan and Balsamic Glaze.  Very simple, very communal and just right.  Served with a local Riesling and it was another  perfect Sunday afternoon!
The view from our picnic spot
Three Picnic Salads

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Austria: Climb Every Mountain...Labor Day in Vent

     Who would have thought that a simple ski vacation in 2000 would plant a seed in our hearts that ultimately would change our lives?

     In early 2000, Dear Husband planned a simple ski holiday to Europe.  After considerable research, he selected a small Austrian village, Vent, as our base.  This quaint Alpine village, in the mountains of Tyrol, doesn't provide the best skiing but, nonetheless, it caught our hearts.  Since that first visit, we have made almost a dozen return trips.  Dear Daughter learned to ski there.  We met a dear group of fellow skiers there and to this day continue to take annual ski trips together.

     All of our visits there have been during ski season.  Each year, we would wonder what it would be like to visit during the summer months...what it would be like to hike to the alpine huts that we could see from the chair lift.  This year, we got our chance.  Sometimes, it is great to experience new places.  But sometimes, it is also great to have a new experience in old, comfortable place.  That is exactly what we were hoping for when we choose Vent as our Labor Day weekend excursion.

     We knew exactly where to stay having stayed there numerous times over the past twelve years.  We knew exactly where to eat as the small village has incredible restaurants.  What we didn't know was whether or not Dear Daughter would be able to handle hiking in the mountains.  (At almost 11 years of age...she kicked our butts.)

     We left just after school on Friday and six hours later arrived at the Appartement Wildspitz in Vent.  The owner greeted us warmly and after settling in, we sat down in the restaurant for a late supper and our favorite Austrian beer, Stiegl.  We slept soundly and woke up to cloudy skies and cool temperatures.  Upon opening our door, we pulled a small bag away from the handle, which contained three brotchen (bread) for our breakfast.  We had a leisurely breakfast of bread, ham, cheeses and coffee and talked about where we should take our first walk.

     Since the weather was not the greatest, we opted to stay in the valley.  We knew of a path that would take us along the valley to another tiny village.  If the weather continued to deteriorate, we could always stop at the Roffenhof for lunch (another favorite).  We started the hike at 10:30 and were absolutely amazed with how many people were out walking.  It was more crowded on September 1st than it ever was in January.  We made it to Roffen in forty-five minutes.  Dear Daughter was doing well and since it was still early, we forged on past Roffen.  Dear Daughter was amazed at seeing all of the sheep, bells dangling from necks, creating a symphony of sound as they grazed.  About ninety minutes into the walk, it started to snow lightly.  Snow in was incredible.

Snow on September 1st!

     Not wanting to do too much on the first day, we headed back to the Roffenhof for lunch.  Dear Daughter had done well - rarely complained and seemed to have a great time.  We lunched on Kaseknodel suppe - another favorite.  Kaseknodel is a cheese dumpling that has been lightly pan fried. It floats in a warm broth garnished with sprinkles of chives.  Shortly, after finishing our lunch, I looked out the window to see one of our Dear Friends coming into the restaurant.  We have skied with him for over ten years and it was such a welcome surprise to see him.  After a short visit, we walk back into Vent together and set a time to meet later that evening for a drink.

     After our wonderful meal at the Wildspitz and drinks with our friend, we all slept soundly that first night.  We woke up on Sunday to better weather and Dear Daughter informed us that today was the day that we would hike to our first alpine hut.  After breakfast, we took the chairlift to the middle of the mountain.  We got a kick out of seeing the chairlift operator...the same chairlift operator since our initial visit in 2000...not looking any different...never smiling and always smoking.  I doubt he recognizes us but we always get a kick seeing him!

     From the middle station, we look up...and up...and up to see the Breslauer Hutte.  The sign says that it will take 90 minutes to get there and it is all uphill.  Dear Daughter's face falls and I hear her mumble, "And people willingly get out of bed for this?" but we trudge forward nevertheless.  We make it to the top in about 100 minutes and we were all actually in pretty good spirits going up.  The view was spectacular and it isn't often that you get to make a snowman in September.

Breslauer Hutte

    Back in Vent later that afternoon, we soaked our tired and weary legs in the pool and decided that we could walk no further than downstairs for our dinner.  Exhausted, but totally happy - we fell soundly asleep at 9:30.

     On Monday, the schedule was very much the same.  We had scheduled a walk to the Hochjoch Hospitz, a hut operated by the brother of our landlord.  The fairly easy, two hour walk provided us with many awesome views but the uphill climb for the last thirty minutes left us totally exhausted.  Again, Dear Daughter and I had our strength renewed with steaming bowls of soup.  Dear Daughter, either recuperated or just happy with the prospect of finishing the first official hiking trip, led us down the path in record time.  Dear Husband and I were totally exhausted by this time.

     We learned that many of Vent's restaurants were closed on Monday.  Normally, if we encountered too many closed restaurants, my stress level would spike..."Where would we eat?"  But not in Vent.  We turned around and walked into the Hotel Alt Vent and ran into the same waiter who has greeted us for many years.  He actually seemed to recognize us, shook our hands warmly, led us to a table and asked us how long we would be in Vent.  After a wonderful meal, he brought over two small glasses of schnaps and told us how glad he was that we visited the town again.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

     So sometimes the old places can bring new experiences.  Dear Daughter knocked our socks off with her hiking ability and we loved being back in the mountains once more.

     I wanted to make Kaseknodel and tried once I got home...only to make a total mess.  So here is another dish that we wanted to have in Vent but then thought about just having it at home once we returned.  We had it last night and were immediately escorted back in time.

Cheese Fondue

Thursday, August 30, 2012

La Rentrée and Make-Ahead Beef Stroganoff


     "La Rentrée" is an expression in French that refers not only to students and teachers going back to school but also to everyone else going back to work after summer vacations.   Some explanations of the expression will refer to it as "getting back to normalcy."  I am not sure that I agree with this as the slow pace of summer seemed very "normal" to me.

     Nevertheless, la rentrée has arrived and so far, we are adapting quite well.  We had one last bit of summer vacation over the past weekend when we met some dear friends in a small wine village along the Rhein/Rhine River.  In Eltville, we had a delightful lunch, toured the town and sampled some of the local wine.  Along the river, there is a delightful little park and each week, a different winery showcases its wine.  You can buy a glass or even an entire bottle, take it over to one of the benches or tables and enjoy the afternoon watching the boat traffic and sampling wine.  It was a totally relaxing experience and a nice end to the summer.

     Monday came too fast.  Dear Daughter entered the fifth grade at her new school and handled the new experience expertly.  By now, I think she is an expert when it comes to adapting to new experiences.  I met her at the bus stop that afternoon and she was all smiles - and then informed me that I did not have to walk her to the stop in the morning nor meet her in the afternoon.  Yesterday at swim practice, she asked me to walk her into the aquatics center - then paused as she saw her friends - turned around and stated, "You can go now."  Ahhh, la rentrée...

     With the start of school, it also means the start of swimming.  Practices are four days a week for ninety minutes.  It doesn't make much sense for Dear Daughter to take the bus home only to turn around and go to the pool thirty minutes later.  I now pick her up after school and drive her to the library, where she completes her homework.  She is begging us to allow her to walk with her teammates to the pool, where she will do her homework there.  I am  not so sure of that...

     With the start of swimming, it also means that Dear Husband is now making dinner each nigh as we do not arrive home until close to 7:00 pm.  To aid him in that chore, I spent two days last week cooking meals and freezing them.  We have a large menu board in our kitchen and each Friday, I plan out the next week's menus.  All Dear Husband has to do is take a look at the menu board and heat up whatever is listed for that day.  It seems to work pretty well and we can all sit down together for a good meal and discuss the day's activities.  Those two days of cooking usually provide one month of weekday meals.

Great first meet - one first place, one second place and one third place!
     Soups are easy to make and freeze but can get a bit boring to have day after day.  I spent a few hours viewing recipes on the Internet and was intrigued by a Beef Stroganoff recipe that I found on a site called Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  It wasn't listed as a make-ahead meal but with some minor tweaking, I think I pulled it off.

     For the long weekend coming up, we are once again heading to Austria.  Our intent is to hike in the mountains, where we normally ski.  However, in looking at the weather forecasts, it may actually snow!  Now that is different - snow for Labor Day!

Make-Ahead Easy Beef Stroganoff

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blackberries and a Second Metaphor for Life - Blackberry Crisp

     What is it about blackberry picking and life metaphors?  Well, here is a second one.  Sometimes, you just have to be patient.  Anyone that knows me knows that this is not one of my virtues.

     It has been uncharacteristically hot in Germany this past week.  While I realize that it is Summer and it has been hot in many places, being hot is Germany is just not that enjoyable.  Our house, like most, does not have air conditioning.  It doesn't even have an internal fan system that at least moves the air around a bit.  Couple that with being farther north and the sun can feel a lot hotter.  As a result, if it is in the nineties, you can bet that it is going to be uncomfortably hot.  Well, it reached the nineties during the weekend.  Life came to a sudden halt.

     Most houses have rouladens on the outside of the windows.  These are metal roller shades that you can pull down to block the sun from entering the house.  If you pull them all the way down, the room is pitch black.  When we pull them down in our bedroom, we call it the deprivation tank - you could seriously sleep all day.  For the last few days, if you drove around the area, most houses were completely locked down - trying to keep the cool air in and the hot air out.  It was remarkable how efficient the system was but even so, the temperature in our bedroom made it to eighty degrees last night.  Not the perfect sleeping temperature.  Dear Husband resorted to sleeping on an air mattress in the cool basement.

     Around midnight last night, the sky opened up and we had a fierce thunderstorm accompanied by hail.  It instantly lowered the temperature and today, we are back to fabulous weather.  Life restarted.  I managed to convince Dear Daughter to forego some playtime and accompany me on a second blackberry picking adventure.

     What a difference a week makes - especially when the sun has been beating down on those wild bushes.  Within minutes, we had plump, juicy, almost overripe blackberries in our basket - just waiting to be consumed.  Sometimes, you just have to be a little patient.

     We are entering the final days of summer vacation.  On Friday, Dear Daughter will meet her new teacher in her new school.  Saturday is her first swim meet of the season and she has chosen to swim the 200 meter freestyle (a first for her), the 50 meter backstroke and the 50 meter breaststroke.  Much of the veggies that I attempted to grow are gone.  Today, I took advantage of the weather and made two loaves of carrot cake bread.  Tomorrow, I will conquer that carrot cake jam.  I know that I said that last week...but came to a sudden halt.

     Today, it was Blackberry Crisp - simple and full of flavor.

No, not the blackberry crisp - but a pretty picture from Brittany

Monday, August 20, 2012

Blackberry Picking...A Metaphor For Life? And Easy Blackberry Jam

     Late last week before our heatwave rolled in, I went blackberry picking.  As I walked up the path behind our house, I saw the changes the summer had brought to the neighboring gardens and farms.  For the past seven months, I have watched the cycle of rural farm life.  In Winter, it was so quiet and in early Spring, everything seemed to come back to life.  Now, late in the Summer, the gardens are bursting with produce (every garden, except for mine!) and the fields are nearly harvested.   It is getting quieter.   The days are already getting noticeably shorter and soon school will be back in session.  I spent most of last week cooking meals to freeze as our schedules will become much more complicated once school and sports activities start next week.

     But I was able to take a few minutes from "slaving in the kitchen" to wander up the hill in search of wild blackberries.  Later that afternoon, as I returned home, I wondered if I had just experienced a metaphor (I hope I am using the word correctly!) for life.  You see, some berries were easy to find; easy to pick.  But these berries were small.  As I searched the bushes, the higher the branch, the larger and riper the berries.  Why did I have to be so short?  Why did there have to be so many thorns?  Why hadn't I thought to wear more appropriate clothing such as long pants and a long sleeves instead of shorts and a t-shirt?

     It was maddeningly frustrating but I was thoroughly enjoying the puzzle, the hunt, the experience.  Sure, I got scratched.  Sometimes, the best I could do was get the low fruit.  Sometimes, I found an opportunity to get the higher fruit.  As my bounty grew, I realized that this is a little about life...some things are easy - some are hard.  Grabbing for the low fruit might have been fun but way too easy.  Getting the higher, riper fruit was at times frustrating, but when I succeeded, I was rewarded with a better prize - and that was a blast!

     A simplistic view on life, I know.  Perhaps a little corny...a little sappy but also perhaps something that I needed to remember.

     The best part of that journey...the blackberry jam that I made later that afternoon.  No pictures this time as we ate the prop too quickly!

Easy Blackberry Jam

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Home Again...Now What To Do With All Of Those Carrots And Cucumbers?

We are back from the ultimate summer vacation.  For two weeks, our most pressing decisions each day were which beach to visit and what to have for dinner.  The sun was bright; the sky was blue (most of the time); the weather was warm.  We stayed up much too late and slept much too long.  We visited the bakery each morning for croissants and pain au chocolat.  We shared simple picnics on the beach for lunch.   We spent a magical evening across the street at a Michelin 1 Star restaurant savoring Foie Gras, Scallops and Breton Lobster.  We were entertained by midnight fireworks on three separate occasions as many of the tiny villages put on their annual summer parties.   We walked to islands accessible only because of the low tides.  By the next to the last day, we felt that perhaps we had had too much of a good thing...spent too much time together.  However, by the next day (our last), we were all best friends again and couldn't believe that it was almost over.

Yes, folks...he is wearing capris
So, we are home and the vacation feeling has ended as we jump back into the swing of our lives.  Morning swim practices started for Dear Daughter and school will start in just 10 days.  Dear Husband is out the door at 6:10 each morning and we see him twelve hours later.  The weather has been warm---a bit too warm and without our ocean breezes.

The garden survived my lack of care and I harvested an incredible amount of carrots and the cucumbers are close behind.  I found a recipe for carrot jam (yes, jam) and plan on making it tomorrow.  I will let you know how it turns out.  My biggest surprise was learning that the thorny bush that I have been cutting back all Spring and Summer is actually a blackberry bush!  I now have Dear Daughter and the neighborhood kids scouring the paths behind our house in search of blackberries.  A little crazy, I know, but I really want to make blackberry jam.

To celebrate the arrival of the cucumbers, I made a big batch of hummus.  Cold, crunchy cucumbers dipped in creamy hummus is really yummy.  I promise you that once you start making it yourself, you will never go back to buying it.

I would love to receive any recipes for carrots and cucumbers.

Classic Hummus

Saturday, August 4, 2012

On Vacation - Lazy Man's Lobster

Dear Daughter and I arrived in Brittany, France just over a week ago.  We have been visiting the same area since 2005 and every year I worry that we will be bored by the same markets, the same beaches...the sameness of it all.  Weeks prior to our annual two week visit, I research new places to visit or possible new activities.  Then we arrive (normally ahead of Dear Husband) and we fall into a simple pattern that has worked for years.  It becomes just a lazy and totally relaxing summer vacation.  Perhaps that is as it should be.

So, this entry will be a short one.   Dear Husband arrived by train a day or so ago.  Our family unit is complete.  We even managed to get him to sleep in this morning - a rarity in his world.

Picnic at the Beach
Dear Daughter and her kite...notice the lack of people

Yes, I managed to catch a crab - long story!

Boogy Boarding Success...again - notice the lack of people!

If it is a lazy vacation - then why not a lazy lobster dinner?  Brittany is known for seafood and their lobsters are spectacular.  Years ago, we had a wonderful Sunday lunch at a restaurant called L'Etrave.  The meal featured "Homard A La Creme", a grilled lobster dripping with thick Breton creme.  It really was incredible.  I was combing through some recipes the other day and ran across "Lazy Man's Lobster".  I have no idea how long I have had it or where I found it but it seemed to be a perfect replica of our L'Etrave delicacy.

Lazy Man's Lobster

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Flammkuchen & A Perfect Sunday Afternoon

     We had a perfect Sunday.  The sky was a brilliant blue and the temperature was warm but not hot.  The day begged us to be lazy but not too lazy.  At Saturday's farmers' market, we splurged and purchased a wonderful, creamy schafskäse mit krauter to enjoy with the last of our bagels.  (While we love the bread here, once in a while, it is great to have a bagel - even if it is a Lender's Bagel...beggars can't be choosy!)  Schafskäse is a sheep's milk cheese and in this case, it was whipped with garlic and herbs.  I slathered copious amounts onto one side of my toasted bagel, topped it with sliced tomato and cucumber and placed the remaining side on top!  Oh my, that was wonderful start to the day!

     We try to visit a new town every month and aim for no more than an hour in the car.  The last couple of months have landed us in various small towns on the day of their local winefest.  Imagine that?   In our neck of Germany, they drink more wine than beer.  We try to arrive in time to have lunch and sample a glass or two of the local wine.  These festivals, although centered around wine, are all very unique and different.  One festival featured food booths scattered around a nice courtyard, where you could feast on mushroom ravioli, stir fry or even steaks and have a glass of wine selected specifically to compliment your dish of choice.  Today's festival was in the town of Gruenstadt, just on the edge of the Deutsche Weinstrasse.  Dear Daughter immediately comments about the small size of this fest and I have to was tiny.  A parking lot was transformed into a small carnival for the little ones and on the other end, long picnic (or fest tables) surrounded a central bandstand with one long tent in the back (the wine tent) and two smaller tents finishing the rectangle on either side featuring either Italian (two types of pasta and one type of pizza) or local fare.

     Lunch time works well for these "field trips" because even at the ripe age of 10 years old, my daughter always demands food at the specific moment that we open the car doors and step outside.  Through trial and error, we have learned that if we can incorporate lunch into the afternoon's activities, she seems a bit more amenable to hanging out with her parents instead of playing at home with friends.  Lucky for us, she heads for the tent serving regional specialities and chooses one of my favorites, Flammkuchen.

     Flammkuchen is a speciality of this area of Germany and its origins are either German or French.  In French, it is called Tarte Flambé and is popular in the Alsace.  Its french translation literally means "baked in flames."  Ages ago, bakers would place a thin pieces of  dough into the hot ovens to see if the ovens were at peak temperatures for bread baking.  If the oven was too hot, the dough literally  went up in flames, hence its German name, "Flaming Cake."  If the oven was at a peak bread baking temperature, then the dough would  cook in 90 seconds and come out charred around the edges.   Today, dough is rolled out very thinly so that when it is cooked, it forms a cracker-crisp crust (say that three times fast!). In its most classic form, it is topped with creme fraiche, lightly sautéed onions, lardons (or speck/bacon) and grated Gruyere cheese.  It is light and sinfully decadent at the same time.

    So in the brilliant sunshine, we enjoy what small bites of Flammkuchen that Dear Daughter is willing to part with and sample the local Riesling.  On the bandstand, a 20-member accordion band is playing ABBA selections. I have never seen an accordion band before and honestly, it wasn't that bad.  Later, we are serenaded by the typical oompah band and the afternoon continued to have a sort of lazy, relaxing quality.

    Lunch finished, we head back to the car and make the short drive home.  Dear Daughter gets the remainder of the afternoon to play outside with friends while her parents sit on the patio, enjoying the sun, reading and conversing.  A totally awesome end to the weekend...

Classic Flammkuchen