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